I beg to move,
That this House has considered the upgrade of the A5 between junction 18 of the M1 and junction 10 of the M42.
The A5 is one of our oldest roads. It was commissioned during the reign of the Emperor Claudius, after his successful invasion of Britain in AD 43. It is also one of our most strategically important roads. The stretch that we are discussing goes past the geographical centre of England, which is near Higham on the Hill in my constituency. More than ever, it is an essential road because of the circumstances around it, in terms of the growth of proposed housing and business. There is a very pressing need for an effective relief road when there are problems on the M1, M6, M42 and surrounding motorways in this golden triangle.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this timely debate. Right now, there are 90-minute delays on the M6 between junction 1 at Rugby and junction 3 at Nuneaton, where two out of three lanes are closed for repairs to an expansion joint. Highways England is advising drivers to use other routes. In this context, the other main route is the A5, which is one of the reasons why we need the upgrade to deal with traffic that gets moved when there are hold-ups on the M6, as is often the case.
My hon. Friend, who is ever quick out of the stalls in a debate, makes a very good point. I will touch on the problems of congestion.
There is an historical perspective to this 30-mile stretch of the A5. Near this road, the governance of our country has changed not once but twice. At the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, the man who became Henry VII defeated Richard III. Most of us are familiar with that, not least because of the publicity around Richard III’s re-interment a couple of years ago.
Less well known is the battle of Watling Street, which took place 1,400 years earlier. In AD 60, when Nero, the adopted son of Claudius, was on the throne, the 14th legion of the Roman army was moving down the country after defeating the druids in Anglesey. Somewhere near Witherley in my constituency or, more likely, further south at Mancetter, the legion met Boadicea, queen of the Iceni—her statue is not far away—and the united English tribes, and roundly defeated them; this led to Roman dominance in England south of that area for many years to come. According to the historian John Higgs, Tacitus said that 80,000 Britons were killed in that battle. If that is true, it would be the most people killed in a single day in history before the first world war.
Those anecdotes about the two battles and the geographical centre emphasise the point that this is no ordinary A road. It is right at the heart of our country. It has been crucial and has played its part in troop movements—Henry VII moved down Watling Street to London after his success at the battle of Bosworth Field.
The road has lost its pre-eminence—or had lost it, I should say—since the building of the M1 between 1959 and 1968, and the building of the M6 from north of junction 18 of the M1, which was finished in May 1972 and opened by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. After that, the A5 lost attention and was no longer the great north-west road that it had been. That has all changed. I will now turn to the arguments for making it an expressway and expending £10 million, a relatively small sum of money, to take that project forward.
Along this 30-mile section of road and beyond, my hon. Friends the Members for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey) and for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), and other colleagues, have an incredibly fast-growing corridor of movement and of economic growth. There are significant proposals for 60,000 new homes—a staggering amount—to be delivered along that corridor between Northampton and Stafford via Warwickshire and Leicestershire up to 2031. I cannot see how that can take place without investment in the A5.
There is also the impact on the sub-regional economies of Staffordshire, Leicestershire, Coventry, Warwickshire and Northamptonshire. In addition to housing growth, more than 500 hectares—more than 1,000 acres—of new employment land is planned that will contribute £1.5 billion gross value added to the economy and generate thousands of jobs over 20 years. That is a staggering investment.
The golden triangle in the midlands is bounded by the motorway system. I could go through a list of business parks in or near my constituency, including Sketchley Meadows, Magna Park and MIRA Technology Park, that are set to expand in a staggering way. Yesterday I spoke to MIRA, which got the go-ahead to become an enterprise park in 2011. There were originally about 600 jobs there, and there are now 1,200. In five or 10 years’ time, according to our conversation, there will be between 2,500 and 3,000 high-value jobs there.
MIRA is working with Warwickshire Council on a proposal for an additional development on the 92 acres of land on the south side of the A5, Watling Street, which I am sure comes as no surprise to the Conservative Members present—my hon. Friends the Members for Nuneaton, for North Warwickshire, for Rugby and for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa). That development will be massively affected by what happens on the A5. MIRA tells me that it is trying to bring entirely new technology to the region, including projects that relate to the environment, such as the development of electric batteries for cars. It is advertising internationally right now to take that forward.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby was quick off the mark in mentioning congestion. The economic prosperity of the midlands relies heavily on the performance of the strategic road network because of its central location and the connectivity with routes, including no less than four motorways—the M1, M5, M6 and M40—and the A14, A46 and A5 trunk roads. The standard of the A5 is shocking. It is mostly a single-lane road, with some dualling, and it regularly gets clogged up, as we all know. It will be impossible for the economic corridor to develop unless we act now. For the sake of resilience, a proper relief road for the motorway system is critical. The M1 and M6 are frequently closed because of traffic problems, bridge changes and all kinds of other problems; I am sure my hon. Friends present could name many more.
The A5—the old great north-west road—is the obvious candidate as a relief road, because it goes straight through the triangle of motorways. Our case is that that 30-mile stretch of the A5 should be upgraded to expressway standard, with priority given to the section between the M1 and the M42. I understand from Highways England, which is responsible for the A5, that £10 million would be required for completion of detailed studies to secure early delivery of the expressway over the next route investment strategy periods. I hope that the Minister will address that in his reply.
Let me set out what action has been taken so far. A transport partnership was formed in 2009-10 and has representation from 18 local authorities, including local highways authorities and the local economic partnership. It has grown to cover a much longer stretch of the road— the 72-mile section from Gailey in Staffordshire to Stony Stratford near Milton Keynes—and has produced its first report. It seeks delivery growth, support for network resilience, management of freight impact and the delivery of a safe, secure and sustainable A5.
This is what others have said about the matter. Sir John Peace, Chairman of Midlands Connect and Midlands Engine, said: “The Midlands Connect Strategy demonstrates that to improve the economy of our region, rebalance the UK’s economy”— we in the midlands often feel that sometimes we are neglected— “and accommodate growth we must upgrade the transport infrastructures”.
He said that we need to “see the A5…playing a key role”, that “upgrading the route will dramatically improve access within our region”, and that the A5 is “a vital component to strong economic growth for the Midlands, and our region’s contribution to the UK economy.”
Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, said that “we recognise the significance of the Midlands A5 Expressway in the larger Strategic Road Network…indeed, Midlands Connect have highlighted the A5 Expressway as a corridor of strategic and economic significance…which is a statement we also advocate”.
Highways England has undertaken four studies and concluded that there is a strong economic case for an A5 scheme, with a range of credible options for further study. Four options have already been tested and shown to offer high value for money. The housing infrastructure fund bids that have been submitted for key priority work in the north Warwickshire stretch of the A5 will have a huge impact.
I must raise a couple of parochial matters. A long headache in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton has been the fact that two national highways—the A5 and the A47, which runs through Hinckley and beyond—share a stretch of road. He and I have campaigned for years to improve that tiny stretch at the Long Shoot junction where the two roads become one.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire for providing me with information about his meeting with the Secretary of State; no doubt he will raise that today if he catches your eye, Mr McCabe. I also thank Councillor Brian Conway, lead councillor of the A5 parish councils contact group, who has highlighted problems with the rat runs through Witherley and Fenny Drayton; the notorious A5 Woodford Lane junction, which has the worst accident record of any intersection between the M42 and Milton Keynes; the anomaly of A5 traffic having priority over traffic already on the Mancetter island; and the Department for Transport’s reliance on old data.
To use modern slang, this is a no-brainer. We will not be able to deliver the terrific expansion at MIRA, the huge housing developments that I am sure other hon. Members will raise, or a solution to the pressure from Birmingham if we ignore the A5. We have to do something about it—the A5, the old great north-west road, Watling Street. That would be terrific value for my hon. Friend the Minister, because a proper relief road is essential when there is trouble on the motorways. I rest my case.
As ever, Mr McCabe, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (David Tredinnick) and congratulate him on securing this debate, which is a very important one for my constituents. I am delighted to see my hon. Friends the Members for Rugby (Mark Pawsey), for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey) and for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) present.
The part of the A5 under discussion is a vital part of the national strategic road network and the UK distribution and logistics network. All the constituencies represented by the hon. Members present are part of what is known in the logistics industry as the golden triangle, because of its excellent links to the rest of the country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth has identified, the A5 is a vital resilience route for the operation of the west midlands section of the M6 and the east midlands section of the M1.
My speech will address the particular challenges facing the route along the northern boundary of my constituency. This is often a heavily congested part of Watling Street, where there are challenges associated with heavy volumes of local traffic meeting heavy volumes of traffic travelling long distance along the A5. This section of road also includes a number of busy junctions, which are not just traffic bottlenecks; at times, there have been significant accidents, and there has been a very sad history of fatalities.
On the positive side, the A5 between the Royal Redgate junction and the MIRA Technology Park, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth mentioned, has been upgraded in recent years to dual carriageway. That was done under a £17 million regional growth fund grant in 2014. Since then, as my hon. Friend also said, over 600 jobs have been created at the MIRA Technology Park, and it is thought that another 1,500 to 2,000 could be created on that site.
We are therefore seeing economic development as a result of that comparatively small investment, but my constituents have also seen significant safety improvements. That is because the once lethal Royal Redgate junction, where people have to cross the A5 to go north or south on the A444, has been significantly improved and is much safer than it was.
My constituents also have significant issues in relation to the Woodford Lane junction, which my hon. Friend mentioned. I have a number of constituents in the Hartshill ward who use Woodford Lane. It is a minor but extremely busy junction, where it is possible to turn both left and right on to a very wide part of single carriageway. In recent years, there have been a series of minor accidents, some major accidents and, regrettably, several fatalities. Although there have been some very minor upgrade works there, we have not seen anything approaching the type of major upgrade scheme that is needed to make the area much safer. I must also say that a number of my constituents have contacted me recently about the quality of the road surface on the A5 in the area; currently, it is far from ideal.
Probably the most difficult area for the majority of my constituents who use this stretch of the A5 is the Long Shoot junction, where the A47 meets the A5. Despite upgrade works undertaken in 2015, which have been relatively successful, the sheer volume of traffic at this junction at peak times creates huge delays for my constituents on the A47 and the A5. Also, for those living at the top of the Long Shoot junction and on that stretch of Watling Street that runs alongside it, there is a significant problem with pollution from standing vehicles, given the length of time it takes them to get through.
The Minister will know that an upgrade is planned for the short section of the A5 between the Long Shoot junction and the Dodwells island, where Nuneaton meets Hinckley. He will not need me to tell him that, given the challenges in that area, that upgrade is very much a short-term fix. It is important and it is required, but it will not deal with the fundamental issues. I also understand that the work to upgrade that short section of road has been put back slightly, to facilitate the important upgrade of the M6.
Although this debate is not about the M6, there is the issue of resilience to consider, and I am glad that the Government are investing significant money to bring smart motorway to junctions 2 to 4 of the M6. That will hopefully cut down significantly on the accidents there, which have the knock-on effect of causing gridlock for my constituency, as people see fit to get through to the A5 and the M69. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby has said, we can absolutely guarantee even today that the people of Nuneaton will suffer absolute gridlock as a result of the closure of the M6, so we need to consider resilience.
As I have outlined to the Minister, there are challenges but they are set against the backdrop of a very positive economic story around the A5. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth of the plans that exist. As I understand it, there are 500 hectares of new employment land being planned along this stretch of the A5, which could deliver £1.4 billion in gross value added to the regional economy of the midlands and create thousands of jobs in the next 15 to 20 years.
There will also be significant housing growth, with 15,000 new houses being built in my constituency and in the neighbouring Bedworth part of the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire. Although many of my constituents are concerned with that development—I myself am concerned, because much of it is taking place on the north side of Nuneaton, in one large block—it highlights the necessity to find a better solution to the A5 problem, so that we can facilitate the new development.
I have explained the challenges; I will now turn to the solution. I am enthused by the concept of the midlands expressway. It will transform the A5, fully dualling the highway from Tamworth right down to Crick. As I understand it, there are several options to achieve that transformation, which would open up the potential for growth and, above and beyond that, transform the lives of many of my constituents, improving their quality of life tremendously.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth has pointed out, there is a partnership of local authorities, and I pay tribute to the excellent work of the Conservative-controlled Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council. It is a medium-sized district council, but it has been instrumental in the work of this A5 partnership. On my side of the A5, it is being very well supported by Warwickshire County Council, and on the side of my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth, it is being very well supported by Leicestershire County Council.
All those authorities are backed by a number of business organisations and businesspeople. Sir John Peace, the chairman of the Midlands Engine and Midlands Connect, is backing this project, as is Andy Street, the West Midlands Mayor, who sees the value of the works being proposed for this area.
Considerable feasibility work has already been done, as the Minister will know. Highways England has looked at this project and, encouragingly, it has concluded that there is a strong economic and strategic case for a scheme of this type on the A5. It has also concluded that there are a number of credible options and that the project would deliver “high” value for money.
The Minister is currently working on roads investment strategy 2. My ask is that the A5 scheme is acknowledged as part of RIS2 and that our request for the resource to develop more detailed work on a specific route for early implementation is looked on favourably. My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth said that £10 million is needed to take that initial work forward, so I will just impress on the Minister that this is an important matter for my constituents. If we are to achieve this transformation, it needs to be thought about now—even if the work itself is carried out several years from now—because this route needs safeguarding. That is because there is a lot of new development in the area, and the last thing we want is for that new development to take place where the route of the A5 should be.
I am sure that, throughout this roads strategy process, my hon. Friend the Minister will have colleagues from across the country knocking down his door to try to get a response on the road projects that they want. However, I just say to him that, on this stretch of the A5, there is clearly a solid business case, and the project will help to deliver significant numbers of new houses and significant amounts of commercial development and new jobs, allowing the midlands to fulfil its economic potential.
Finally, the time for quick fixes and sticking plasters along this stretch of the A5 is over. We very much need to take a more substantive approach. We need to make this once Roman route fit for the 21st century.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (David Tredinnick) on securing this hugely important debate and on his thoughtful speech, which was excellent in covering the sensible and reasonable A5 improvements that are much-needed. Watling Street and Fosse Way cross in my constituency. I often wonder what my ethnic ancestors would think if they were to look at that stretch of the road today, with its high level of traffic. When the Romans first built that junction, it was busy, but it was never heavily congested. Perhaps we have something to learn from my ethnic-Roman ancestry.
Many Members will no doubt be aware of the huge strategic importance of the midlands to Britain’s thriving industry. Whether it is logistics parks, rail freight terminals or international airports, the midlands is a beacon for British industry and innovation. I am proud that much of that industry can be found in my constituency of South Leicestershire. As my hon. Friend said, the area is known colloquially as the golden triangle. That refers to the intersection of major motorway networks in the local area, which provide crucial links for commercial and residential traffic.
The A5 shares that commercial and residential importance. As my hon. Friends will be aware, the A5 is a major road in my constituency and theirs. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), I have experienced the long queues of traffic on the A5 at various times of the day. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth correctly stated, unless the Minister takes into account the strategic needs of the road, the problems will only be exacerbated by the further planned industrial and housing developments.
Further consideration should be given to the villages in the vicinity of the A5, particularly those in and around my constituency. I am thinking of the Claybrookes, Ullesthorpe, Wigston Parva, Sharnford, Cotesbach and Shawell, to name but a few. Having listened to the chairman of the Leicestershire Fosse villages neighbourhood plan group—a voluntary organisation that speaks for constituents in the south Leicestershire villages of Sharnford, Stoney Stanton and Sapcote—I think we need to take account of the ever increasing traffic demands in and around those areas. These rural, idyllic villages already suffer from a swathe of large HGVs and other commercial traffic. While I have been working closely with constituents in Sharnford, for example, to help to remedy the problems, I fear that the issues will only get worse if we see the increase in development outlined by my hon. Friends without any significant increase in the associated infrastructure, in particular the improvements on the A5 that we seek.
My hon. Friend is making an important point about ensuring we get infrastructure before development takes place. The A5 acts as a boundary between his constituency and mine. In the same way that his villages are affected, people from Pailton, Monks Kirby, Churchover, Clifton and Newton are in many cases reluctant to go on to the A5 because of the large number of HGVs using it as a consequence of the industrial development that has taken place. That will only get worse if development continues.
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. My family use a dentist in Pailton, so we are familiar with travelling along the A5 to get to that wonderful village.
The Magna Park logistics park is one of the largest in Europe and is located in my constituency. Given its proximity to the market town of Lutterworth, my constituents are often subject to unreasonable amountsof commercial traffic clogging up the area. However, as we heard from my hon. Friends, the A5 does not have an impact only in my constituency. I am glad to say that it is also important and significant for my hon. Friends here today. My hon. Friends the Members for Bosworth, for Nuneaton, for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) and for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey) have been instrumental in pushing the matter to the very top of the Department for Transport’s agenda, and I pay tribute to their excellent efforts. Like me, they recognise the plight of their constituents and are cognisant of the A5’s huge importance. For that matter, I thank Conservative-led Blaby District Council and Conservative-led Harborough District Council, which have also been pushing efforts to help to improve infrastructure on the A5 and surrounding areas.
In closing, it is important to note that the concerns I have expressed about the A5 are not simply local concerns; they are regional and national. The A5’s strategic importance should not be underestimated, but to keep up with economic growth and our nation’s industry, vital infrastructure improvements such as those proposed to the A5 must be prioritised. The road stretches through four counties and multiple constituencies and encompasses hundreds of thousands of our constituents, so the A5’s inclusion in the road investment strategy 2 is not only a must for my constituents and those of my hon. Friends; it is a must for the people of the midlands. It is very much a big picture project, and the road needs big improvements right away.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (David Tredinnick) on securing this important debate and on the versatility he showed in starting with a history lesson and ending with modern slang. In between, he put together a powerful case. I echo the comments of colleagues, which I completely agreed with. A strong business case has been put forward today as to why the development is needed as soon as possible.
The A5 is a key route in the heart of the country. We have an ambition as a Government to push forward the midland engine, so the route is going to become even more important. From my perspective, it is important to North Warwickshire. We have a central location right off junction 10 of the M42. We attract many types of business because of our location. Ocado, Aldi, TNT, 3M, UPS and Euro Car Parts all have significant bases along the A5 in my constituency. The borough has a proud record of creating jobs. We have an incredible record: my constituency provides 1.22 jobs for every working age person. Some 18,386 people from across the west midlands come into North Warwickshire every single day to work.
As my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) just mentioned, this debate is not just about North Warwickshire, but about the wider west midlands infrastructure. The current situation is that this stretch of road is not fit for purpose. Were Members to go on the road at this time of day—my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) made this point, but it has been echoed by all colleagues—or in the morning, we would see complete congestion in such areas as Dordon, Grendon and Atherstone. That frustrates local residents and puts off future investment by companies. If there is an accident on one of the roads that the A5 connects to, such as the M42, the M1 or the M69, we have complete gridlock. As I have said, there is a strong business case and need for this. If we are to unlock the potential of the area, it is important that we take urgent action.
I would like to raise three specific points with the Minister. My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth mentioned that I have already put them to the Secretary of State. I brought members of North Warwickshire Borough Council along to the meeting, and the Secretary of State was very understanding. He knows the area well, particularly in relation to the first point that I will raise, but obviously I would like to hear the Minister’s view.
The first point is about the impact of HS2 on the area. I will not dwell on this too much, but anyone who knows me will not be surprised to hear me say that I am not a huge fan of the project and it is not something that I particularly support. It is worth reiterating that we are the most affected area outside London. We will get 31 miles of track, with disruption to the area potentially lasting for about 17 years. Critically, HS2 will run straight through junction 10, where the M42 meets the A5, so we will see further upheaval on an already busy junction.
HS2 provides a threat and an opportunity. The threat is quite clear: huge disruption to a key area of road, which is the gateway to not only the north Warwickshire borough, but large parts of the country. If there is no access through that area, traffic will be displaced on to other routes. The opportunity is to make substantial improvements that would not only mitigate some of the disruption that people will face over that long period as a result of HS2, but create a more freely moving road network, which will bring benefits and, as has been said, investment to the local area. From the discussions I have had, I think that the solution is to create a partnership with HS2, Highways England and Warwickshire County Council, which is the local highways authority. There is precedent for that being done along phase 1 of the route, where those partnerships have worked well. I do not support the development of HS2, but if it is to go ahead, it is important that the traffic offering to local residents is enhanced. This would seem the perfect opportunity to do that.
My second point, which has also been made by colleagues, is about local development in the area. North Warwickshire Borough Council is having to revise its housing figures from 3,150 to 9,070, and 42% of that is to accommodate the Greater Birmingham housing area. The challenge is that more than two thirds of the borough is green belt, so we can develop only in limited areas, the majority of which are along the A5 corridor, which, as I have said, is already at tipping point. There are significant areas of single carriageway, and there has been a lack of thought among previous councils when approving commercial developments, in that they did not upgrade the local infrastructure to accommodate for them.
Without significant improvements, it will clearly not be feasible to deliver the housing. However, the other side of the coin is that if we get it right, there is the potential not only to alleviate the current issues and provide new housing opportunities, but to unlock ambitious employment opportunities across North Warwickshire. Warwickshire County Council’s transport assessment backs that up, highlighting the importance of the A5 growth corridor. I have supported its bid to the housing infrastructure fund, but I cannot stress enough that, without the right infrastructure, housing simply will not be delivered in North Warwickshire.
The third point might seem small, but I urge the Minister to visit and judge for himself the rather interesting Mancetter island. It is right in the heart of the A5 and has really odd rights of way. Residents in a number of properties that front on to it have to reverse either on or off their drives to gain access to moving lanes of traffic that do not have to give way as they come down the A5. It is difficult to explain, but I urge the Minister to look at it.
There is danger to both residents and people using that route on a daily basis. There have been some really significant accidents, in particular involving HGVs, because of its logistic nature, and the fact that there is an adverse camber on the road. A number of constituents have had their garden walls demolished as a result. Residents fear that it is only a matter of time before we have a fatality and somebody walking down gets hit. The issue has been raised with Highways England, which has agreed to look at it. Residents have every right to be worried about the issue, which is regularly raised with me. Without amendment to that part of the road, it is unlikely that we will be able to make the most of this important road network.
To sum up, my view, and I think that of colleagues, is that the A5 is currently underperforming, but offers huge opportunities for the area, the west midlands, and potentially the country as a whole. If the ambitions of our local MPs, councils, the action groups that we talked about earlier, and the resident groups are matched by those of the Government, the possibility of a substantial solution, which would greatly benefit the lives of my constituents and people living in communities along the A5, can become a reality. This is about not only the future of the A5, but how we improve the present. I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), particularly in what he asked of the Minister. Clearly action is needed as an urgent priority. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr McCabe. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bosworth (David Tredinnick) on not only giving us an incredibly good history lesson today, but extolling the virtues of all that is planned for his constituency and the surrounding area.
When we are talking about the scale of 60,000 new homes, we have to have a serious discussion about whether we are just talking about development of a new express way, or if we need to look at other modes of transport that are available for local communities as well. If we are talking about that scale of economic opportunity, particularly with the developments that we have heard about this afternoon and the potential of 3,000 new jobs, we need to think about how people are travelling to and from work. While the road provides one option, I think that where we are building significant new developments we also need to start exploring other modes, particularly the future of rail.
As the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey) just highlighted, HS2 should be about creating new opportunity, as opposed to limiting choices for people in the area. If HS2 does not open up new opportunities and does not connect, we have to ask serious questions about what the point of it is in the first place. Although we can see that new stations in places such as Toton will provide new economic development, we need to make sure that everybody along the route benefits from greater connectivity. That will be absolutely essential as we scrutinise the route’s development, the plans moving forward, and the connectivity.
I believe that a very strong case has been put forward this afternoon by hon. Members. I wonder if the costing of £10 million will be the final sum proposed. It sounds like a rather small amount of money, so I was a bit confused by that sum. We know that improvements to roads are incredibly important. The hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) spoke about removing the rat runs from the villages, as they create such a nuisance. We heard about the distress of constituents over delays, which the hon. Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) highlighted. Delays do not just eat into a person’s evenings, night after night; they also affect whether someone gets the chance to get home to see their kids in the evening. For some, it will mean whether they can chose to go for a particular form of employment. It is therefore really important that all factors are considered when looking at new developments.
The other important point made by a number of hon. Members was on safety. Although capacity is vital and should be looked at in the future, travel safety has to be the prime consideration. Road improvements, whether changing the camber on the road or providing safe access on and off the highway, are vital. I am sure the Minister will hear that.
I also want to draw out the process of decision making. I have several concerns about phase 1 of the road investment strategy. Although hon. Members may well have put forward a strong case today, we know that a number of projects have been delayed in phase 1. Nineteen schemes have been pushed back into RIS 2, which means that resource that could have been dedicated to the project highlighted today—the expressway—could be delayed in further planning and payment processes. We need to look at that. Six schemes have been cancelled altogether—or, I should say, “paused for further review”. Sixteen projects have been delayed within the RIS 1 period, and there is a bunching up of 54 projects at the end of the phase. That clearly has an impact on the ability to deliver the programme at the end of the phase, in 2019-20 in particular.
In recruitment and skills, we are also seeing feast and famine across the construction sector that we really need to look at. We also need to make sure that we are able to recruit and train locally. The feast-and-famine approach means that people have to go further afield, and as a result, the costs of projects go up.
I would like the Minister to commit to moving on from that feast-and-famine approach—not least because it builds expectations from constituents. When the de-electrification of the trans-Pennine route was announced, I know from my own constituents how hope in the project plummeted. It is really important to do due diligence now, to make sure that every mode of transport has been explored to bring the best economic value into the midlands area. If there is a commitment, it is important they are adhered to in a timely way. We cannot have overprogramming and overpromising, then a deletion of expectation. I trust the Minister will speak to that in his contribution.
It is a delight, possibly a honour, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I start by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (David Tredinnick) for this useful, important and timely debate, which ties into a wider pattern of effective and successful lobbying from Members and colleagues from the same area.
My hon. Friend will know that this is an important area not merely for its road transport connections but for its history. He referenced the battle of Watling Street in AD 60-61, tragically not referring to my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Giles Watling), at the opposite end of whose constituency one would hope the road would ultimately end, but referring to the great Roman victory. Of course, the day after celebrating the suffragettes and the suffragists, I note the tragedy of our greatest suffragette, Boudicca, suffering her untimely defeat at such a moment. I thank him for the historical reference.
In order to respond to the comments from the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) about RIS 1, I will start by laying out the Government’s overall approach. The debate has been interesting in the way that it has blended national and regional concerns relating to the road investment strategy’s second phase and the question whether this project should be a candidate for an expressway, with specifically local concerns, such as Mancetter island and so on, which Highways England might be invited to consider as part of its local responsibilities. It is important to keep those two balanced.
As hon. Members will know, in recent years, the Government have taken a much more long-term, phased and planned approach to investment in the strategic road network, including our motorways and main A roads. That has been a very important development over the last five to seven years. We do so for a specific reason, which is that when there is more longevity in the system and greater visibility of funding in the overall envelopes, there can be better planning, costs can be driven down in relative terms and productivity can be improved; overall, there should be greater certainty of delivery.
I thank the Minister for outlining the reasonable position of the Government in taking a long-term view when it comes to financing, but my South Leicestershire constituency has one of the largest logistics parks in Europe, Magna Park, and there is a proposal to double its size. That is not a long-term proposal—it is an immediate one. Given the problems we have expressed about congestion, noise, air pollution and so on, would the Minister look sympathetically at how the Government’s policy can be linked with the infrastructure proposals outlined by my hon. Friends and others from my constituency?
I am rather regretting giving way to my hon. Friend, because his intervention was of such a length and repeats information he already put on the record through his speech. I have very little time to make a quite a lot of points that I know he and other colleagues will want to respond to. Needless to say, of course the Government are sensitive to great and fast-breaking developments. We have schemes, including the large local major transport scheme, that are designed precisely to assist local government to petition where there are important local developments that can require new infrastructure on shorter term notice.
Highways England is making good progress according to the investment strategy launched in 2015, which brought with it a very large increase in funding for the strategic road network—more than £15 billion in the five years between 2015 and 2020. Highways England has already delivered something like 18 schemes that are open for traffic. Work on the £1.5 billion A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon scheme is advancing well.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) mentioned the interaction between the M6 junction work and the work at Dodworth. He is of course right about that. What it shows—I use this to respond to the hon. Member for York Central—is that work has got to be phased, and sometimes the acceptance of bids is not consistent with the intelligent structuring of investment. As a result, Highways England routinely and quite properly slightly overprogrammes the amount of investment it is making, knowing that some of those schemes will not hit the correct benefit-cost ratios, some local authorities in some cases will not have their bids and other work ready on time, and there will be local opposition in some cases that may delay a scheme. Therefore, it is important to understand that some balancing out will be required, and that is what has happened in RIS 1. There has been some delay for all of those reasons. That does not, unfortunately, mean that the money that has not been spent can be redeployed, because it is overprogramming within an overall envelope that has been used for purposes of investment.
This represents significant progress, but we recognise that there is more to do, and it is in that context that it is important to think about the second phase of the road investment strategy, which has been highlighted by colleagues today, and the Government’s investment in the strategic road network between 2020 and 2025. It will be funded by the new national roads fund, which is designed to assist planning, remove the potential for disruption and ensure that all money spent by taxpayers on vehicle excise duty in England will be reinvested back into the roads network. There will be a much closer link between the money people pay and the investment that is made, which will allow us and Highways England to take a co-ordinated, long-term approach to investment in the network.
It is vital that the strategy’s potential is realised, and that we use RIS 2 to unlock wide-ranging benefits for the whole nation. The RIS 2 system deploys and relies on proper input from local authorities, and we are very pleased with the work that has been done by those who have submitted bids and expressed interest in RIS 2 schemes across the country. That crucial feedback will help us to make and Highways England to implement the right investment decisions for our strategic roads.
I thank my hon. Friends the Members for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa), for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey), for Nuneaton, for Rugby (Mark Pawsey), and for Bosworth for their co-ordinated approach to considering this road, which is entirely appropriate for a regional bid. I also thank them for the letter they jointly signed supporting the proposed upgrade between the M42 and the M1 near Rugby. I note that the scheme is backed by 18 local authorities and has been endorsed by the Midlands Connect strategy.
It is important to understand that Highways England is taking careful note of the bid—I want to put that on the record clearly. We are grateful for that. Highways England has proposed the conversion of the country’s busiest A roads to what it calls an expressway standard. It has provided evidence to suggest that that could provide users of those roads with improved performance and safety benefits, and a motorway-standard experience. As hon. Members know, the Department is consulting on the proposals, and the consultation closes, as luck would have it, today, having been open for two months—again, serendipity for my hon. Friend’s debate.
I assure colleagues that the case Highways England made for investment in the A5 has been recorded as a formal response to the consultation, and I have noted it in this debate. The Department will publish its response to the consultation in the spring. Officials—those present and those in the Department—will have been noting all the advice given today, which will be taken into account as part of the consultation.
The hon. Member for York Central was right to raise a quizzical eyebrow about the £10 million that my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth said would be the total cost of the scheme. If I understand it right, that £10 million will be required for the next phase of work into a study of the options. We are not quite in the world of Linda Evangelista, but £10 million does not go far when we are building roads. The research phase concludes after the Department’s response to the public consultation, after which decisions will be made about the content of RIS 2.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton rightly identified the importance of avoiding accidents and pollution wherever possible, and of getting the full benefit from investments. I share that view. The reason for treating this as a route is so that a holistic view can be taken across all those issues—
You said we would finish at 5.46 pm, Mr McCabe.
I said 5.43 pm.
In that case, I apologise.
I am very sorry, but the clock has beaten you on this occasion.