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A38 Improvements

Volume 662: debated on Wednesday 19 June 2019

[Sir Lindsay Hoyle in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered A38 road improvements.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Lindsay. I am delighted to see so many hon. Friends here today to talk about the A38, which runs through their constituencies and mine. The A38, between Bodmin, Plymouth and Exeter, is one of the two arterial roads connecting Cornwall with the rest of the United Kingdom—indeed, it is the only trunk road. It provides that link to my constituency of South East Cornwall, from the Tamar bridge in the east to Bodmin Parkway railway station in the west. It also provides essential access to the rest of the mid, west and north Cornwall road network. The A38 is the spine of my constituency, too, as it links the communities that I represent, either directly or via minor link roads.

First designated in 1922, the A38 is the longest two-digit A road in England, at 292 miles long, running from Mansfield in Nottinghamshire to Bodmin in Cornwall, in the respective constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) and for North Cornwall (Scott Mann). It has a rich history, closely following the Roman and Saxon roads, and it acted as the main holiday route into Cornwall, Devon and Somerset before the opening of the M5 in the 1960s and 1970s.

[Ms Karen Buck in the Chair]

In my constituency, the A38 first ran on the former route of the A389, now the A374, over the Torpoint ferry, which is still an essential transport link for my constituents. When the Tamar bridge was opened in 1961, the A38 was rerouted through the village of Tideford, which remains on the route today and experiences several challenges, as I will outline later. It provides a vital link between the towns of Saltash and Liskeard, and on to Bodmin, past the town of Dobwalls, which has been served by a much needed bypass for over a decade. The Minister might be aware that the latter is framed by two bat bridges and one bat house, which were built because the new road went through existing bat flight lines. Environmental impacts and supporting our ecology remain serious concerns. The A38 also passes Trago Mills, the hugely popular retailer and local employer in Glynn Valley.

The A38 is vital for South East Cornwall’s economy, our communities, businesses, emergency and other public services, and all those who want access to them, or who visit and stay in my constituency. However, it is simply not fit for purpose, given the huge increase in use in recent decades. The Cornwall chamber of commerce has said that the A38 is so unreliable in my constituency that it deters new business and investment locally, and hinders prosperity and growth. The chamber is at the sharp end and knows the importance of improving the route. That is why I am delighted to have secured this debate, to continue our campaign to obtain vital investment in the A38, throughout South East Cornwall and beyond, through current and future road investment strategy periods.

I thank my hon. Friend for calling this debate. As she mentioned, the longest A road in the country starts in my constituency of Mansfield. What she has said about her constituency rings true for mine, too. It is our main link to the M1, but it has real challenges: it is not fit for purpose, it is congested and it is full of accidents. Does she agree that, because of the length of the road and its importance to so many constituencies, investment and improvement along the whole length of the A38 would give a big boost to our economy?

I completely agree. My hon. Friend might like to take note of what we did in the south-west with regard to this road by working together on a cross-party basis with local authorities. That might be a model that he could take forward.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, my constituency neighbour, for calling this debate, because this is a cross-party campaign, which is really important. She has been a doughty champion for it. Does she agree that this shows what can be done when our region works together, with MPs from all political parties and councils of different political hues, all putting aside their differences in support of this vital and much needed road investment?

Later, I will thank all of the people who have helped, but I must say that I am really grateful for the interaction that we have had with and the input from Plymouth City Council, both before the last election and since; both administrations were very supportive of our getting something done on this road.

I wish to put on the record our thanks to all of our partners, who are providing a powerful collective voice on the need for investment and improvement, including councils and councillors from across Cornwall and Devon, local enterprise partnerships, chambers of commerce, community road safety campaigners and my fellow parliamentarians from across Cornwall and Devon. Their work has enabled a compelling proposal—the A38 case for action—to be produced, which I and colleagues presented to the Secretary of State for Transport last July.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way; she has been a doughty champion of the A38 case for action. Does she agree that the changes that need to be made to Bodmin Parkway station will particularly benefit our constituents and will boost the local rural economy in the way we would like to see?

I completely agree. At the moment, the entrance to Bodmin Parkway railway station prevents many people from using that vital rail link, and I agree with Cornwall Council and my hon. Friend that it urgently needs significant improvement.

The A38 in South East Cornwall has several challenges, some of which are shared with the city of Plymouth and with the Plymouth to Exeter routes. I refer to the Devon section of the A38 case for action document, as many of my constituents commute to Plymouth and beyond, for work, travel, hospital visits, regular shopping trips and leisure. Investment is crucial right along the route from Bodmin to Exeter.

The very poor accident record on the stretch of the A38 in my constituency is tragic and it must be addressed; the accident rate is nearly three times higher than the national average. In the last few years, there have been serious and even fatal accidents at Stoketon Cross, Landrake, Tideford, Trerulefoot, Menheniot and in the Glynn valley. My heart goes out to those affected, but I appreciate that what is needed is not words, but action to prevent future tragedies.

Volumes of traffic are high across the whole of the Bodmin to Exeter section of the A38. Between Bodmin and Saltash alone, there is a cumulative average daily traffic flow of more than 60,000 vehicles. Recently, I conducted a survey about traffic congestion and problems with access at peak times from side roads in Carkeel, and it had a huge response, which demonstrates how concerned my constituents are about the future viability of the A38. There are over a dozen access roads between Carkeel and Trerulefoot, with huge traffic flows that make it incredibly difficult—even dangerous—to join the A38. That is repeated along the whole of the road between Plymouth and Bodmin, and it is a constant danger in the Glynn valley, where roads wind and there is poor visibility.

It is also important that I highlight the lack of alternative roads or other transport modes, particularly given the resilience issues with the main railway line at Dawlish. There are only three significant alternatives: the Torpoint ferry; a single-lane 16th century bridge at Gunnislake; or a very long detour to the A30 in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann). However, all three are not practical alternatives, due to limited capacity and the travelling distance involved.

Across my constituency, the road is of variable standard, with changing speed limits. There is a mixture of single-carriage sections, multiple side-road junctions, direct access roads, dual carriageways with central reserve crossings, such as that for Looe, and the severance of local communities, including Landrake and Tideford. It makes for unreliable, congested and unsafe journeys, and a general feeling of frustration among my constituents.

In addition to the severance of local communities, there is also the significant impact of poor air quality. The A38 is subject to a high level of unplanned closures, which results in poor journey time reliability when compared with that of the A30 in north Cornwall. Over the last five years, the A38 has had 1,100 more unplanned closures than the A30. That figure is not acceptable, given how many people rely on the A38 to conduct their daily lives.

The A38 case for action document clearly states the desired outcomes for our communities between now and the end of road investment strategy 3, which is 2030. However, my ask on behalf of my constituents is for the earliest possible investment. We want the highest level of safety possible, by reducing accident rates and removing accident black spots; we want air quality to be improved; we want communities to be reconnected, by reducing the impact of severance; and we want to ensure that the A38 can support planned growth, including in tourist numbers and for major events, such as Mayflower 2020, by fully utilising technology to reduce journey times, increase reliability and strengthen resilience.

We also want to encourage increased use of rail for commuting, by improving access to park and ride schemes; Bodmin Parkway station has already been mentioned, but I will also mention Menheniot station. For South East Cornwall, that means we need specific speed and safety improvements as soon as possible, including overtaking lanes, side-road junctions, speed cameras and pedestrian crossing facilities. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will hear my plea and be able to respond positively.

In the medium term—so, within RIS2, which is 2020 to 2025—I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to consider making a substantial commitment to improve the Menheniot /Lean Quarry junction, and to link that with work to develop park and ride facilities at Menheniot station, in order to encourage more commuting by rail. This would be a significant investment, estimated to be over £14 million. However, it would also make use of the newly improved railway station in the constituency of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard).

In the long term—so, within RIS3, which goes beyond 2025—a full upgrade of the A38 from Trerulefoot to Saltash is a priority, including dualling of the road. Of course, we would like this work to happen sooner, if possible.

The A38 case for action document shows that nearly £900 million of productivity growth and investment would be gained by improving the A38 between Bodmin and Exeter. Such an improvement would be a major opportunity for sustainable economic growth, with 52,000 additional jobs and 52,000 homes being planned by 2034, and it would also be an opportunity to strengthen the resilience of the wider transport network. However, the benefits to our respective communities would be so much greater—an improved environment, better air quality, more efficient road travel, less congestion, more jobs and, most importantly, a reduction in the number of road deaths and serious injuries. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will consider my points and the A38 case for action document carefully and positively. The proposals and outcomes set out in that document are compelling, and I look forward to hearing what he has to say.

Before I call the Minister to respond, I will just apologise, both to the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) and the Minister, for my late arrival.

It is a pleasure to appear before you, Ms Buck.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) on securing this debate about improvements to the A38, which is a very important road. If I may say so, she is a passionate advocate for her constituency, and my hon. Friends the Members for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) and for North Cornwall (Scott Mann), as well as the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), are—by their very presence here today—speaking to their concerns and speaking in the interests of their constituents.

We all know that the A38 is a remarkable road, weaving, as it does, through the country from Bodmin in Cornwall, which I had the pleasure of visiting last year when I was the Minister with responsibility for tourism, to Mansfield in Nottinghamshire. At nearly 300 miles—292 miles, to be precise—it is the longest A road that is entirely in England. Once upon a time, it was thought of as a country lane; it was called the longest country lane in England. However, it plays a really important role for communities up and down the country.

In the south-west of England, which is our focus today, the A38 and the A30 are the two principal routes, taking traffic through Devon and Cornwall, to and from the M5 and its connections to the midlands—my part of the world—and beyond. Through the two counties of Devon and Cornwall, both roads are part of the strategic road network that comprises England’s motorways and main A roads, managed by Highways England. Those roads will be familiar to many Members of this House as routes to popular holiday destinations; my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall is not short of popular holiday destinations in her constituency, and I recommend that anyone who is listening visits them.

Although tourism is a vital industry for the region, the A38 also has a strategic day-to-day role for local people and businesses, especially those in and around Britain’s ocean city, Plymouth. My hon. Friend has emphasised the importance of that road, and has rightly highlighted some of the problems that it faces, including safety and congestion. She has also drawn attention to the case for action on improving the A38, prepared by local authorities and local enterprise partnerships and backed by several local Members of Parliament. I know that my Secretary of State was pleased to receive that case for action when he visited the area last year to see it and its roads for himself, and I understand that he further discussed the contents of the case for action in October at a meeting with local stakeholders, organised by my hon. Friend. I congratulate her on having secured that meeting.

I will now explain how we are considering that case for action and other requests that we have received for improvements to the strategic road network. The Government take a long-term approach to investment in the SRN through the setting of periodic road investment strategies. Those strategies set out the Government’s strategic vision for the SRN and specify what Highways England must deliver in terms of road enhancements and day-to-day performance.

The first road investment strategy was launched in 2015 under this Government, providing over £15 billion of investment in the strategic roads network between 2015 and 2021—a lot of investment, and rightly so. Highways England is making good progress on delivering that plan: some 29 schemes have already opened for traffic, including the dualling of the A30 between Temple and Higher Carblake in Cornwall, which cost £56 million alone. That improvement is expected to bring more than £134 million into the Cornish economy each year, encouraging economic growth, business expansion and the development of housing and tourism. The next stage, which is dualling the A30 between Carland Cross and Chiverton, is currently before the planning inspector. If it is approved, construction would start within the next 12 months.

For the A38, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall, £3.6 million has been spent to address safety and structural issues on the section through Glynn valley between Dobwalls and Bodmin. That work has helped to deliver safer and more reliable journeys for road users. Safety is one of my Department’s highest priorities and is certainly my highest priority, given my responsibilities as Roads Minister. Looking ahead, I understand that my hon. Friend will be meeting Highways England again in July to discuss potential improvements to the Carkeel roundabout, and I wish her well in that meeting. Further along the A38 in Devon, a safety improvements scheme will soon be implemented at A38 Harcombe Bends between Chudleigh and Exeter, which will involve installing reflective road markings and improved warning signs. It follows work at Wrangaton, completed a couple of months ago in March this year, which addressed a flooding hotspot that risked the safety of road users.

I have talked about the first road investment strategy and the money that has gone into my hon. Friend’s area, but that is just the start of our roads reform. She will be pleased to hear that we are now working to develop the second strategy, which we call RIS2—our Department’s fondness for acronyms is legendary. Part 2 of the road investment strategy will govern investment in the strategic road network between 2020 and 2025, so there is more investment to come with RIS2. That investment will be funded through the national roads fund, which will match all the money spent by taxpayers on vehicle excise duty in England for investment in our most strategically important roads.

In the 2018 Budget, the Government announced their intention that, of the £28.8 billion expected for the national roads fund between 2020 and 2025, no less than £25.3 billion would be made available for RIS2. The remaining £3.5 billion will be used to help fund enhancement schemes on the most important roads managed by local highway authorities. That funding must first meet the costs of Highway England’s operation of the SRN—the essential task of maintenance and renewals work—and complete the RIS1 commitments. Once those are covered, it can then deliver the new enhancement schemes, for which £3.5 billion will be available.

To inform decision making about how to use that funding, my Department and Highways England have gathered a substantial amount of evidence through three years of research and public consultation. The A38 case for action has been a helpful contribution to that evidence base; local knowledge, local insight, and the views of local Members of Parliament such as my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall are invaluable as we at the Department for Transport seek to develop an investment plan that is affordable and deliverable. We have received a large number of proposals for RIS2 through that process.

Competition for the available funding is, of course, very strong, and we are considering all the proposals carefully, with some key aims for RIS2 firmly in mind. Better meeting the needs of road users and the neighbours of the network is a key aim, including addressing safety and congestion issues. Supporting housing is another key aim, as is supporting balanced economic growth and productivity in an area and enabling seamless integrated journeys across transport modes—where they link with rail, ports and so on. We expect to publish RIS2 towards the end of this year—a few months hence. That will not be the end of the story; we will continue to work through the coming years to deliver a better road network that meets the needs of road users and the country at large.

The case that the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) has made will save lives if we get the investment in her constituency that is needed. If we get the investment we need at the Manadon roundabout in Plymouth, it will open up huge amounts of our city for the job creation that I know the Minister is keen on. I would be grateful if, during that funding period, he looked favourably on both the schemes in Cornwall and those in Plymouth.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. As he knows—we have worked together in other areas—I will give the matter the very careful consideration that I know it deserves. I share the appreciation that my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall and all colleagues have for the strategic importance of the A38, both for the south-west generally and for those people in my hon. Friend’s constituency and neighbouring constituencies who depend on it day to day. Safety is the paramount priority, but the economy is also very important in all of these considerations.

I thank my hon. Friend for the sterling efforts that she has made on behalf of her constituents to promote the case for further improvements to the A38 during the development of RIS2. I wish her well in making progress.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.