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A14: Junction 10a

Volume 683: debated on Wednesday 4 November 2020

[Derek Twigg in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered Junction 10a of the A14.

I thank you, Mr Twigg, for taking over the Chair for this debate and welcome you to your position. I thank Mr Speaker for granting this debate. I welcome the Minister to her place. I declare an interest as a member of Kettering Borough Council and the new North Northamptonshire shadow authority.

Junction 10a of the A14 does not exist. At the moment, it is just a blob on a Department for Transport map, but it is a junction that the people of Kettering very much need if our town and borough are not to grind to a halt because of all the new house building taking place locally. There are important plans for 5,500 new houses to be built to the east of Kettering, with about 460 completed already. These will be built between the town of Kettering itself and the village of Cranford and were, in effect, imposed on Kettering Borough Council in the dying days of the previous Labour Government in spring 2010.

We have to ensure that those houses form a vital, liveable community and do not simply become one big, soulless housing estate. In order to make that happen, we must ensure not only that the infrastructure is in place to serve those new houses but that the quality of life of existing residents in other parts of Kettering is not impacted. For local people, the construction of this “sustainable urban extension”, to use the planning term, is the equivalent of bolting on to the town of Kettering itself another town the size of Desborough, which is also in the borough of Kettering, located a few miles away.

This development to the east of Kettering has been called the Kettering East development, but it is now called Hanwood Park and it received planning approval from Kettering Borough Council in 2010 for up to 5,500 new houses. The first 2,700 are in phase 1, to be followed by a further 2,800 in phase 2. Overall, the development covers an 820-acre site. Fortunately, the local design code is set at a high standard. This sustainable urban extension will allow the town of Kettering to plan the delivery of local housing. The design will ensure good internal and town centre connectivity with access to trunk roads, including the A6, the A43 and, importantly, the A14.

To place this in a national context, I should say that Hanwood Park is one of the country’s flagship housing extensions. Ministers have already toured the site on several occasions, especially when the initial release of housing with funding from the Department for Transport’s road infrastructure strategy 1—RIS1—funding plan was fully supported. Local delivery of the houses is supported by all the local authorities and contributes to the Government’s housing targets. It sits within the Oxford to Cambridge arc. A funding partnership with Homes England results in the development now having a primary school, surface water attenuation, adopted foul sewers, three principal access roads and junction improvements on the town roads.

This is one of the country’s largest sustainable extensions. Homes England, which comes under the purview of the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, is funding the major early infrastructure works. There is strong delivery momentum, with Taylor Wimpey, Barratt, David Wilson, Persimmon, Avant, Orbit and Bellway all involved. The scheme is of local strategic importance and is classified as the highest priority in the north Northamptonshire investment framework, but the major hurdle to delivering these houses, which the Government need, is providing the continuous delivery of the so-called Grampian condition for the new junction 10a on the new A14. The new junction is required if the development is to exceed the initial 2,700 houses.

Local land values will not allow the development of this junction to be funded without Government intervention, and that is why we need public funding. Developer contributions exist for up to half the project. The junction was fully supported by the Department for Transport in its RIS1 funding allocation in 2016, when the Department promised £20 million—to be matched by a further £20 million from the developer. However, there were sustainability issues with the development of the housing extension and it was agreed to defer the RIS1 allocation to RIS2. Since then, the junction has been excluded from RIS2. The junction is absolutely essential to the full delivery of this 5,500-house urban extension. It needs to be provided before 2,700 houses are completed.

The extension was stalled for some time because of viability issues, but they were overcome in 2018-19 following refinancing by the developer and this was enabled by a £60 million loan from Homes England under the purview of the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government. The repayment of this loan to another Government Department will be at risk if the development cannot fully proceed. Homes England considers this site in Kettering to be its highest priority in the UK. Its delivery will satisfy multiple strands of Government housing policy, including, importantly, the encouragement of small and medium-sized builders and sustainable development practices. The junction works were included in the Department for Transport’s RIS1 funding stream, on the basis of a 50% contribution to the total cost by the developer. That developer commitment has not changed; the developer continues to be committed to match-funding the construction costs.

Upwards of 2,750 new homes are probably at risk if the junction cannot be secured, as the developer may cease activity fairly soon if progress beyond 2023 cannot be guaranteed. If there is a pause in the development, the local authority will no longer have a five-year rolling land supply. That renders our local area subject to speculative planning applications which, if successful, will make no contribution to local infrastructure.

Martin Hammond, the lead official at Kettering Borough Council, has said of the importance of the development:

“Delivery is now gaining momentum at Hanwood Park and new parcels are being brought on stream, alongside infrastructure constructed this year, but for the full scheme of 5,500 houses with associated community education, health, transport and employment provision, Kettering requires an additional junction on the A14, a principle established in 2014, otherwise only 2,700 houses can be occupied in the foreseeable future, which is only half of the intended development.”

The planning for a new road junction takes an incredibly long time. The local council has been advised that it can take up to four and a half years to develop such a major junction. The problem is that if the Government do not commit around about now to including funding for the junction, either as an appendage to the RIS2 scheme or for inclusion in RIS3 after 2025, the developers may pause the development because of the lack of future certainty. It is expected that the 2,700 houses mark could be reached as early as 2025.

The Government announced in August that they were setting up an acceleration unit to speed up transport infrastructure projects and build back better from covid-19. I welcome that development. It will be headed by Darren Shirley, currently the chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport and formerly of Which? magazine. The unit will be directly accountable to the Transport Secretary.

Encouragingly, the unit will engage experts with significant experience in delivering infrastructure projects, including—this is important for Kettering—Highways England’s director of complex infrastructure projects, Chris Taylor, who oversaw the construction of the £1.5 billion A14 scheme further down the road towards Cambridge, which was not only delivered on budget, but eight months ahead of schedule. No doubt Mr Taylor will be familiar with the A14 going past Kettering.

I make my plea on behalf of the local people in Kettering. The local borough council and all the local authorities have engaged with the various Government Departments at all stages of rolling out the new sustainable urban extension in Kettering, but in order to deliver the project in full, we need a commitment from the Roads Minister that the Government will contribute half the cost of the new junction. We do not need that commitment in 2025; we need the commitment now.

Unless we can get on with planning that junction and giving the developers the surety they need that the Government will deliver their funding, there is the very real risk that the roll-out of the extension will be paused and stop. The problem then is that the Government will not get the houses they need, which is primarily the responsibility of MHCLG, and there is a risk that Homes England will not get the repayment of the £60 million loan.

For local people, the tragedy will be that we could have a very large number of houses built, potentially up to 2,700, without the necessary road infrastructure to take us beyond that level. There is also a very real risk of gridlock in the town of Kettering, with all these initial houses having been provided but with the Government not having come up with the funding for the new junction 10a.

My plea to the Roads Minister today, on behalf of people in Kettering, is to recognise—please—the fundamental importance of the new junction to people in Kettering and to make a Government commitment to fund it.

I heartily congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) on securing this debate about a new junction for the A14. He has highlighted how important it is for his constituents in Kettering, saying that it would provide access to one of the country’s largest urban extensions and that there would be a sustainable design with access to trunk roads, which is very important for his area. The housing development would provide good-quality housing for his constituents in the local communities, and is part of the very important and strategically recognised Oxford to Cambridge arc. It will contribute to Government housing targets, and encourage small and medium-sized builders to develop the properties there, which is part of the MHCLG’s larger strategy.

However, my hon. Friend has also highlighted to me, in my capacity as Roads Minister, that this development could potentially be at risk. In particular, he highlighted that 2,700 homes may be put at risk if the funding is not secured within the timeframes that he outlined. That would potentially put his area at risk of speculative housing applications, and he has strongly emphasised to me that Kettering requires that junction to deliver the entire development as planned, along with all the other facilities, such as schools and health services, that we know local communities want and need.

My hon. Friend has done a really good job of highlighting those priorities. In the time available to me this morning, I have three main points to make, to respond to his speech and to reassure him. First, there is the importance that we attach to the A14 as a vital connection between our east coast ports and central economic areas. Secondly, our ambition is that strategic roads and other transport infrastructure support wider policy goals for housing and economic growth. Thirdly, I will set out how the Department for Transport is working with Kettering Borough Council and others to progress the specific proposals for junction 10a.

It may be worth reflecting a little on what we now call the A14. It is 127 miles of dual carriageway that has become part of the landscape. Indeed, it is a stretch of road that may be taken for granted by some, but not—I am sure—by my hon. Friend. That seamless link across East Anglia from Felixstowe and Harwich, two of our nation’s key ports, into the heart of the midlands is vital to our economy. It neatly bypasses Ipswich, Newmarket, Cambridge and, of course, Kettering. It is an artery that feeds both the M1 and the M6, keeping traffic out of our town centres.

Yet before 1990, the A14 barely existed; a piecemeal set of improvements had begun, but a wide range of options faced any new arrival at the ports. In 1990, on completion of what was then the A1-M1 link road, new opportunities and more reliable journeys beckoned. That is what new roads that are well planned and in the right places to serve the needs of the country can do. The A14 has continued to evolve, to meet the ever-expanding needs of the freight and logistics sector as well as those of other road users.

However, no road of such importance can be considered complete and simply left to get on with its job. So, in recent years we have seen a £200 million investment at Catthorpe, which means that the A14 now links smoothly to the motorway network without the series of roundabouts and turns that users of the road previously faced. We have also seen £1.5 billion of investment in the new Cambridge to Huntingdon section, which opened—ahead of schedule—earlier this year. That was a huge achievement. When work on it began in 2016, it was the biggest civil engineering project in the United Kingdom. It has involved 12 miles of new bypass for Huntingdon, 10 miles of widening and other improvements, and a half-mile viaduct over the River Nene. It has created a new road that reflects the needs of industry and road users, while employing the best possible environmental standards. More locally to Kettering, we have invested over £40 million in widening the A14 southern bypass between junctions 7 and 9, to ensure that the road keeps pace with its users’ needs.

Given the reliance on that important route for moving people and goods across the country, it is no surprise that we continue to explore the priorities for further investment. For example, we have asked Highways England to develop an upgrade of the Copdock interchange where the A14 meets the A12 to enable smoother journeys through the junction.

The process of identifying enhancement priorities on the strategic road network—the roads, like the A14, managed by Highways England—and then committing to funding for their development and construction is all part of our long-term approach to infrastructure investment. The Government set out their strategic vision for the network through periodic road investment strategies, and specify what Highways England must deliver in terms of road enhancements and day-to-day performance.

To inform the content of those strategies, the Department for Transport and Highways England develop a substantial evidence base about the network, its current performance and likely future pressures. That is the product of several years of research, analysis, public engagement and consultation. In March, we published the second road investment strategy—a vision of the network through to 2050. We also provided £27.4 billion of funding for its operation, maintenance, renewal and enhancements through to 2025. The strategy made clear our ambition that strategic road investment support the delivery of housing and economic growth in ways that are respectful of place and minimise the impact of roads on the environment and air quality.

In that light, the Department for Transport and Highways England are working with Kettering Borough Council and the local developer to progress proposals for the new junction 10a on the A14. That junction would unlock the capacity needed to connect a new phase of much-needed housing at east Kettering, as my hon. Friend has laid out in detail. He has explained that the junction is needed before housing numbers can be delivered, while also making clear the positive impacts that the junction would bring, and the risks of not delivering.

Work on the junction scheme commenced under the first road investment strategy, which covered the period 2015 to 2020, on the basis that the local developer would meet half the costs and Highways England the other half. However, the work was put on hold when it was found that the local development did not require the capacity provided by the new junction during that period.

Based on the pace of development now, construction work on the junction will need to start early in the next road investment period, which is due to start in 2025. I want to reassure my hon. Friend that Highways England is now looking at how to achieve the earliest possible start date. That encompasses the cost and timescale of activities required to complete the development work, and will inform further discussions with Kettering Borough Council and the local developer, which I anticipate will pave the way to an agreement about how best to proceed.

My hon. Friend made several references to the importance and urgency of those discussions taking place to a faster timescale; highlighted the Department for Transport’s focus on urgency; and mentioned the acceleration unit—an initiative of the Transport Secretary. That is what we at the Department for Transport are trying to achieve across all parts of the UK. To that end, I recommend that my hon. Friend have a meeting with my noble Friend Baroness Vere of Norbiton to discuss in more detail some of the timing issues for work on that road, which is so important for his constituency.

I share my hon. Friend’s appreciation of the strategic importance of the A14 for Northamptonshire and for the nation, and specifically for his constituents who depend on it day by day. The interventions that have been undertaken on that route in recent years reflect the importance that the A14 holds for the Department for Transport. I thank my hon. Friend for the efforts he has made to promote the case for that junction, which could help unlock the new housing that people in his constituency want and need.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.