Congestion (A14)

Part of Mi6 – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 19th July 2006.

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Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering 4:30 pm, 19th July 2006

My hon. Friend is spot on, and that is the main focus of the debate. We were promised joined-up government in 1997, but I am afraid that the Department for Transport needs to have a closer dialogue—and fairly soon—with both the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Highways Agency if its growth agenda in the part of the world that my hon. Friend and I represent is not to stall.

Another problem is that when the A14 is congested and does not work properly, the traffic spills over into Kettering, adding to the already gridlocked situation in the town and affecting other villages in my constituency, such as Welford, which becomes clogged up with lorry traffic.

The problem with the A14 is bad enough, but it will be added to by the huge number of houses that the Government are imposing on Kettering and the surrounding area. The figures are staggering: in the next 15 years the Government want 52,100 new houses to be built in north Northamptonshire. I asked a parliamentary question the other day about the Department for Transport's working assumption of the number of car journeys a year generated by each new house built. The answer comes to 1.29 car journeys a day. My maths is not great, but 52,100 new houses in north Northamptonshire will mean 468,900 extra car journeys a week—almost half a million more. Because the A14 is used as a bypass round Kettering, it simply will not be able to cope. That is why the Department for Transport, the Department for Communities and Local Government, and the Highways Agency need to come up with a proposal for an eastern bypass for Kettering, to relieve the town not only of the traffic that it already experiences, but of the huge growth in traffic that it will experience in the next 15 years.

The problem in Kettering is compounded by the old road network. My local newspaper, the Evening Telegraph, recently ran a series of stories about the traffic situation in the town, including the junction under the railway bridge, which is described as

"the worst in the...county for...congestion".

That junction is usually bad, but when the A14 is clogged up, it is an absolute nightmare. I say in all frankness to the Government, as I have done on many occasions before, that their growth area agenda for Kettering will not work unless they come up with some sensible road infrastructure proposals for Kettering, Corby and Wellingborough.

I am not the only one to say that, because the Highways Agency says the same itself. It has already imposed a series of article 14 directions preventing development in Corby, not unrelated to the A14. I also have documentary evidence that says that the Highways Agency cannot approve planning applications for developments in and around Kettering unless a solution to the problem of the A14 is found. On the one hand, the Department for Communities and Local Government has imposed a statutory obligation on the local authorities to deliver more houses; and on the other hand, an executive agency, the Highways Agency, says that those houses will not be able to proceed unless the road network is sorted out.

The statutory duty is for 52,100 houses in the next 15 years. There are no improvements in line for the A14 round Kettering in the Government's transport plan until 2017 at the earliest. The situation is the same for other roads that feed into the A14 round Kettering, such as the A43, for which there are no improvements until 2021. Alarm bells are ringing in Kettering, because local people rightly fear that we are going to have the new houses first and that the road infrastructure—if it comes at all—will only follow them. That is completely unacceptable to my constituents.

One does not have to take my word for it. I have here documentation from the Milton Keynes and South Midlands Inter-Regional Board, chaired by Baroness Andrews, and its meeting on 22 June this year. Highlighted in red, as a top priority, is the lack of capacity on the A14. The document states that the Highways Agency is concerned

"that there is insufficient A14 capacity to deliver more than 3,000 additional houses in the Corby/Kettering area without provision of restrictive junction access control measures in the short term."

So local residents in Kettering are not only worried about the provision of improvements to the A14 in the long term; we now face the threat of junction access control measures on to the A14. If they are introduced, I can tell the Minister that the traffic will back up along the A43, back up into Kettering and back up into Wellingborough and the area will simply grind to a halt. Worryingly, the document goes on to state that there is

"No guarantee that value for money A14 capacity improvements can be identified, or that they can be afforded or delivered before 2016".

I am using this debate to draw the Government's attention to this very serious problem. The Minister and his colleagues need to get to grips with it, and fast.

Will the Minister confirm that the Highways Agency, North Northants Development Company and Northamptonshire county council are looking at a study into improving the A14, but that the conclusions of that study have been delayed? When is the report likely to be published? When is the Government's response to that report likely to appear?

I have also highlighted the fact that the problems with the A14 are not only of local but national concern because of the strategic importance of the route. I have been supported in that argument by my hon. Friends. Will the Minister confirm that the Department for Transport, together with the Highways Agency, will be providing appropriate funding for improvements to the A14 before 2017? Will he give specific advice on the nature of the various DFT funding schemes that would be available to provide those improvements? Also, will he be doing something to improve the north-south highway network through north Northamptonshire, including giving approval to the southern section of the Isham bypass in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough? Will he confirm that he will encourage the county council to bring forward plans for the dualling of the A43 Kettering to Northampton road?

Will the Minister consider extending the funding of the sustainable towns initiative to Corby, Kettering and Wellingborough to assist in the implementation of the Government's sustainable transport agenda as, under that scheme, the Department has already given £10 million to Worcester, Darlington and Peterborough to encourage people to use sustainable modes of transport?

In the short time available for this debate, I hope that I have stressed that this is an issue of great importance to local residents in Kettering and north Northamptonshire and, as my hon. Friends have highlighted, further afield. I would not want the Minister to leave Westminster Hall without being aware that the local residents in all the constituencies represented here today expect the Government to get to grips with the issue and sort out the A14 before the whole area becomes gridlocked.

Annotations

David Brede
Posted on 20 Jul 2006 1:38 pm (Report this annotation)

It is worthwhile considering the options to resurrect the rail network in the area as a means of reducing congestion. The link from Kettering to Corby is still intact but not used for passengers, and there is scope to reopen smaller stations on the existing Midland Mainline. Perhaps a future community railway initiative could start here?