Strategic Road Network: South West

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:12 am on 19th July 2017.

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Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 11:12 am, 19th July 2017

I absolutely take the point. It would have been remiss of me as the Minister not to have addressed this important issue, on which my hon. Friend has been vociferous—and rightly so—along with other colleagues in the past. That is why I have raised it now.

Highways England has been assessing a larger-scale upgrade of the Bridgwater junction, as set out in the road investment strategy. When my predecessor wrote to my hon. Friend recently, he relayed the fact that Highways England was continuing to collect data to inform its assessment so that it could continue to ensure the right solution for the local area. I will make certain that Highways England presses on with that process. I have encouraged it to continue to improve its engagement with colleagues—this is a valuable case in point—so that all relevant views are properly taken into account.

In addition, in March 2017 the Government named 27 proposed small congestion relief schemes that can be delivered quickly. The south-west was allocated some £32 million for improvements, better driver information and queue protection on the M5. Of course, we welcome further inquiries as to how junctions elsewhere in the region and on that road can be improved.

In the time that remains, I will briefly turn to the question of the future. As I have said, the £15 billion currently being invested represents a substantial increase in the rate of investment in roads, but even so, the first road investment strategy—what we call RIS 1—remains only an initial step, albeit more strategic than hitherto. That is why we have already started work on developing the second road investment strategy, RIS 2, which will handle further investment in the network beyond 2020.

The Department is currently gathering and analysing evidence about the performance of the network and the future pressures it faces. Of course, that is a dynamic process as further changes are made and ways of using the road network themselves change. Central to that approach has been Highways England’s work to refresh its 18 route strategies, each focusing on different sections of the strategic road network, which were published in March. As part of that work, Highways England gathered information from MPs, road users, local authorities and other stakeholders through an online public consultation last summer and through face-to-face meetings.

My hon. Friend will be particularly interested in the Birmingham to Exeter route strategy, which identified areas along the M5 where there are current and anticipated future pressures on the network. I am sure that also goes for other Members of all parties present in the Chamber.

We will use that evidence, and the results of a public consultation planned for later this year, to develop an investment plan that is affordable and deliverable and that will meet our key aims for RIS 2, specifically to support economic growth; improve network capability; enhance integration with local roads and other transport modes; reduce the number and severity of accidents; and protect the environment. We remain on track to publish the second RIS before the start of the next road period on 1 April 2020. In that context, I will pick up a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare. That approach also needs to take into account some of the pressures that a route strategy has in relation to other arterial roads to ensure that the counterbalancing we have discussed is properly discharged.

While I am aware that the focus of this debate has been on the strategic road network in the south-west, I hope that I may acknowledge quickly the value of the local road network. Most journeys that use our motorways and major A roads start on the local road network. The Government continue to provide funding for local authorities and local enterprise partnerships in England to help fund large transport schemes that improve connectivity, ease local congestion and improve or update existing infrastructure, thereby helping to promote growth and deliver more housing. Most of the Department’s funding for large schemes now sits in the local growth fund, with some £6 billion provided to local enterprise partnerships through different growth deals.

Since 2011, the Department for Transport has invested over £360 million in major local schemes in the south-west. As well as the largest schemes, we continue to fund smaller schemes designed to open up developments and help maintain roads and bridges. The Government are also keen to invest in road maintenance to make roads better for users. That is why £12.5 million has been made available to fix potholes—a topic of great interest to every member of this House—in the south-west.

Shortly, I plan to announce the winners of the 2017 to 2018 highways maintenance challenge fund, whereby the Government will be investing £75 million to improve smaller local roads, including through resurfacing, pothole filling and other infrastructure projects. In summary, we are delivering on our plans for investment in the south-west’s road network, both strategic and local, to give the south-west the roads it needs for the future.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.