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Road Investment Strategy

Volume 596: debated on Thursday 11 June 2015

The road investment strategy, published in December 2014, set out ambitious plans for £15.2 billion of investment in the strategic road network between 2015 and 2021. The Department created a new Government-owned company, Highways England, to focus on delivering this plan. Highways England published its delivery plan in March this year, setting out next steps for the schemes starting construction or completing by the end of March 2020.

The widening of the A1M between junctions 6 and 8 will release the economic stranglehold on Hertfordshire. Will the Minister update the House on the Department’s plans to start that work?

I most certainly can. As part of the road investment strategy, the A1M between junctions 6 and 8—the Welwyn to Stevenage stretch—will become a smart motorway. I cannot provide an exact start date for construction, but the next step is the detailed design and planning of the scheme, plus consultation with the local community to produce the best possible scheme. That work will be taken forward by Highways England. My hon. Friend has long been a keen champion of this scheme, and I will make sure that he is kept fully informed of progress.

One of the things my hon. Friend and I agree on is the need for additional Thames crossings, but we potentially disagree about the location. Will he confirm that, before any final decisions are taken, he will fully evaluate the effect of free-flow tolling on the current Dartford crossing? Will he also look at whether what is currently proposed answers the question that was posed more than a decade ago?

It is rare, and always a matter of regret, if I ever have any disagreement with my hon. Friend. There is no doubt that a new crossing is needed. There are encouraging signs that the Dart charge is already bringing some relief to congestion in the area, and I can assure him that its impact will be evaluated and monitored carefully. However, I have major reservations about the suggestion to look again at all the schemes, as I do not want to delay progress. It has taken 10 years to reach this point, and we do not want to blight any more homes. Highways England is developing options for both possible locations and will take those to a public consultation scheduled for late this year or early next. I will be happy to discuss the matter further with my hon. Friend.

A road investment strategy is only as effective as the bodies that are tasked with delivering it. Will the Minister therefore have conversations with Highways England about its catastrophic mismanagement of the Posthouse roundabout A483-A55 junction in my constituency, where delays to commuters and huge costs to businesses continue months after the work should have been concluded?

I will have monitoring meetings with Highways England every month for the remainder of the time in which it delivers our plan. I want to make sure that it is on top of this and delivering it. The Government’s ambition for the road investment strategy is significant, with £15 billion of investment, 127 schemes and 1,300 additional lane miles. It is a significant step change for our strategic road network. Its delivery is critical, and it is one of the top things that I will focus on. I will also focus on a method of communication from Highways England and me to all colleagues.

One of the most important decisions made in the previous Parliament was the decision to proceed with the Mottram bypass in my constituency, giving us the much-needed improved connectivity between Manchester and South Yorkshire. There are now a number of issues to resolve to take the scheme forward, particularly whether Hollingworth will benefit and whether we can build a new tunnel under the Pennines, which, if feasible, will be very exciting. May I trouble the ministerial team for a short meeting in this Session to advance these matters further?

Before the election, the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) and I had a very useful meeting with the previous Roads Minister in connection with the A15, which provides access to the Humber ports. Although this is a local authority road, some involvement with the Department will be necessary. Will the new Minister meet me and all the agencies involved at an early date?

The A15 is a local road and this will be a local decision. I know that a business case is being developed. I will be happy to meet my hon. Friend and local organisations such as the council or the local enterprise partnership. The key thing is to make the business case as robust as possible, and I will certainly help him to deliver that.

The Secretary of State will be very familiar with the A50. May I draw the Minister’s attention specifically to the A50 where it runs through my constituency, where the slip roads are frankly dangerous? The weekly number of blue light incidents is alarming, and the number of near misses is deeply troubling. The Secretary of State will also be aware of the situation just down the road at the Blythe Bridge roundabout. Will the Minister look urgently at what is going on with that section of road?

I am not personally familiar with the slip roads as the hon. Gentleman describes them, but I will be happy to take this issue forward. If he would like to contact me with any of his concerns, I will happily take them up with Highways England and then get back to him with an answer.