A5 Trunk Road

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:49 pm on 5th November 1997.

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Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Conservative, North Shropshire 12:49 pm, 5th November 1997

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing the deplorable state of the road north of Shrewsbury to be brought to the attention of Parliament.

I believe that the matter was last debated in 1817, when Irish Members, exasperated by the road stretching from London to Holyhead, which goes back to Roman times, managed to persuade Parliament to commission Thomas Telford to rebuild the road. He found that the condition of the road between London and Shrewsbury was not too bad, but the road from Shrewsbury to Holyhead had to be completely rebuilt. It was described after that time as the finest road in Europe.

There are echoes of that today. A person leaving Dover can drive 200 miles on motorways or dual carriageway. Coming to Shrewsbury, that person will drive on a new dual carriageway built in 1992. There are roundabouts at Shrewsbury, and the road later becomes single carriageway. That person's life is at risk. He passes through Nesscliffe, the first village to be traversed since leaving Dover.

Reaching my constituency, the driver comes to Shottaton, a crossroad that has not changed since Thomas Telford built it. It the most dangerous crossroad in Shropshire. Two miles further on, at Queen's Head, there is the second most dangerous junction. At Oswestry, there are four roundabouts. For the purposes of this debate, I am including the road from the Shropshire boundary on to Ruabon, which is designated the A483. That is also single carriageway. From Ruabon onwards, it is plain sailing—dual carriageway right the way through to Holyhead.

It is extraordinary that we expect long-distance goods traffic and express buses to travel at high speed all the way from Dover, and then suddenly to cope with the demands of a narrow road built in the early 19th century, competing with local traffic, local buses, local delivery vehicles and local people going to school and trying to cross—there are 94 access points to the A5, 23 junctions and 23 footpaths. The result is confusion.

Traffic is increasing. At Moreton Hall, 21,300 vehicles cross on an average day. That is an increase of 44 per cent. from 1991 to 1996. Already this year, there has been an increase of 5.9 per cent. in traffic. There is dreadful confusion, congestion and, above all, an entirely unacceptable level of accidents.

I could read out the most harrowing letters, outlining the human misery caused by those accidents, which are totally unnecessary. I shall give the figures, which speak with a horrible, cold clarity. From 1992 to September this year, between Shrewsbury and Ruabon, there have been 276 accidents; 367 people have been slightly injured; 147 have been seriously injured; and 25 people have been killed.

The West Mercia police have a formula for calculating the cost to the community of accidents. They estimate that slight injury costs us all £10,000, a serious injury £150,000, and a death £1 million. I estimate that the road has cost the country more than £50 million in the past five years.

The only solution is to build a dual carriageway from Shrewsbury to Ruabon. The new dual carriageway round Shrewsbury has reduced the accident rate to levels below the national level. If those levels prevailed on the A5, next year there would be 45 fewer accidents, and two fewer people would die.

The road would not be cheap. Shropshire county council's engineers estimate £48 million for the stretch from Shrewsbury to Oswestry, and another £34 million from Oswestry to Ruabon. However, the payback in simple human terms—the reduction in human suffering and loss of life—would be rapid.

There is also a local economic cost. Oswestry has the highest unemployment in Shropshire at 7 per cent., and the Victoria ward of Oswestry has male unemployment of 13 per cent. However, the Highways Agency has the statutory duty to overrule local planners if any new project would bring extra traffic to the A5 above 3 per cent.

That has already happened. A supermarket project was cancelled at Mile End, and now there is a complete blight on any further development on that site. It is extraordinary, considering the fact that storage, refrigeration and food distribution is a major industry in Oswestry. To deliver just on time to supermarkets all over the country, those distributors need a road that they can rely on. The existing road is not reliable.

Just up the road, at Gobowen, there is the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt orthopaedic hospital, offering care second to none in the world, serving 8 million people and employing 900. The future of that hospital must be prejudiced if health authorities are loth to risk their patients on the road, which is dangerous and subject to delays. The workings of that major hospital are constantly disrupted by the delays caused by the accidents on the A5, as patients and consultants do not arrive on time.

There is a regional aspect. The Shropshire Gap links the west midlands industrial conurbations and also Wrexham and the industrial area of north-east Wales. Soon, those areas will also be damaged by the constant delays of freight and passenger traffic being held up on the A5. That is bizarre, when one considers that the road has been designated one of the key roads in the trans-European road network—that is the road from Felixstowe, Britain's largest container port, through to Holyhead. Of the 333 miles, 32 miles are single carriageway, and those are the miles between Shrewsbury and Ruabon, which are as narrow as 7.3 m in parts of my constituency.

It would be entirely consistent with the strategy laid out in the Government's discussion paper to invest in a dual carriageway on the A5. The Government would not be reacting in an ad hoc manner to a spirited local campaign, as the investment would be the final link—the final 10 per cent.—in a strategic road, which would conform to the Government's idea of long-term investment in planned integrated trunk roads.