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A5 in the Midlands: Improvements

Volume 711: debated on Wednesday 23 March 2022

[Stewart Hosie in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of increasing capacity and other improvements to the A5 in the midlands.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie, on an important day here in Westminster, and to be able to highlight a vital issue for residents and businesses in my constituency and in the broader west midlands region. By way of introduction, the A5 is one of the UK’s oldest roads and a strategic route operated by National Highways. It connects London to north Wales and runs through large parts of central England, and I wish to focus on that part of the road.

For many years, various groups have been involved in campaigning about the state of the road, including colleagues from neighbouring constituencies, many of whom are present today; leaders of our local councils; businesses, both large and small, throughout the west midlands; and Midlands Connect, which researches, develops and progresses transport projects to provide the best social, economic and environmental benefits to the midlands. We also have an overarching group called the A5 Transport Partnership.

In recent years, all those groups have been lobbying central Government for funding to improve the strategic 53-mile corridor of the A5 running from the M1 at junction 18 in Warwickshire—close to and then bordering my constituency—all the way through to the M5 at junction 12 in Staffordshire. That strategic corridor through the west midlands not only connects the M1 and the M6, but intersects the M42 and the M69.

Those motorways in the centre of England are four of the country’s busiest motorways, and the A5 corridor is home to almost 3 million people, supporting 1.3 million jobs and serving several large cities and towns, such as Tamworth, Nuneaton, Cannock and Hinckley, as well as my constituency of Rugby. It also supports major employment sites including Magna Park and the MIRA enterprise zone.

Given its strategic importance at the centre of England, this section of the A5 sits at the heart of what is known as the logistics golden triangle, around the districts of Rugby, Daventry, Harborough, Hinckley and Bosworth. With that golden triangle, the corridor creates £22 billion in gross value added annually, which is approximately 10% of the total GVA of the area covered by Midlands Connect, the organisation entrusted by central Government to help identify research on the most important transport investments.

I intend to show that, with the improvements we all believe to be necessary, this corridor of the A5 has the potential to provide an alternative route to our existing congested motorways, while simultaneously supporting housing and employment growth.

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the importance of the A5 to residents and businesses in Staffordshire and across the midlands. Having campaigned with my neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Gavin Williamson), and with the Government against the building of the West Midlands Interchange, which is at the A5 roundabout near Gailey in Staffordshire, does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that we protect our environment and our green belt, as well as tackle congestion on the A5 and other Staffordshire roads?

My hon. Friend is right. The environmental benefits are important, but I want to focus on the one that we would achieve by having less congestion, with car engines running for less time, and on the efficiencies and economies that can be provided to our local area as a consequence of a more efficient and effective A5.

Let me turn to the growth that is forecast for the area around the A5. Local councils within the corridor anticipate that, over the next 15 to 20 years, their local plans will bring forward 103,00 new homes, 16,000 new jobs and a further 524 hectares of employment land, which need a road. By investing in the A5 and improving its performance and resilience, we believe that the central Government have the opportunity to unlock the growth aspirations and priorities of the region.

I congratulate my hon. Friend and neighbouring MP on securing this important debate on the A5. He makes some salient points about the level of economic growth along the A5 by comparison with other parts of the country. Does he agree, however, that without sufficient investment, such as the long-awaited dualling of the A5, we risk missing out on a huge amount of economic growth?

My hon. Friend anticipates my point. He is exactly right: we need to have an efficient road that enables growth to take place. One of the challenges of the A5 is that it is dualled in parts, but single carriageway in others. There currently appears to be no consistent approach to an upgrade, and we need that upgrade in order to achieve our local councils’ ambitious objectives for the area.

As part of the wider strategic road network, the A5 currently carries 23,000 vehicles a day on its busiest section, so it is a pretty hefty road. Sadly, however, and despite its increasing importance and usage, the A5 in the midlands has not seen a proportionate increase in funding to provide resilience and capacity. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) points out, if that is provided, it will enable the A5 to spearhead and safeguard sustained growth in the region.

The fear is that, if neglected, the A5 will act as a barrier to growth rather than an instrument of it. With investment, we believe the A5 can become a significant corridor for growth by enabling greater east-west connectivity, providing access to the M6 toll road, and supporting north-south movements through its strategic interchanges with other regionally important motorways, as I have already mentioned.

In its November 2018 A5 strategy document, the A5 Transport Partnership outlined three key strategic interventions that it argued would be required to unlock the potential of the area served by the A5, and they are relevant today. The first priority is to make improvements between the M42 and M69—a combination of online and offline dualling to deliver the first phase of the A5 expressway, providing expansion of the MIRA site, which sits between Nuneaton and Hinckley, and works associated with the construction of HS2 at junction 10 of the M42. That is the first priority.

The second priority is the part between the M69 to M1 and M42 to M6. Again, it would be a combination of online and offline dualling, but this time to deliver the second and third phases of the A5 expressway. A third objective is to make better use of the M6 toll road. Those of us who have used the M6 toll road will know that it is not to capacity. If we can improve the size, we can get more traffic off the M6 and on to the toll road. In addition to those key priorities, improvements are needed to enhance the A5’s connectivity to the wider strategic road network. I know there are proposals for a new junction 20A on the M1, to bring relief to junction 20 at Leicester, which is the junction between the M1 and M69. That will provide additional growth opportunities.

Ministers are aware of the need for investment, given that one of the third road investment strategy pipeline projects is the upgrade between junction 1 on the M69 and junction 10 on the M42, and I hope that the debate will further press the case to bring that scheme forward. By securing this much-needed upgrade of the A5, we can help deliver growth around the corridor route, support network resilience, ensure greater sustainability and safety, and manage the impact of freight on the road.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire made some remarks about the economics, which I want to focus on. The 53-mile section between the M1 and the M6 plays a significant role in supporting the sub-regional economies of Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Coventry, Staffordshire and west Northamptonshire, and the economic performance of the A5 is strong when looked at in the light of the broader west midlands economy. As I mentioned, a number of important economic centres along that corridor will be subject to further expansion in coming years.

The MIRA enterprise zone is expanding; Magna Park in Leicestershire, in my hon. Friend’s constituency, is expanding; DIRFT 3 in Northamptonshire, which sits on the border of my constituency, is currently the subject of substantial construction; and Kingswood Lakeside Employment Park in Staffordshire—which I believe is close to my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Theo Clarke)’s constituency—is coming forward. In my constituency, we have a substantial residential development at Houlton and the Rugby Gateway mixed-use development. I hope I am building a case for why it is imperative that the A5 is upgraded, to ensure that its present constraints do not curtail this planned growth or act as a barrier to continuing inward investment.

It is worth pointing out that unemployment levels along this corridor of the A5 are currently lower than the UK average, and with the expansion of the economic hubs I have just referred to and the further employment opportunities that will bring, that situation will only improve. As well as supporting local economies, the road has a wider role in providing connectivity to other economic centres, such as the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge growth corridor. When we combine the housing growth with the economic growth and the increased employment opportunities, it is clear that the A5 will come under significant further pressure over the coming years.

My hon. Friend is making a fantastic case for why the A5 is so important. Does he agree that one of the principal problems with the A5 are the boundaries of the districts, councils and administrations that it borders? That makes things hard, because people always see the A5 as a periphery. We have heard talk about the west midlands, the east midlands, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, and that is part of the problem. It is so important that my hon. Friend has secured this debate to make sure the Government realise we can release this stricture across the centre of the UK between Wales, England and London, and that doing so would make a huge difference economically, but also to the daily lives of the people we represent.

My hon. Friend is right. The road sits as the boundary—it is the boundary of my constituency, the boundary of Warwickshire, and a regional boundary—but the local authorities have come together pretty effectively to press this case. It would have been very easy for each authority to have tried to do its own thing, but as it is, a range of bodies, including those in the private sector, have come together to argue the case for improvement. The Government have been clear that they recognise investment in infrastructure is needed to improve productivity and economic growth. When it comes to the A5, I hope the Minister will be able to say positive words that will lead to action.

I will also say a word or two about the importance of the logistics sector. As I have mentioned, Rugby is part of the golden triangle, and my constituency has certainly benefited from its geographical location at the centre of England. It contains several large logistics businesses, which has driven economic growth in Rugby, provided many employment opportunities, and helped my constituency become one of the fastest-growing towns in the country. Rugby is home to such household names in the logistics industry as DHL and Hermes, and just over two years ago, Amazon took the decision to invest in Rugby by building one of its fulfilment centres on the outskirts of the town, near the A5 and its junction with the M6.

As well as the numerous employment sites in my constituency that benefit from the A5, there are numerous other large and strategic employment sites in B8 use, logistics and distribution along the route. I have already mentioned DIRFT, Magna Park and Kingswood Lake, but I will now also mention Sketchley Meadows in Hinckley and Birch Coppice in Tamworth. Previously, I have outlined the importance of the MIRA Technology Park, an enterprise zone that is of course vital to the resurgence of the automotive industry in the midlands; indeed, that manufacturing sector is synonymous with the west midlands.

All the sites that I have referred to are of strategic importance, with many in line for expansion as our region continues to attract investors who are either keen to locate in the west midlands or keen to develop their businesses in the west midlands further. I regularly hear from developers keen to invest along the corridor.

However, a real worry is that growth in investment will be inhibited unless we now take the decision to invest in our strategic transport network. We are fortunate in our location at the centre of England to have generally excellent access to the motorway network, but without further investment to build network capacity and resilience, there is a real danger that we will miss the opportunity to rev up the midlands engine in the way that we would all like.

My hon. Friend makes some excellent points about the importance of this trunk road, which provides an alternative route to already congested motorways, for example. Does he agree that the A5 must also have improved capacity to ensure that overflow traffic is taken out of the many rural villages around it?

My hon. Friend no doubt has constituents who will have experience of that overflow traffic in exactly the same way that I do. I will talk a little later on about how the A5 acts as a relief valve for the M6, but if people cannot move along the A5 in the way that they need to, the danger is that they will seek alternative routes that take them off the trunk road network.

I have already mentioned that the local councils are coming together, demonstrating their desire to grow and develop their employment and housing offer. By investing in this road, central Government can help those councils to meet their growth needs by facilitating a safe, reliable, efficient and resilient A5.

With that bit of resilience in mind, I will talk about the importance of keeping the traffic moving, to which my hon. Friend just referred. We know that there are often many planned and unplanned incidents on the M6, and that when the M6 comes to a halt many vehicles turn to the A5. Indeed, over the last 36 hours, there have been a dozen or so different lane closures on the M6 due to either maintenance work or incidents on the road.

In those circumstances, when traffic migrates from the M6, the A5 struggles to cope in certain situations and creaks under the weight of the additional traffic. That is often compounded by operational issues on the A5 itself, which in turn creates significant problems on local roads, as my hon. Friend has just referred to, with traffic dispersing because drivers seek alternative local routes.

One of the reasons for the lack of resilience, and it is the core of our call to the Minister today, is the variation in the standard of the road along the corridor. It is, in parts, recently constructed dual carriageway, with a great road surface that enables the road to work well. However, in other parts it is a windy A road, a single carriageway with double yellow lines, where the traffic really slows down. It is that variability that is at the heart of the challenge facing the road’s users. That situation is aggravated, as the Minister may know, because the road is constrained by old canal and railway bridges. That creates congestion and slows down journey speeds, impacting businesses and commuters, and even impeding emergency vehicles. Along with my colleagues here today, I am arguing that what we really need is the complete dualling of the road between the M1 junction 18 and the M6. That is our long-term objective.

On safety, one of the key objectives of National Highways is to reduce casualties on our roads. Sadly, the pressures on the A5, along with the development I mentioned, mean that the road has become a barrier to road users safely accessing economic hubs and other parts of the road network. I spoke about how that has impacted on congestion when incidents occur on other strategic roads but the safety of the road itself is impacted. Many of the junctions—be they roundabouts or road turnings—were not designed to cope with the levels of traffic that they are experiencing. We know that as congestion increases, so does the risk of collision. It can be caused by driver frustration or the limited safety provisions on the single carriageway sections of the road.

Along the corridor, that is, the 53 miles between the M1 and the M6, about a quarter of collisions occur during evening peak hours. Significantly, data demonstrates that the nature of the road, which is of a mixed standard, moving from dual to single carriageway sections with a large number of roundabouts, contributes to the number of collisions. Indeed, across all sections of the road, approximately 40% of the accidents that lead to personal injuries occur at roundabouts, compared with a national average of 10%. That is based on data provided by the police.

The historically fragmented nature of the A5, both through its construction and its inconsistency, can be seen as the heart of the issues with the road. Further or full dualling of the A5 will improve the overall capacity and resilience of the road while improving its safety and performance.

My hon. Friend is being generous in giving way. Given what he has said, does he agree that we need safety improvements on the A5 for the road to cope with greater capacity? In my constituency, for instance, High Cross and Smockington Hollow junctions are notorious accident blackspots, so I am grateful that he has mentioned the safety issues on the A5.

I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution. We do want to make the road safer as it is a horrible road for drivers to negotiate.

I also want to talk about sustainability. As part of the wider picture, improving the highways infrastructure should involving cycling and pedestrian routes and the use of public transport. In my constituency, both Rugby Borough Council and Warwickshire County Council are committed to investing in and further developing sustainable transport infrastructure with a view to reducing the congestion on our roads, encouraging healthy living and improving air quality. Those ambitions are shared by both central Government and local councils.

Public transport along the A5 by bus remains extremely limited. I have spoken about the new housing and commercial developments on the road and they are not accessible by public transport. I cycle, and I certainly would not want to ride my bike along the A5. At no point along the part of the road that I am particularly concerned about are there any cycleways, creating further issues around access. All in all, that drives people to use their cars to access sites along the A5, adding to levels of traffic and congestion on the road. By looking at sustainability, we can move traffic from the road. We really ought to consider sustainability when the new developments take place.

To conclude, I hope the debate has reinforced the message that I and my colleagues have been sending to Ministers over many years. Without an upgrade of the A5 in the midlands, economic growth will be restricted in our area. I hope that I have been able to show that in many ways the corridor has become a victim of the growth near it, with piecemeal improvements and developments made along it. It has not been considered in its entirety, which is what we would like to see. It should be treated as the strategic road that it is. Historically, any improvements have been fragmented in delivery and we now need an upgrade that looks at the A5 in its entirety—at the whole picture—and acts to unlock the potential throughout the corridor.

Our role as midlands MPs is to make certain that the funding to upgrade the A5 provides us with a consistent standard of dual carriageway between the M1 and M6. I hope that I have shown that the road experiences significant peak-hour congestion and will support major growth over the next decades, based on plans that have already been adopted and are emerging from the local councils along the corridor route. Without that action, growth in the midlands will be inhibited and lost.

The Minister will be aware that the midlands engine is revving up and is more than ready to play its part, but it needs the transport infrastructure to match that ambition and drive. I hope that in response to the debate the Minister will be able to reassure residents and businesses that the Government understand and recognise the necessity of an upgrade of the 53-mile corridor from the M1 junction 18 in Warwickshire to the M5 at junction 12 in Staffordshire, and that they are listening and will be ready to act.

It is a pleasure to serve under your stewardship, Mr Hosie, and even more of a pleasure to be involved in the debate. I wholeheartedly thank my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) for securing it. I admit that when I came down to Parliament, I never thought one of the things I would become most passionate about would be a road. The colleagues I have worked with, two of whom cannot be here—my hon. Friends the Members for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey) and for Nuneaton (Mr Jones)—have inspired me through the work they have done to drive forward why the road is so important.

Unfortunately for some of those listening to the debate, over the next few minutes I shall repeat some of the points that have been made. They are crucial to understanding why the road matters, why we care and why it is needed locally and by the UK. We know the road runs from Wales to London and I, too, want to focus on the A5 corridor, the middle, because that is the most important part. It is the heart of the logistics site; it is the connection from east to west, from the east midlands to the west midlands. Unfortunately, it is acting as a straitjacket to our economic growth and prosperity.

If we get the road right, we will have housing, businesses, growth, levelling up and, above all, happiness. It is one of the few roads that prompt people to come to us and say, “Please sort it out. This would make my life better.” It would improve not only their job prospects but their business prospects, commute and daily living. That is why the road is so important, and why I want to speak about the section between Cannock Chase and Rugby, which intersects across Hinckley and Bosworth. If we get it right, there is a real chance to make a difference.

Why does it matter? As we have heard, the A5 corridor affects 1 million people and supports almost 500,000 jobs, 10% of the jobs in the midlands. We know that there are 25,000 vehicles on its busiest sections, and that one third of those vehicles using the A5 are classified as HGVs. As we have heard, local authorities are planning for more than 100,000 new houses and 190,000 new jobs to be created by 2033. We need the infrastructure to be able to deliver that. That leads us on to its economic importance. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby rightly pointed out, it has a GVA of £22 billion. That is 10% of the Midlands Connect area, a substantial amount, but I would like to add some further facts. On the corridor, 38% of the jobs are in the economic sector that relies on the strategic network and 185,000 jobs, equivalent to 11% of the jobs in the region, rely on the strategic network. That is a huge amount for joining up the midlands.

The problem is resilience and reliability. A critical incident, as defined by National Highways, happens every eight weeks. When an incident happens, there is on average a five-hour delay to resolve it. In my constituency, 15% of those incidents happen when our bridge is hit. The Watling Street bridge was unfortunately the most bashed bridge in Britain last year. We have relinquished that title—we are now sixth—but an incident was happening every two weeks. When that happens, there is on average a six-hour delay to clear it, which means misery and suffering for those around the incident and for those in the villages around our area. Congestion goes up and people look for rat runs to beat their sat-nav throughout the constituency. That is a real problem, because the roads are not designed to deal with HGVs and the extra traffic that comes from such a delay.

When it comes to the functioning of the road itself, it does not even do that very well. The corridor is slow and unreliable. The average speed for the corridor is 40 mph, but in some sections, at the peak, it gets down to 10 mph. Midlands Connect has said

“there is up to a 20 mph difference between the fastest and slowest journey time, making it challenging for users to plan for their journeys…this does not meet Midlands Connect’s reliability conditional output that journey times should not be more than 20% higher than the average journey time for all days.”

That is why it matters, but why do we care about it? We care because we feel that this road is forgotten. Many of my colleagues—both former representatives of Hinckley and Bosworth and those who cannot be here today—have raised this issue in the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton has raised the issue of capacity at the Dodwells and Longshoot junctions, as well as the issue of safety at Longshoot and Woodford Lane. My hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire has campaigned tirelessly about congestion and how, if we get this road sorted, we can increase housing. The A5 Partnership, Midlands Connect, the businesses, the county council, the borough council—from all parties—have come together and said why this road is important. It sometimes feels like we are not heard.

The feeling was compounded in August 2021 when the long-awaited Dodwells island to Longshoot dual carriageway, promised in 2014, was scrapped. To the people of Hinckley and Bosworth and the surrounding areas, that felt like a body blow. However, we pledged to fight on. There is light at the end of the tunnel. We were lucky enough to secure £20 million for RIS2, and we are now looking at RIS3. The light at the end of the tunnel was the assessment that it would not be an efficient use of taxpayer’s money. That says to me that if there were to be an improvement, it would be right not to spend the money on that section if we get the 53 miles of dualling that we all require.

I come back again to the most bashed bridge in Britain, because it creates misery. For years it has been raised up. Signage and alternative routes have been talked about and we are finally getting closer to an answer, which is lowering the road to get it sorted. I am grateful to all the agencies working to put that in place. However, if that fails and the A5 does not go through, our community will feel stranded and forgotten about again. It matters to people—getting to work, getting their kids to school, improving journey times and their ability to get to their businesses, recruit more people and sell more goods. It joins one side of the country to the other. That is why it matters. It matters even more because the people around it have suffered the effects of the road not working. The wider communities have suffered when people cut through the likes of Twycross. We have had many an injury and death on some of the roads around my constituency, caused by people having to navigate a different road and not understanding where they are going. It leads to speeding, deterioration in the road and concern that our countryside cannot cope.

What do we need? Locally, we need the dualling and the upgrade as soon as possible. I am hopeful that with RIS3 ministerial point one will lead to a ministerial decision, allowing us to go ahead and make improvements to the road. It is a Roman road, although it does not lead to Rome; it leads to London and Westminster. Westminster needs to hear that the million people living around the A5 are saying that we need this improvement. We need the straitjacket to be removed, or the corset to be loosened, so that we can level up our ability to produce housing, prosperity, jobs and happiness. Minister, release the corset and let us be happy!

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. Before the debate started, you reminded us of the famous folk song about the A5. I have the answer—it was Christy Moore, with “Go, Move, Shift”:

“Born in the middle of the afternoon

In a horsedrawn carriage on the old A-5

The big twelve wheeler shook my bed

You can’t stay here the policeman said…

Go, move, shift”.

I win the brownie points on that quiz of yours, Mr Hosie.

I will, Mr Hosie.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) on securing the debate about an issue on which he has campaigned for some time. It is of huge importance to his constituency, and to that of the hon. Member for Bosworth (Dr Evans)—what an impassioned plea he made! The hon. Gentleman was like some latter-day Henry Tudor on Bosworth field: ending the Plantagenet dynasty, slaying Richard III—the last King to go into battle—and making a plea for investment in his constituency. His was an eloquently framed speech.

There is a vast amount of consensus on the need for more action to be taken, and I hope the Minister will consider all points raised today. As has been pointed out, the A5 is a strategic route that generates about £22 billion each year. It brings huge benefits to the UK economy and not least to the regional economies in the midlands. It is a vital road corridor that connects businesses with ports, airports and motorways, and it supports major employment sites such as Magna Park and the MIRA enterprise zone.

I am acutely aware of the ongoing capacity issues on the A5 in the region. Although the pandemic has altered commuting patterns, congestion on the A5 in the midlands still averages approximately 25 seconds per vehicle per mile, I am told. On some sections congestion is even more severe, reaching over a minute and a half per vehicle per mile at some points.

As hon. Members have said, the cost of congestion is plain to see. It causes undue stress and, as the hon. Member for Bosworth said, a lack of happiness—although I have never heard about that in the context of a road—because of the extended journey times for motorists. It also contributes to increased carbon emissions and poor air quality for local residents, which I see all too often in my constituency around the M56.

Furthermore, research shows that traffic in the UK costs the economy billions of pounds every year. National Highways and the Department for Transport have highlighted the severe congestion issues on the A5 and identified the need to improve traffic flow. However, that is not being backed up by real action; hon. Members representing their constituencies in the midlands will be disappointed by the lack of progress on increasing capacity on the A5.

RIS2, running from 2020 to 2025, had committed to widening the A5 into a dual carriageway from Dodwells island to Longshoot, but, in a hammer blow to the local area, those plans were scrapped last year by National Highways and the Department. National Highways has said that the improvements will be considered in the context of wider proposals in RIS3 to improve capacity on the A5 from Hinckley to Tamworth.

In the meantime, congestion on the A5 remains at significant levels. Motorists will rightly question why they must wait until 2025 for funding to improve the traffic flow even to be considered. That is just one of a number of potential improvements to the A5. For example, the hon. Member for Bosworth told us that his constituency has Britain’s most bashed bridge—the alliteration trips off the tongue whenever he says it, and he raises it time and again.

Many Members will be eagerly anticipating the publication of RIS3 and hope for a coherent strategy to tackle congestion on the A5. However, given the broken promises so far, commitments may have to be taken with a pinch of salt. Wider investment is needed in our road network, not just to tackle today’s congestion, but to future-proof our major corridors. National Highways has projected that traffic on its roads will increase by 20% between now and 2050, but there is a complete lack of planning to prepare the strategic road network for the capacity that is needed.

We have to face this challenge together as the nations of the United Kingdom. I have not checked with the House of Commons Library, but I believe there are now about 40 million licensed vehicles on our roads. The figure has almost doubled in 30 years. At some stage, we have to make a decision. Yes, we have to help car drivers, but we must address how Government can begin to tackle that growth. We cannot continue with such vehicle numbers on our ever-shrinking highway network. It is important to lay that out.

Labour supports investment in our roads. Under this Government, the state of our roads has rapidly deteriorated. The issues discussed today are examples of wider endemic problems. From our country lanes to motorways, our road network has suffered more than a decade of under-investment. We need only look at what happened to highways maintenance funding last year: the Government slashed it, on average, by 22% across England. In the west midlands, the cut was even steeper. For instance, Government funding to pay for pothole repairs fell by a staggering 27% in the region, the second biggest cut in England.

We are now seeing the long-term nature of the cuts to road funding. Many local councils have been told that they can expect the cuts to their road maintenance grants to be embedded for the remainder of this Parliament. Last year, the annual local authority road maintenance survey found that it would take 11 years to clear the maintenance backlog, if local authorities had the funding and resources to do the work.

Labour has committed to rebuilding the infrastructure our communities depend on, as part of our contract with the British people. That starts by fixing the mess on our roads. We will invest in our strategic road network and our local roads alike to build a transport network that is fit for purpose, both now and in the future.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) is a passionate advocate for his constituency. I congratulate him on securing this important debate, on working with local leaders and colleagues in the House and on articulating so clearly the need to increase capacity and to make other improvements on the A5 in the midlands.

I do not think there has ever before been such a comprehensive discussion of the need to improve roads. We have discussed the issue economically, environmentally, socially and culturally—even a song has been written about this road. I am sure we all appreciated the rendition from the shadow spokesperson, the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane). My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby set out why improvements to the A5 are so important to his constituents and to the wider area. It is good that Members are working together.

As we know, the A5 is an ancient road of 252 miles, yet just 15% of it is dualled. We heard the rationale for improving that percentage. Significant housing development proposed in north Warwickshire, Hinckley, Tamworth, Bosworth and Nuneaton and Bedworth, including sites in the immediate vicinity of the A5, add to the reasons why the road needs to be improved. The average daily traffic figure on the A5—21,338—-is considerable.

The A5 is part of a strategic east-west corridor running from London to Holyhead in Anglesey. As we have heard this afternoon, it links towns across the midlands, including Milton Keynes, Rugby, Lutterworth, Hinckley, Nuneaton and Tamworth. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) spoke to me at length yesterday about the need to improve the road, and he specifically mentioned the areas that most concern him: the Dodwells island connecting to the A47, the Longshoot junction and the Woodford Lane junction. He talked to me about the closures on the M6 and their impact on the A5. As we have heard today, rat runs are created in local communities when there are problems on the A5.

The A5 is a core artery bisecting the golden triangle of logistics distribution centres, supermarkets and high street stores in the midlands. Spanning from Northamptonshire, up the M1 to East Midlands airport and as far west as the Tamworth area, the golden triangle is bustling with big logistics names. As well as being in proximity to the huge distribution centres of supermarkets and high street stores—with Daventry in the south, Leicester in the north-east and Birmingham in the west—the corridor remains a key artery for communities in the midlands and for jobs in major employment sites such as Magna Park and the MIRA enterprise zone, which I had the pleasure of visiting thanks to the invitation from my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Dr Evans). I saw for myself the innovation happening there. As we decarbonise the transport system and think about the future of self-driving vehicles, automation and connected vehicles, the site will become even more essential to the transition. As he articulated so well, the work being done by the midlands engine is critical to the economic, social and environmental prospects of this country.

The Government recognise the role that the A5 plays. It is a key piece of infrastructure that supports and provides resilience to nearby locations, which is why we are spending £24 billion on our motorways and trunk A roads in England in the five years between 2020 and 2025, as part of the second road investment strategy. RIS2 builds on the £17.6 billon in the first RIS, covering 2015 to 2020—a then record. Of that £24 billion, £12 billion is being spent on the operation, maintenance and renewal of existing networks, including beginning multi-road period programmes of structural renewals and concrete road surface replacement.

More than £10 billion is being spent on improving the performance of the network, supporting the Government’s levelling-up agenda and underpinning national and regional growth. The core principle of our strategy is to create a road network that is safe, accessible and reliable for all users, and that meets the needs of those living alongside the network. Although investment has an important role in achieving that, the road investment strategy also includes challenging performance targets that must be met. I recognise the frustration of my hon. Friends, the business community and residents that the A5 Dodwells to Longshoot widening scheme commitment in RIS1 was not started in road period 1 and was instead incorporated into proposals in RIS2 for a more extensive improvement to the corridor.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth raised the challenge of Britain’s most bashed bridge. National Highways is in discussions with the developer about the possibility of lowering the carriageway in the vicinity of the low bridge. The discussions are ongoing, and I know he needs no encouragement from me to do what he does best, along with colleagues in the A5 area: to continue engaging with National Highways on this important matter.

In championing the need for improvements, the work of the A5 partnership has been exemplary, and I reassure hon. Members that this work will continue to be fully considered by officials within the Department and National Highways as part of the canon of evidence for developing our third road investment strategy, RIS3, which will cover 2025 to 2030. It includes informing decision making on the proposed A5 Hinckley to Tamworth scheme—one of 33 schemes in the pipeline that are currently being developed for possible delivery in RIS3. The likely cost of the scheme is substantial, in excess of £1 billion in all likelihood. As my hon. Friend will appreciate, with such large sums involved, investment decisions need to be taken in the round to ensure we maximise value for taxpayers.

My hon. Friends have set out the importance of this road improvement for the economic viability and social happiness of the area. Individual pipeline schemes will be considered alongside future operations, maintenance and renewal priorities and how we respond to environmental pressures and opportunities, planning for a future of connected autonomous vehicles as well as small-scale improvements. In practice, those decisions will not be made until the final road investment strategy is set in 2024.

One of our key asks is that this 53-mile section of road is looked at as a whole, rather than in individual pieces. There is a marvellous precedent in the midlands with the work being done on the A46—plans are coming forward for the final roundabout in my constituency—which will provide a continuous road from the M5 in the south-west at Evesham all the way through to the M69 and then the M1 at Leicester, providing a south-west to north-east link. That road has been looked at as a whole and will be a complete, uninterrupted road. Can we have the same for the A5?

I am sure my colleague in the other place, Baroness Vere the roads Minister, will be listening to this debate. I reiterate how effectively my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby is championing this cause, and he is being taken seriously. Also, this is not all we are doing for the A5. As I am sure hon. Members are aware, National Highways has committed to delivering another scheme for the A5. The Dordon to Atherstone scheme is set to deliver improvements that will unlock the potential for 4,000 homes. National Highways will deliver that scheme, and the design of the improvements can be tied into the wider options being considered for the route. National Highways will also be completing safety improvements to the A5 Northampton Road this month.

I appreciate hon. Members’ concerns about the current operation of the A5 and its impacts on proposed growth in the region. My hon. Friends and I agree that efficient, reliable transport is a catalyst for enterprise and enables growth. Better connectivity means greater economic opportunity and all the benefits it delivers for communities.

I know that my hon. Friend for Rugby and other hon. Friends who advocate for improvements on the A5 are passionate about investment in the midlands for their constituents, and I recognise it is in everyone’s interest to mitigate the barriers to growth. That is why the Department is working closely with National Highways to fully understand congestion issues along the length of the A5 and how its key congestion pinch points can potentially be mitigated, including the A43-A5 Tove roundabout, the A5-A426 Gibbet Hill roundabout and junction 1 of the M69. I assure hon. Members that National Highways will continue to work closely with the local highway authorities and stakeholders to understand and deliver improvements where they are needed, so that the region’s potential can be truly realised.

As we look to the future of the network, National Highways has just finished the formal evidence-gathering phase of the third round of route strategies, which will inform its assessment of the current performance of the network and its needs. Those strategies provide an important input, alongside strategic studies and other evidence-gathering mechanisms, in informing decisions about further investment on the strategic road network beyond 2025. The route strategies review performance, pressures and opportunities on every part of the network, and provide a significant opportunity to consider the needs of the A5 corridor and, in particular, reinforce the case for improving the Hinckley to Tamworth section. The input of Midlands Connect and the A5 Partnership was an important contribution to that process and, as we have heard, the input from my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and his colleagues was an important contribution to the series of roundtable meetings that the roads Minister, Baroness Vere, hosted in the autumn.

I thank my hon. Friend once again for the work he does with Midlands Connect and the A5 Partnership to ensure the overwhelming support for improvements is well represented within Government. I welcome the integrated approach with local community leaders, sub-national transport bodies and transport authorities to demonstrate a united front on the need for investment, which is essential for building the case for improvements along this stretch of the strategic road network. The formal window for feedback through the route strategies feedback tool came to a close at the end of December 2021. It is vital for National Highways to understand and prioritise the issues that matter most for users of the road network. I encourage my hon. Friend to continue making the case for investment in the strategic roads that matter most, and the important engagement that is already under way with National Highways across all these issues is making a tremendous difference.

I conclude by thanking my hon. Friends the Members for Rugby and for Bosworth for this debate. In preparation, I learned much about the 252 miles of the A5 and I hope they are satisfied with my response to their concerns. We recognise the vital importance of the A5 in supporting all aspects of the regional and national economy, and the concerns and views that have been expressed will be dealt with as matters of the utmost importance when considering how to improve the A5 now and in the future.

I am grateful to the Minister for her remarks. She has appreciated the passion in the midlands for improvements to this road. It is a piecemeal road; we have great bits that have recently been improved, and other bits that are single carriageway and have not had any work done on them for 50 years. I hope we have persuaded the Minister of the strategic importance of improvements, and their impact on growth in an area that is very sympathetic to attracting businesses, new housing and other such developments. We very much hope that the Minister and her team will take this forward, and that we get the shiny new road our constituents deserve.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the matter of increasing capacity and other improvements to the A5 in the Midlands.

Sitting suspended.