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A14: Junction 10A

Volume 745: debated on Wednesday 21 February 2024

I beg to move,

That this House has considered junction 10A on the A14 at Kettering.

May I say what a pleasure it is to see you, as such a distinguished and experienced member of the Panel of Chairs, in the Chair for our proceedings today, Sir Gary? I thank Mr Speaker for granting me this debate, and welcome the Minister to his place; he is an assiduous, diligent, hard-working and energetic Minister, and I am sure that he will listen closely to my constituents’ concerns.

This is not the first time that the House has heard about junction 10A on the A14. I have asked a series of oral and written parliamentary questions, and have had two debates in this Chamber on the same subject—in November 2020 and February 2023. I suspect junction 10A is unique amongst the road projects that the Department for Transport is considering, because it has three defining characteristics: originally, the scheme was in the road investment strategy 1 for the period 2015 to 2020 and it has now been resubmitted for RIS3; it is 50% developer funded; and it has a benefit-cost ratio of 3:1. Those are all impressive and unique characteristics that make the scheme distinct.

I also know that the scheme has the personal attention of the Secretary of State for Transport himself, because I met him in March last year and he was kind enough to write to me to say:

“I was taken with the fact that”

junction 10A is

“significantly developer-funded, had a high benefit-cost ratio, and was originally scheduled for RIS1.

As a result, I am happy to continue progressing the scheme as previously planned during the RIS3 period, subject to business case.

I also agree with your suggestion that National Highways and DfT officials should cooperate intensively with the local planning authority and the developer to progress the scheme as quickly as possible.”

Given the many items that the Secretary of State has to deal with every day, I am pleased that he has personally taken an interest in the scheme.

I know that the Minister knows Kettering: in his previous guise as Pensions Minister he was kind enough to visit in summer 2022 to support our local older persons’ fair in the Corn Market Hall in Kettering, as part of the drive to encourage pensioners to take up pension credit. I thank him for his interest and for having already visited Kettering.

Junction 10A does not actually exist—at the moment it is just a blob on a DFT map—but it is a junction that local residents very much need if Kettering, Barton Seagrave, Burton Latimer and Cranford are not to grind to a halt because of all the traffic generated by the new house building taking place locally.

In short, junction 10A is critical road infrastructure. Originally, it was set to cost £40 million—the figure is probably is now nearer to £60 million or even more—with financial contributions split between the DFT and the developer, and it is required to deliver phase 2 of the Hanwood Park development which, in Government planning terms, is designated as a garden community that will comprise an eventual 5,500 dwellings and employment land covering 328 hectares to the east of Kettering. Local land values will not allow the junction’s development to be funded without Government intervention, so public funding is required.

In line with planning conditions, junction 10A must be in place by the time that between half and two thirds of the dwellings on the development are occupied. Just under 1,400 dwellings are already occupied, and the developer’s current housing trajectory shows that the dwellings trigger for the junction will be reached some time in 2026 or 2027. There is therefore a significant risk that without the new junction the development will grind to a halt in three or four years’ time, so my ask of His Majesty’s Government and the Minister today is for a firm commitment to include junction 10A in the Department’s road investment strategy 3, which is the programme for major road programmes in the period from 2025 to 2030. Junction 10A is already in the pipeline for RIS3, but we now need a definite funding commitment to include it.

The continuation of the sustainable roll-out of the Hanwood Park development can happen with confidence only if there is a definite Government commitment to the junction and a tangible Government commitment to the funding. What we are talking about is the need for joined-up government. If His Majesty’s Government are to get anywhere near their objective of 300,000 new dwellings built each year in England, they need to ensure that the requisite roads infrastructure is in place. The funding of junction 10A and the enabling of Hanwood Park to continue to be developed beyond 2026-27 will be a key test of the dovetailed Government housing and road strategy.

I know that the DFT already recognises the importance of the junction, because funding for it was originally included in RIS1 for the 2015-to-2020 period. The slow roll-out of housing development amid the national economic conditions at the time meant that the programme was not activated then, but housing development on the site is now proceeding at pace, with up to 400 new dwellings a year, and the funding commitment is now required.

Importantly, the Hanwood Park development is the fourth largest sustainable urban extension in the whole country. It is one of the nation’s flagship housing extensions and sits within the strategic Oxford to Cambridge planning arc. For local people, the Hanwood Park development is the equivalent of bolting on to the town of Kettering itself another town the size of Desborough. We have to ensure that the homes built on the development form a vital, liveable community and do not simply become one big, soulless housing estate. To make that happen, we must ensure not only that the infrastructure is in place to serve those new dwellings, but that there is no adverse impact on the quality of life of existing residents in other parts of Kettering, Barton Seagrave, Burton Latimer and Cranford.

Outline planning permission was originally granted in April 2010 for 5,500 houses; a range of employment uses; a mixed-use district centre, including shops, local services and a health clinic; three local centres; a secondary school; four primary schools; hotel and leisure development; and extensive formal and informal open spaces.

Work is well under way to deliver development in the first phase of Hanwood Park, with 2,117 homes benefiting from reserved planning matters approval, and these are either built out, currently under construction or about to be commenced. Reserved planning matters approval has also been given for roads, green spaces, sustainable urban drainage systems and utilities infrastructure. Hayfield Cross Church of England Primary School—the first school on the site—is fully operational and serves the needs of Hanwood Park and the surrounding area. A free school bid has been successful for the delivery of the secondary school.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic and the associated economic downturn, delivery continues across the scheme, with David Wilson Homes, Barratt, Bellway, Orbit, Persimmon, Avant, Taylor Wimpey and Grace Homes, which is a local small and medium-sized enterprise house builder, progressing on site. As of early December 2023, about 1,126 dwellings were occupied, with a further 300 under construction. This includes the successful delivery of more than 20% affordable housing, which meets a key requirement of local housing needs, as well as more recently adapting to changes in the energy system, with the latest developer at Hanwood Park, Grace Homes, delivering 100% electrically heated and powered homes, which are well insulated and using heat pumps ahead of the introduction of the future homes standard.

Further confidence has been expressed in Hanwood Park, including proposed investment in non-residential facilities, including for a health centre and an anchor food store. These investments will be subject to receipt of planning permission, which in turn requires progress to be made on the junction 10A road scheme. The fact that such investment has been made—in effect, conditional on securing the junction improvement—places an increased focus on the RIS3 programme and demonstrates again the strong fundamentals in place at Hanwood Park and the additional benefits that the RIS3 investment will bring.

Hanwood Park is also proposed as the site of a much needed mixed-sex secondary school, which His Majesty’s Government have done much to support. The delivery of the school is also, in practical terms, contingent on the junction project being committed to.

The rate of delivery during the past few years, including throughout the pandemic, has at times reached an impressive 400 units a year. This, against a backdrop of mixed performance elsewhere in the country, demonstrates the significance and substantial contribution that Kettering can make to the UK’s growth prospects.

A new outline planning application has been submitted for the remaining 3,383 dwellings, as well as the remaining schools, formal and informal open spaces, district and local centres, a hotel and employment. The application has reached an advanced stage, with North Northamptonshire Council’s planning committee targeting this spring, in a few months’ time, for a decision on it—but certainty on junction 10A is critical to the scheme.

The development of Hanwood Park forms a key component of housing to be delivered in North Northamptonshire and Kettering in the adopted “North Northamptonshire Joint Core Strategy 2011-2031”. Housing growth will be in parallel to the delivery of employment land and other uses. The development as a whole is estimated to create an amazing 8,100 new local jobs. Without a Government commitment to junction 10A, 2,000 new homes, including 400 affordable ones, simply will not be delivered. Without junction 10A, there would be significant and unacceptable traffic congestion at the existing junction 10 roundabout and elsewhere, as well as untenable residential amenity issues caused by large vehicles accessing the employment uses located in the south-eastern area of the new development. That means that the traffic would be forced to travel through the new residential areas.

In addition to the continued housing delivery, the new junction will unlock employment land, which is key for local sustainable growth. The new junction is essential in enabling the delivery of some 10 hectares of employment land in the south-eastern quadrant of the development. The market delivery of those employment sites would be extremely challenging and may not be possible without junction 10A. The same position is true of land situated in and around junction 10A. There is therefore a significant risk that the development as a whole will grind to a halt. Thousands of jobs could be at risk, and further homes simply will not be built.

At the moment, 2026 remains the target date for the delivery of junction 10A, in line with the DFT’s RIS3 programme, but that requires detailed planning approval to be achieved and procurement to commence concurrently. That can happen only if there is confidence in the Government’s commitment to junction 10A and a tangible commitment to RIS3 funding. Hanwood Park now faces the unwelcome prospect of beginning to halt the development in the next two years unless there is clear and unambiguous confidence in the ongoing support for the project. The challenge will increasingly become a question of supply rather than demand, as there are a little more than 700 homes left to construct and occupy.

Against that backdrop, local residents on site are becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of delivery of further amenities and facilities, which is leading to more journeys by car to alternative locations to meet basic needs and undermines the principle of the original sustainable urban extension programme. Any further loss of momentum will damage long-term confidence in the scheme and create discontent among the new residents, who are beginning to question whether it will ever be completed. Developers and investors alike need as much certainty as possible to be able to plan and have confidence in the route ahead, and recent progress is now in danger of stalling.

I know that National Highways is progressing junction 10A through its approval processes and considering the part-funding solution for the new junction. North Northamptonshire Council is fully engaged and supporting the process, together with the developer of Hanwood Park. My view is that the process now needs to be expedited so that there is certainty around the delivery of the new junction, which is critical to the delivery of Hanwood Park as a whole. A firm commitment to RIS3 funding is now imperative to ensure continued housing delivery, including vital affordable housing, along with the significant employment opportunities and economic growth that the local area needs, and to give the market confidence that delivery will not be stifled.

I invite the Minister, on one of his regional road tours, to come and see Kettering for the second time in his ministerial career and to see the site of the proposed new junction. For local people, the tragedy is that we could have had as many as 3,500 new homes built on Hanwood Park without the necessary road infrastructure to take us beyond that level. That presents the real risk of gridlock in the town of Kettering, with initial houses already provided but the Government not coming up with their share of the funding for the new junction 10A.

My plea to my hon. Friend the Roads Minister, on behalf of local people in Kettering, is that he recognise the fundamental importance of the new junction to people in the local area, and that the Government make the commitment to fund it that we badly need and expedite the process to deliver the junction on the ground.

What a pleasure and joy it is to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. I put on record my thanks for your work in the House of Commons and our sadness that you are departing; those massive shoes will need to be filled.

It is an honour to respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone). Before I get into the nuts and bolts of junction 10A, I should say that, even though it does not exist as yet, it is probably the most debated junction in the House of Commons in the history of roads and transport. There was a debate on 4 November 2020 and then another debate exactly one year ago, on 21 February 2023. I thank my hon. Friend, because he is a fantastic campaigner. Every single Member of Parliament looks up to him because of the work that he does on behalf of his constituents, and he is nothing if not determined and persistent. He is a worthy local champion for the fine town of Kettering.

My hon. Friend is right: I was privileged and honoured to attend on 1 July 2022—I looked that up—during the dog days as the Minister responsible for pensions, the older persons’ fair at the Corn Market Hall in Kettering. That is a delightful building, and that was a fantastic opportunity to meet dozens and dozens of people who are doing amazing community group work and amazing volunteering but also providing older persons’ work and opportunities, part time and full time, in a variety of ways. It was credit to my hon. Friend and his local council, which was co-running that fair, that I was able to see the massive enthusiasm for community, above everything else, but also the jobs that everybody was trying to provide.

I then enjoyed a particularly fine lunch at 27 Crown Street, where I was talking about all those matters—older workers, pensions and the like—and was only slightly taken aback when someone said, “You really do look too fat to be a steeplechase jockey.” That is something that one has to bear when one is a long way off racing weight. Such is life.

Now I come to the nuts and bolts of the issue today. As my hon. Friend is utterly aware, the A14 is in effect a modern-day Watling Street. It is the key junction, key connection, between so much across the country. It is an integral part of the road network, and it is utterly key to his constituency of Kettering. I totally get that. That point is utterly well made.

The Hanwood Park development is also genuinely groundbreaking. I do not think there is any doubt whatever that the scale of ambition, the number of developers individually, as corporate entities, and the scale of the desire to build a proper garden city that has all the amenities, schools and free schools, and the business development that follows are genuinely game changing. It is something that has been going on for a long time, dating back, as we my hon. Friend and I are acutely aware, to the planning application successfully going through in 2010. It has then had various iterations as the houses have been built.

It is also very much the case that this project has the full support of the Department for Transport. I want to assure my hon. Friend of that, first in outline and then by getting into the nuts and bolts of the details. First, he rightly makes the point that he has met many roads Ministers. He also had a specific meeting with the present Secretary of State, who stated unequivocally that this is a unique development because it is something with a high degree of contribution by developers. On 22 March 2023, the Secretary of State stated:

“I am happy to continue progressing the scheme as previously planned during the RIS3 period, subject to business case.

I also agree with your suggestion that National Highways and DfT officials should cooperate intensively with the local planning authority and the developer to progress the scheme as quickly as possible.”

There have been a number of developments since then, and I want briefly to go back over the planning and the memorandums that have been engaged in before I get to the final points I wish to make. The first issue, clearly, is what has happened in the passage of time since the 2010 planning approval. In April 2021, the developer resubmitted a planning application for the full 5,500 homes, as my hon. Friend is acutely aware. The key issue will be the trigger point in respect of when certain conditions apply. I take it from his assurances in the House that we are to have the final resolution of that planning application in the next couple of months. There is a degree to which this is chicken and egg, and I fully understand that point, but I can certainly confirm that this project is and will be in RIS3.

There are two provisos to that. The first is the business case, but I think my hon. Friend and I know that this project probably has the best business case in the country, as far as I am aware, because it has significant developer contribution and is absolutely in support of all our other objectives. Personally, I see no difficulty whatsoever, but these things have to be assessed on an ongoing basis.

The second key point is that the project is subject to planning permission. If planning permission were to be refused, that would make things complicated. However, I want to convey to my hon. Friend and his constituents, particularly the Hanwood Park residents, and to this House and, most importantly, the local authority that will determine the planning condition that, provided the planning condition is satisfactorily passed, all the conditions in RIS3 will apply. It seems to me inevitable and entirely right that this project should be built as part of RIS3.

Clearly, I cannot pre-judge the decision of my hon. Friend’s local authority in the next couple of months, but there is no doubt in my mind that this project should proceed. Commitments have been made for this project in the past, and, subject to those two preconditions, both of which are eminently resolvable, it should unquestionably be achieved in the next few years.

I wish to try to make clear a couple of other minor points. As I understand it, in the summer of last year—in July 2023—following the steer from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, a memorandum of understanding between National Highways and the developer was signed that set out various protocols, including the role of National Highways in ensuring the works by the developer associated with junction 10 on the A14. Those technical works are already under way as part of stage 1, led by the developer and its technical team. There is also a full transport assessment of the updated proposals, and National Highways is supporting that work and undertaking necessary checks and assurances.

While it is true that this junction does not exist at the present stage, I have some very impressive plans of said junction, and it is way more advanced than many things that are ethereal in the mind and insubstantial in the action that we often discuss in this House. The utterly key thing is that the local authority needs to progress the planning application, and National Highways needs to put all hands to the pump to ensure that it is ready to proceed. I can give my hon. Friend the assurance, as previously expressed in writing by the Secretary of State, that this project is part of RIS3.

Before the Minister sits down, I thank him for his detailed and assiduous response. Once the planning permission is granted—hopefully in the next couple of months—would the Minister be kind enough to come and visit the site so that he can see it for himself and we can then progress the expedition of this scheme on the ground?

My hon. Friend has prejudged the point I was going to make, which is that it would unquestionably be a delight, an honour and a privilege to return to the good people of Kettering and to spend some time with him. That was my intention. I do not think there is much point in me coming until the local authority has made its decision, but when that happens it would seem entirely right and proper for me, my hon. Friend, the local authority and National Highways to meet on site. I could come and visit the site and give the proper direction, oomph, and various other steers that this project needs to be proceeding apace. I hope that reassures him. I look forward to coming to visit Kettering on another summer occasion, and to the local authority making the right decision so that we can then progress junction 10A. That is something the Government support in its entirety.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.