I congratulate Daniel Zeichner on securing this debate on the A14 Cambridge-Huntingdon upgrade, and on taking us all the way to the Arctic circle. He must have noticed, as you will have, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I am not the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Jesse Norman, who has responsibility for roads, but I will do my best to respond to all the points that have been raised. Anything I am unable to cover will no doubt be addressed in writing.
The hon. Member for Cambridge diligently raised the concerns of his constituents about this subject and particularly the impact of road diversions through Cambridgeshire as a result of the scheme’s construction. He has continued to lobby behind the scenes, too, and he has commented on his meetings with Highways England to resolve the A14 diversions.
I will use this opportunity to outline what Highways England is doing to reduce the impact of the scheme’s road diversions on local residents. I will discuss those road diversions in some detail, but I begin by reminding hon. Members of the strategic reasons for the scheme and by providing an update on Highways England’s good progress in delivering these much needed road improvements.
In 2013, the Government committed to improving a 21-mile stretch of the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon, which the hon. Gentleman no doubt supports. This section of road is one of the busiest parts of the strategic road network between the midlands, East Anglia and the port of Felixstowe. It is vital in connecting businesses, communities and families across Cambridgeshire and beyond, and it is a crucial corridor for international freight. However, it is a long-standing congestion hotspot and an area of concern for local communities.
In delivering upgrades to the A14, Highways England and the Department for Transport have acknowledged that demand on the A14 is taking an increasing toll on both drivers and local residents. Commutes between Huntingdon and Cambridge are severely congested. Small villages on either side of the road suffer from increased traffic due to drivers rat-running to avoid traffic delays on the A14.
The existing A14 is not fit for purpose. In recognition of the problems, the A14 improvement works were included as a major project in the five-year road investment strategy that the Department published in December 2014. Local authorities and local enterprise partnerships have together committed £100 million towards the £1.5 billion cost of the scheme. That contribution will help to deliver a scheme that meets the needs of the strategic road network and local people. The scheme will provide benefits to road users and local communities by making the following improvements: 21 miles of new three-lane dual carriageway road; a new 450 metre viaduct; the removal of the existing unsightly viaduct in Huntingdon town centre; two new footbridges at Swavesey junction and Bar Hill; and more than 18 miles of routes suitable for walking, cycling and horseback riding.
The Government and the Department firmly believe that the scheme will create a positive legacy by connecting communities and unlocking regional and local economic growth, while combatting congestion and improving road safety in the area. The A14 upgrade will reduce community severance and relieve congestion on a critical part of the network, making travel and commuting easier, safer and more reliable. Increased capacity will result in fewer accidents on this stretch of road, and the inclusion of better designed grade-separated junctions will further improve safety. The scheme will combat congestion by separating strategic and local traffic. That is vital, as a 26% increase in traffic growth is predicted for the region by 2026, with Cambridgeshire’s employment forecast to grow by 16% between 2012 and 2031.
Changes to the old road will improve air quality and reduce traffic noise. Highways England has been taking significant steps to ensure that the environment and wildlife of the local area are protected throughout construction and, where possible, will benefit from the scheme. As part of the scheme, Highways England will be delivering 2.7 sq kms of new habitat for wildlife and, you will be interested to know, Mr Deputy Speaker, installing 240 bat boxes and a variety of bird boxes—I am glad that you approve. The scheme also provides an opportunity to improve conditions for walkers, cyclists and equestrians through new crossings. This will restore and build new links and pathways, which will better connect communities.
The scheme will help to create a positive legacy in Cambridgeshire, enabling residential and business developments in the area. To date, the scheme has created jobs during construction, with the new highways college in West Anglia being opened to give up to 200 local people the skills needed to get the road built. After the road opens, it will help to connect residents to employment opportunities. Having outlined the key strategic reasons for the scheme, I am pleased to report that Highways England is making good progress—about 50% is complete—and is on target to meet an open-for-traffic date in 2020. That is with the investment of £1.5 billion.
Let me turn to the specific subject of this debate. The hon. Gentleman has concerns that traffic diversions during the construction of the road are increasing noise and pollution for residents on and off the official diversion routes. I assure him that the Government and Highways England are committed to ensuring that the delivery of the scheme causes the minimum inconvenience to local residents. I believe that from September there will be a step change in diversions, which will lead to improvements.
The issue of lorries and other vehicles not following the recommended road diversions was raised, and Highways England has been working hard to develop measures that will help to reduce these impacts and encourage more drivers to use the preferred diversion routes. Highways England is working closely with Cambridgeshire County Council and partner organisations to minimise the impacts as much as possible. When closures are in place on the A14 between junction 36 at Nine Mile Hill and junction 31 at Girton, the strategic diversion route directs traffic south of Cambridge to use the M11, A505 and A11—those are two sides of a triangle. However, alternative routes are required for non-motorway traffic and for traffic travelling to local destinations when the strategic diversion would not be considered acceptable Those routes take traffic further into and around Cambridge city centre and include Kings Hedges Road, Newmarket Road and Milton Road.
Highways England has no powers to prevent road users, including those in HGVs, from taking other routes that they have a legal right to access as an alternative to the official strategic diversion route. Highways England is working proactively to encourage strategic traffic to follow the official diversion route, including by giving weekly briefings to regional media, parish councils and local organisations, as well as through posts on social media.
Highways England is working closely with all agencies. The dialogue commenced during the development consent order process, as part of which diversion routes were discussed and agreed. A project team meets the police and local authority at least once a month to discuss traffic management. There are more than 40 road signs, with some including instructions not to follow sat-nav systems, and up to 13 mobile variable-messaging signs. Overhead signs are in use further afield on the strategic road network.
The A14 project team is working with the Road Haulage Association and Freight Transport Association so that diversion information can be shared with their members. Highways England is working with Cambridgeshire County Council to implement speed signs and HGV counters to assess the additional numbers of HGVs that are using key routes when the A14 is closed. Cambridgeshire police is aware of the issues being raised and has agreed to check for non-compliance with speed or weight restrictions at key sensitive locations.
The hon. Gentleman asked about data. I assure him that the project team volunteered to introduce measures to tackle the magnitude of the problem. Between
In conclusion, I reaffirm the Government’s commitment to delivering the A14 upgrade on time and within budget. We must ensure that the delivery of such major road schemes puts local stakeholders’ concerns at the forefront of our work. I am confident that Highways England will deliver a scheme that meets the needs of strategic road network users and will minimise the disruption to local people.
Question put and agreed to.