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Avon Ring Road (M4 Link)

Volume 598: debated on Tuesday 7 July 2015

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the M4 link to the Avon ring road.

I rise to make the case for what I believe to be the most important road infrastructure project in my constituency, which could benefit not only my constituents in Kingswood but the whole city of Bristol and the surrounding region of south Gloucestershire. As the local MP, I believe that we desperately need a new junction on the M4 motorway to link to the Avon ring road, which runs through my constituency.

I appreciate that the Minister is new to his post, and I welcome him to the Department. I am sure that he has already received many representations from people calling for roads to be built, extended or dualled, but I believe that the case for an M4 link to the Avon ring road should be considered as a priority for the Department and the Government. Local people in eastern Bristol have the limited choice of accessing the M4 at junction 19, which is the junction with the M32, or at junction 18, which is the turn-off for Bath.

For hundreds of my constituents who journey along the M4 daily to work, the situation proves to be a commuter’s nightmare. Those who want to access the motorway are forced to travel up the Avon ring road past the Hambrook lights at Frenchay and access the M32, which takes them on to the M4 at junction 19. The frustration of commuters wishing to take the M4 eastbound, who wait in the traffic that builds up on the ring road at Emersons Green—not helped by the 2-plus lane—is hardly improved by the fact that they can almost hear the sound of the vehicles on the M4, because the motorway at that point is less than a stone’s throw from the ring road.

If we look at a map, we see that the Avon ring road, the A4174 and the M4 run so close together in parallel that we could be forgiven for thinking that they are adjoining carriageways on some sort of superhighway. At the Wick Wick roundabout or the Westerleigh Road roundabout on the ring road, where access points already exist and bridges cross the M4, the motorway lies tantalisingly close, but motorists have no other option than to wait patiently in a queue that stretches for miles along the ring road, and then to travel—against their instincts and better judgment—in the opposite direction for three miles before turning back on themselves. In the end—after a wait of, at times, an hour—a commuter will join the M4 at junction 19 and travel back past Emersons Green, where they started.

Understandably, such delays leave my constituents furious. The delays and the ensuing congestion result from the fact that the only way to access the M4 from the eastern side of Bristol is at junction 19. That has caused the M32 to become a pinch point on the M4, which is struggling to cope with the rising volume of commuters. With the development of new housing at Lyde Green, next to Emersons Green, and the planned housing at Filton, the Bristol area is set to expand significantly.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate, and I commend him on a brilliant campaign. Does he agree that although we want to unleash enterprise and create more jobs, and new housing is much needed, we have to have the infrastructure in place to support it?

I thank my hon. Friend and neighbour for his comments. He has led the way in developing a suitable mix of housing and employment land at the proposed housing estate at Filton airfield. He is absolutely right that we may have employment, land and housing, but we need transport infrastructure in eastern and northern Bristol to ensure that the city can expand appropriately and to reduce congestion. With thousands of extra cars on the roads, there will remain only one access point to the M4. The time has come to provide a solution by delivering a new junction, junction 18A, at Emersons Green. With the M4 and the Avon ring road effectively touching, the project would be moderate on the scale of other Members’ requests. A new junction would link with the Avon ring road, providing instant and improved access to the M4 for the eastern side of Bristol, thereby reducing congestion on the M32 and at junction 19.

Junction 18A is such an obvious, and some might say easy, solution that the Minister may wonder why it has not been thought of before. Well, it has: the scheme was first proposed back in 1985—I was four years old—when plans for the Avon ring road were being developed. The junction and link road were given the go-ahead, but they were never built. The blame lies with the local authority of the time, which apparently spent the non-ring-fenced money elsewhere. What may have happened decades ago in the 20th century, however, should not cloud the fact that, as we approach the third decade of the 21st century, Bristol and its surrounding region urgently need a new link road to the M4.

I am determined to press the case for what is known locally as the “M4 link”, as I have done repeatedly over the past five years since becoming the MP for Kingswood. I held a debate in Parliament on this issue back in May 2011, and in April 2012 I handed in a petition of more than 1,500 local residents supporting the M4 link. I put on record my appreciation for the determination of local councillors such as Colin Hunt, James Hunt, Rachael Hunt and Dave Kearns to keep fighting locally for an M4 link, which has resulted in South Gloucestershire Council commissioning a feasibility study into the junction that will report later in the year.

Only last year, in July 2014, I met the Minister with responsibility for roads, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), at the Department to make the case for a new junction and link road. On 25 March 2015, during the final Prime Minister’s questions of the Parliament, I raised the case for an M4 link with the Prime Minister himself. He responded by stating that the Secretary of State for Transport would be pleased to receive representations. I was delighted that, in April, the Transport Secretary was able to visit the proposed site of the M4 link and to listen to local businesses and councillors making the case for a new junction and link road.

Since then, the campaign for an M4 link has, pardon the pun, stepped up a gear, with the launch of a new cross-party campaign, Gateway2Growth. Several representatives of the campaign are in the Public Gallery today, and they are calling for junction 18A to be built at Emersons Green. The campaign includes the Bristol and Bath science park and Business West, which represents 18,000 businesses across the south-west, and its purpose is not only to highlight the transport and congestion need for an M4 link but to make the overwhelming economic case for a new junction. Above all, a new junction would help to put the thriving community of Emersons Green on the map.

Emersons Green is a success story in the making. It is the location of one of south Gloucestershire’s largest ever housing developments. A consortium of developers is currently working to deliver 2,500 new homes, schools and community and leisure facilities at Lyde Green, and some 2,800 homes have been built at Emersons Green West since the late 1990s. The area is currently home to the Bristol and Bath science park, Airbus, the Harlequin business park and the National Composites Centre, and it has the potential to grow even further. The area contains a flagship employment site for the west of England, which was recognised by the Government in the establishment of the Emersons Green enterprise area. There is the potential for developing 45 hectares of employment space, which would provide economic growth for the creation of some 7,000 new jobs. At the heart of that employment site is the Bristol and Bath science park, which is home to more than 40 successful businesses and is a crucial hub for young and emerging science and technology companies to grow and thrive. One of the park’s success stories has been the National Composites Centre, which has become an internationally renowned asset for the delivery of world-class design and rapid manufacture for sectors including aerospace, automotive and heavy infrastructure.

It is vital, therefore, that the surrounding infrastructure matches the area’s ambition so that it is able to reflect the present day Emersons Green while also being able to cater for future demands. A new junction 18A at Emersons Green, providing access to the M4, would help to turbocharge economic growth in the area. Back in 2006, the Bristol transport study estimated that a junction would provide an economic benefit of around £270 million; I believe that figure would be far higher today. In order to understand more fully the economic benefits of the proposed junction, the Gateway2Growth campaign has commissioned an independent study exploring the business benefits of junction 18A. The study will be conducted by Dr Phil Tomlinson, senior lecturer in business economics, and Marc Betton, PhD researcher, from the University of Bath. The comprehensive report will have its national launch at the House of Commons on 16 September, which will be attended by local MPs, councillors, business leaders, academics and residents. I personally invite the Minister and his departmental officials to attend the launch so that they can hear for themselves the economic benefits of the proposed junction 18A and M4 link. I request that the Department seriously and urgently considers the case for junction 18A as part of any future Government transport infrastructure commitments.

The phrase “long-term economic plan” could have been designed with the lengthy campaign for an M4 link in mind—the campaign has certainly been extremely long term. However, I assure the Minister that my resolve, and the resolve of local businesses, the Gateway2Growth campaign, local MPs—including my hon. Friends the Members for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) and for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall)—and the people of Kingswood and the surrounding area, is to argue that the case for a new junction has not diminished, nor will it. The case for the M4 link has never been stronger and, with the foundation of the Gateway2Growth campaign, never has our local area been so united behind the common ambition of delivering better road infrastructure for the Bristol area.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak in this debate, Mr Williams. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) for securing the debate, and I welcome the new Minister to his place.

Although my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood was four years old, I was not even born when the scheme was initially proposed. My constituency of Thornbury and Yate borders his constituency at precisely the point between junctions 18 and 19 of the M4 where the new junction is proposed. Since the building of the Emersons Green development, there has been a significant increase in the volume of traffic in the area. The A4174 between the site of the proposed junction and junction 19 of the M4 is particularly congested at peak times, which has a large knock-on effect on the villages in my constituency between the Emersons Green development and junction 18. There has been a steady increase in traffic movements through villages such as Pucklechurch and Hinton, where cars are using country lanes to access junction 18.

The local South Gloucestershire district councillor, Ben Stokes, has highlighted specific concerns about the junction of Cotswold Way and the A46, where traffic regularly tails back due to the volume of traffic on the A46. Motorists are becoming increasingly vulnerable as the pressure on junction 18 and the A46 increases. I also thank Councillor Steve Reade, who has pointed to the increasing volume of vehicle movements along the A420 through Wick in recent years. Residents of Kingswood, Bridgeyate and Oldland Common are exiting the M4 at junction 19 and travelling through Wick, rather than using the more congested junction 18.

My constituents have also raised concerns about the increasing difficulty of walking or cycling safely around the village of Pucklechurch. I fear that more pressure will push more people into cars, which will add to local concerns about air quality on the A420. The 2,500 homes planned at Lyde Green, which reaches from my hon. Friend’s constituency slightly into my own, will lead to a further increase in vehicle movements and more pressure on our villages’ already strained local infrastructure. Pucklechurch and Wick are small villages with a community atmosphere. They were never designed to be used as a daily bypass for commuters, nor were the roads that run through them.

Part of the solution is the construction of junction 18A, giving motorists a quick and effective route to the M4 and creating new capacity to absorb the traffic created by the new housing developments and growing businesses in the area. I know that a great number of my constituents make the daily commute to Bristol to work, and the current congestion means that a journey from Yate to Bristol always takes more than an hour. Although many commuters would still use the same stretch of road, the pressure on the ring road would be greatly relieved by the proposed junction.

I believe that the proposal will provide us with additional capacity for commerce to enter Bristol, which will connect new businesses, encourage trade in the region, help reduce unemployment and, crucially, create more skilled jobs in my constituency. I ask that the Government consider the proposal as a long-term investment in a thriving part of the country. As more families move into the area, we must encourage businesses to grow and to trade with each other locally and nationally.

In summary, the proposal will significantly reduce journey times into Bristol for many of my constituents, improve access to the M4 and reduce the traffic burden on the villages affected by the growing population. If we want our infrastructure to match our ambition, it should be seen as a vital part of the future of south Gloucestershire.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Williams, for the first time in my new capacity. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) on securing this afternoon’s debate on the M4-Avon link road. He is right that since starting in this job, I have been besieged by colleagues with cunning plans for which they are seeking investment. He and my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall) highlighted how old they are, and therefore how old some of the rest of us are. In 1985, when this campaign started—I remember it clearly—I was working for B&Q. Things move in different directions.

I am aware that this topic has been the subject of previous parliamentary questions and debate. I praise my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood for continuing to highlight the growth that will take place in Bristol and south Gloucestershire and the important role that good transport infrastructure will play in building a sustainable and strong local economy. I am also aware of the excellent work that he has done to represent and promote the interests of Kingswood since he came to Parliament. He has been a vigorous local champion and has won a deserved reputation for it.

I will address the points raised by both my hon. Friends, but I will start by setting out what we have already done as a Government to invest in infrastructure in the area. I applaud the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood and other Members of this House in championing the campaign for access to growth. As he said, the Emersons Green Bristol and Bath science park development will create 7,000 jobs, part of an estimated 60,000 jobs across the wider west of England concentrated on six local enterprise areas and the flagship Bristol Temple quarter enterprise zone. There will be 95,000 new jobs in the west of England by 2030, in addition to much-needed new homes.

The west of England lies at a crucial point in our national transport network, providing road and rail access not only to the south-west and south Wales from the midlands and the south-east but to international markets via the Severn ports. It plays a key role in our national economy and our national transport network. The west of England road and rail network provides access for local people and businesses and keeps our nation moving. As my hon. Friend highlighted, reliable connectivity enables west of England residents to access jobs and local businesses to reach the marketplace.

The Government believe that investment in infrastructure drives economic growth and improves lives. We have ambitious plans for infrastructure investment, whether in road or rail, as part of our economic plan. We have an infrastructure deficit, as we have a financial deficit; we have not invested in infrastructure. That applies to all parties over many years. We are playing catch-up with the investment that we need at a time when our finances are under pressure, but this Government’s clear will is to address that deficit. A significant amount of cash is being allocated to doing so.

Roads play a huge part in that. Nearly every kind of economic activity depends on roads in some way, and a high-performing road network improves the health of our economy. Our commitment to deliver a step change in investment in transport infrastructure was made clear in the road investment strategy launched by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State at the end of the last Parliament. The RIS sets out how £15 billion will be invested in more than 100 schemes across the road network between 2015 and 2021. In the west of England, that will include a new junction on the M49 at Avonmouth, to support access to the 14,000 jobs planned for that area, and work on the A417 near Birdlip. Both schemes have been championed and prioritised by the local enterprise partnerships and local businesses, which has been an important factor in their selection.

Roads are not the only transport mode in which we are investing. In the west of England, the Government are investing £113 million in three metro bus schemes to provide a 50 km bus rapid transit network that will link key economic and employment centres and regeneration and development areas in the greater Bristol area, including the enterprise area at the Bristol and Bath science park in Emersons Green. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood will be aware, construction has already started on those schemes. The metro bus is designed to extend the choice of transport modes, particularly for private car drivers, encouraging them to make a modal shift to public transport.

The schemes represent an investment of £182 million, of which £113 million will come from the Department for Transport, with the remainder coming from the council and third-party contributors. As part of the work, the new 23-mile north fringe to Hengrove route will improve sustainable access to the Emersons Green science park area.

South Gloucestershire and Bristol councils have recently received £13.9 million from the Department for Transport for major maintenance and enhancement of the A4174 Avon ring road. The scheme will improve the A4174 between the A38 at Filton and the A4 at Hicks Gate. It will involve major structural maintenance of three structures, extending the life of the existing carriageway and providing footways and cycleway maintenance and enhancements.

Altogether, the West of England local enterprise partnership has secured £230.7 million from the local growth fund over the period up to 2021 to drive forward the growth of the region’s economy. It has prioritised more than £50 million for funding the MetroWest phase 1 rail scheme, which will reopen the railway line to Portishead and provide other rail enhancements in the west of England area. The LEP has also committed £20 million in local growth funding to support sustainable transport schemes.

I wanted to give the context of the investment in infrastructure taking place in the area. Investment in local transport infrastructure such as I have outlined is critical to local communities and the local economy. It is essential that we continue to develop our transport network to meet new needs. The local enterprise partnership has highlighted the development of the Emersons Green Bristol and Bath science park in its strategic economic plan. I fully understand why both my hon. Friends and the business community in the region support the call for improved links to that growing area from Avon to the M4. It is an understandable economic case.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood will know, the A4174 link road is part of the local road network, whereas the M4 is part of the strategic road network, meaning that there are two main paths through which investment can be secured. Sadly, I have not come here bearing a large cheque to deliver the scheme, but I can provide guidance on routes ahead.

Investment in the strategic road network is handled through the road investment strategy, which involves 100 schemes and £15 billion in investment. We are basically moving to a system of road investment that is comparable to the rail investment system, with control periods and projects identified for delivery in five-year units. We announced the first RIS in December last year, and we are developing the process for the next one, which will run from 2020 to 2025.

The first RIS was built on a detailed assessment of the needs of the road network—existing points of pressure and places where new development would be possible. In many places, that included building better links between the local and national road networks, which is exactly what has been identified this afternoon. I am keen for the second RIS to deliver in exactly the same way as the first. I want the process to be open, find the best way to get value from our roads and encourage all groups with ideas for improvements to get involved and contribute.

The Infrastructure Act 2015 commits us to a series of route strategies that assess the needs of the whole road network. Highways England will use the strategies to engage with local stakeholders, identify current and future constraints on economic growth and explore how investment will address constraints and unlock opportunity. I expect to announce how we will develop the second RIS after the party conference season. Highways England has already committed to publishing its route strategies over the next 18 months or so. They will be the platform from which to take forward the opportunity for a new M4 junction and see whether we can build it into the next RIS. A very strong case has been made, and I would strongly support all my hon. Friends from the area contributing their views and local expertise to the process. I will ensure that officials in my Department and Highways England keep my hon. Friends fully aware of the opportunities to get involved.

I am trying to make the process more open, to encourage a greater contribution from local economic drivers, such as chambers of commerce or local enterprise partnerships. That is a bit of a change from the earlier RIS. I want to increase the emphasis placed on economic development and what road investment can do to unlock it. The scheme discussed today is exactly the type that would be appropriate for consideration. Ahead of that process, I suggest to my hon. Friends that they continue the campaign and work with local groups to ensure that everyone is aligned and that there is consensus that the link is the best way to address the area’s transport needs.

That is the route for national funding for the strategic road network; I shall now address local sources of funding. The west of England councils are undertaking a joint spatial plan and joint transport study. They will consider strategic needs up to 2036 and assess a potential strategic transport package for the area. Prioritisation of potential schemes has not yet taken place, so the debate is timely. Once the local enterprise partnership has established the priorities, it will then explore funding options. Access to Emersons Green Bristol and Bath science park is identified as a shared concern for the agencies that would deliver such a scheme. I would therefore encourage the local enterprise partnership, South Gloucestershire Council and Highways England to work together to develop a proposal that will meet the needs of both the local economy and the strategic road network, in a way that can be delivered in financial and engineering terms and, above all, is safe for road users.

It is important to consider all the options, including the proposal that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood outlined. He put forward a strong case, and I will ensure that it is considered extremely favourably within the Department. I can commit to joining him on the 16th for the launch of the local plan; it is a kind invitation. The Government are committed to investment in infrastructure and to providing clarity into the future, so that contractors can scale up and skill up and we can have more appropriate planning to deliver greater economies. We must make every effort to address the long-term historical infrastructure deficit I mentioned earlier.

We remain committed to growth deals and to providing ongoing support for LEPs, which are delivering growth and jobs. Funding for proposals such as the link could come through growth deals or LEPs, and there are also opportunities in the road infrastructure schemes. I hope that I have provided a little bit of a clue as to the way forward for the campaign. I would be happy to help, and a very strong case has been made. I understand entirely why the link matters. It would open up opportunities and improve the quality of life in the area. I am aware of the congestion as people come down the M4 before taking the motorway spur into the centre of Bristol. The economic growth of the area is vigorously championed by local MPs.

I again congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood on securing the debate and my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate on his eloquent contribution. The Government are committed to modernising local and strategic transport infrastructure. That is part of our long-term economic plan, which is already delivering infrastructure needs that were unmet by previous Governments. That work will continue, and my hon. Friends will have my support in delivering for their area.

Question put and agreed to.