A5 Trunk Road

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:13 pm on 5th November 1997.

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Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment) 1:13 pm, 5th November 1997

As I have already pointed out, the whole purpose behind our consultation process and the publication of a White Paper next year is that there should be a strategy to create an integrated transport system not only for the short and medium term but well into the future. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the point that I made earlier: in Wales a similar review is taking place, based on exactly the same principle. We have to have a strategic overview.

Once we have identified the priority problems, the next step is to ensure that all the credible options are properly evaluated. There is no presumption that a road scheme is the right solution, or that a scheme in the roads programme is the best option. We envisage two outputs from this part of the review: first, a short-term investment programme; secondly, a programme of studies to look at the remaining problems—from which we will develop the medium and longer-term investment programme.

The short-term programme will include measures to make better use of the existing network, and new construction schemes. The new construction schemes are likely to come from the inherited roads programme and address priority problems in a way that is consistent with our integrated transport strategy. We will not put schemes into the programme if it is clear that an alternative option could obviate the need for the existing scheme. The right thing to do in those cases is to study the alternatives more fully before reaching decisions.

I now deal with the specifics of the hon. Gentleman's point about the A5 between the west midlands and north Wales. As he said, the A5 is an important transport link in regional, national and international terms. It is designated as part of the trans-European network route known as the Ireland-UK-Benelux road link. Over the past few years, improvements have been made to the Oswestry bypass, the Chirk bypass and its extension over the Welsh border to Ruabon, and the Shrewsbury to Telford improvement.

Other schemes to improve the Wolfshead Weirbrook section and provide a bypass of Nesscliffe have not gone forward. However, the hon. Gentleman has made it quite clear—both to my noble Friend and in his speech this afternoon—that the A5 has a poor safety record in this area. The Highways Agency is well aware of these problems and is considering various options, including options for an improvement at Shottaton crossroads, for which a 50 mph speed limit and speed cameras, are proposed. The cameras will be installed this year, and speed limits will follow once the statutory processes have been completed. The Highways Agency also proposes to introduce camera sites west of Churncote. It is seeking more information on accident problems on particular sections of the road and is looking at options for traffic-calming measures in Nesscliffe.

The whole of the A5 corridor is being considered as part of the roads review. The Government office for the west midlands is seeking regional views on priorities for investment on trunk roads for the region in the context of an integrated approach to transport planning. Officials from the Government office met local authorities from Shropshire and from Hereford and Worcester on 30 September. At that meeting, the local authorities expressed clear support for dualling of the A5 between Ruabon and Shrewsbury. I know that a route assessment study is being carried out for Shropshire county council, which is partly funded by the Highways Agency. We shall take that work into account when we make decisions on the road programme that will emerge from the review.

I must make it clear that a roads-based solution might not be the best one. As I have already said, we want to look afresh at the role of our road system in an integrated approach to transport planning. We seek long-term solutions that will promote sustainable economic development. The criteria are open and above board—integration, environment, accessibility, safety and economy. We should remember that the A5 forms part of the trans-European road network.