I beg to move,
That this House
has considered road infrastructure.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Gillan. I am conscious that many right hon. and hon. Members are in the room; I shall try to give way as much as I can and leave time for other Members to make speeches.
It is somewhat fortuitous that this debate is taking place today. According to the front page of The Times—I am sure it can, as ever, be believed—today is the day when the transport investment strategy for the next decade is to be announced, which will include a £1 billion per year fund to allow local authorities to bid for bypass projects. Can I be the first hon. Member in this House to make an oral application to the Roads Minister—for bypasses for Little Common, off the A259, and for Hurst Green, off the A21? I am sure I will not be the last applicant today.
Both those roads are busy, single-lane A roads that cause congestion and danger through two villages in East Sussex. They have the misfortune to be managed by Highways England. If the Roads Minister came and visited both roads—he would be absolutely welcome—he might be surprised that they are part of the Highways England portfolio. The reason is that they are deemed to be trunk roads, off the A27 and M25 respectively. The villages badly need to be bypassed, but Highways England naturally focuses its resources on the motorway or dual carriageway network within its portfolio.
As my colleagues here today will be aware, there are only 11 km of dual carriageway in the entire county of East Sussex. My ask is that the new fund should be accessible for local authorities to deliver bypasses, even if that bypass would be off a Highways England road. It is a misfortune for the two roads that I mentioned that they are controlled by Highways England—it is illogical—but my concern is that the new, £1 billion fund is available only to local authority-managed roads. That would be an obstacle for those two roads. I ask the Roads Minister that the issue of qualification should be type of road, rather than the entity managing it.
The A21 is a trunk road that runs from the M25 through Kent, then through East Sussex and down to the coastal town of Hastings. Highways England is continuing the dualling from Tonbridge to Tunbridge Wells in Kent, but it thereafter turns to single file when it enters East Sussex—a bit of discrimination, I would say, that benefits Kent. Some miles further on, the road goes through the heart of the village of Hurst Green in my constituency. In 2014, the A21 was deemed by the Road Safety Foundation as the most dangerous road in the UK—so much so that one section of dual carriageway that we do have in East Sussex has been closed and coned off as a single carriageway due to the dangers of speeding.
A bypass for Hurst Green was in the pipeline and homes were purchased by Highways England, but it was postponed in the 2010 spending review. Now those homes are being resold. Last year, Highways England announced that it would introduce average speed limits on to the A21, from the end of the new works at Tunbridge Wells all the way down to Hastings. Although that would not improve or remove the congestion, or decrease travel times, it would perhaps do something about the appalling safety record.
The villagers and I were therefore dismayed to find out last year that Highways England had decided that that work would not be forthcoming and that better options are available. None of those options has been given to us. I am afraid it just compounds our issue in East Sussex: that Highways England does not appear interested in our road network.