My hon. Friend, who is ever quick out of the stalls in a debate, makes a very good point. I will touch on the problems of congestion.
There is an historical perspective to this 30-mile stretch of the A5. Near this road, the governance of our country has changed not once but twice. At the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, the man who became Henry VII defeated Richard III. Most of us are familiar with that, not least because of the publicity around Richard III’s re-interment a couple of years ago.
Less well known is the battle of Watling Street, which took place 1,400 years earlier. In AD 60, when Nero, the adopted son of Claudius, was on the throne, the 14th legion of the Roman army was moving down the country after defeating the druids in Anglesey. Somewhere near Witherley in my constituency or, more likely, further south at Mancetter, the legion met Boadicea, queen of the Iceni—her statue is not far away—and the united English tribes, and roundly defeated them; this led to Roman dominance in England south of that area for many years to come. According to the historian John Higgs, Tacitus said that 80,000 Britons were killed in that battle. If that is true, it would be the most people killed in a single day in history before the first world war.
Those anecdotes about the two battles and the geographical centre emphasise the point that this is no ordinary A road. It is right at the heart of our country. It has been crucial and has played its part in troop movements—Henry VII moved down Watling Street to London after his success at the battle of Bosworth Field.
The road has lost its pre-eminence—or had lost it, I should say—since the building of the M1 between 1959 and 1968, and the building of the M6 from north of junction 18 of the M1, which was finished in May 1972 and opened by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. After that, the A5 lost attention and was no longer the great north-west road that it had been. That has all changed. I will now turn to the arguments for making it an expressway and expending £10 million, a relatively small sum of money, to take that project forward.
Along this 30-mile section of road and beyond, my hon. Friends the Members for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey) and for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), and other colleagues, have an incredibly fast-growing corridor of movement and of economic growth. There are significant proposals for 60,000 new homes—a staggering amount—to be delivered along that corridor between Northampton and Stafford via Warwickshire and Leicestershire up to 2031. I cannot see how that can take place without investment in the A5.
There is also the impact on the sub-regional economies of Staffordshire, Leicestershire, Coventry, Warwickshire and Northamptonshire. In addition to housing growth, more than 500 hectares—more than 1,000 acres—of new employment land is planned that will contribute £1.5 billion gross value added to the economy and generate thousands of jobs over 20 years. That is a staggering investment.
The golden triangle in the midlands is bounded by the motorway system. I could go through a list of business parks in or near my constituency, including Sketchley Meadows, Magna Park and MIRA Technology Park, that are set to expand in a staggering way. Yesterday I spoke to MIRA, which got the go-ahead to become an enterprise park in 2011. There were originally about 600 jobs there, and there are now 1,200. In five or 10 years’ time, according to our conversation, there will be between 2,500 and 3,000 high-value jobs there.
MIRA is working with Warwickshire Council on a proposal for an additional development on the 92 acres of land on the south side of the A5, Watling Street, which I am sure comes as no surprise to the Conservative Members present—my hon. Friends the Members for Nuneaton, for North Warwickshire, for Rugby and for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa). That development will be massively affected by what happens on the A5. MIRA tells me that it is trying to bring entirely new technology to the region, including projects that relate to the environment, such as the development of electric batteries for cars. It is advertising internationally right now to take that forward.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby was quick off the mark in mentioning congestion. The economic prosperity of the midlands relies heavily on the performance of the strategic road network because of its central location and the connectivity with routes, including no less than four motorways—the M1, M5, M6 and M40—and the A14, A46 and A5 trunk roads. The standard of the A5 is shocking. It is mostly a single-lane road, with some dualling, and it regularly gets clogged up, as we all know. It will be impossible for the economic corridor to develop unless we act now. For the sake of resilience, a proper relief road for the motorway system is critical. The M1 and M6 are frequently closed because of traffic problems, bridge changes and all kinds of other problems; I am sure my hon. Friends present could name many more.
The A5—the old great north-west road—is the obvious candidate as a relief road, because it goes straight through the triangle of motorways. Our case is that that 30-mile stretch of the A5 should be upgraded to expressway standard, with priority given to the section between the M1 and the M42. I understand from Highways England, which is responsible for the A5, that £10 million would be required for completion of detailed studies to secure early delivery of the expressway over the next route investment strategy periods. I hope that the Minister will address that in his reply.
Let me set out what action has been taken so far. A transport partnership was formed in 2009-10 and has representation from 18 local authorities, including local highways authorities and the local economic partnership. It has grown to cover a much longer stretch of the road— the 72-mile section from Gailey in Staffordshire to Stony Stratford near Milton Keynes—and has produced its first report. It seeks delivery growth, support for network resilience, management of freight impact and the delivery of a safe, secure and sustainable A5.
This is what others have said about the matter. Sir John Peace, Chairman of Midlands Connect and Midlands Engine, said:
“The Midlands Connect Strategy demonstrates that to improve the economy of our region, rebalance the UK’s economy”— we in the midlands often feel that sometimes we are neglected—
“and accommodate growth we must upgrade the transport infrastructures”.
He said that we need to
“see the A5…playing a key role”,
“upgrading the route will dramatically improve access within our region”,
and that the A5 is
“a vital component to strong economic growth for the Midlands, and our region’s contribution to the UK economy.”
Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, said that
“we recognise the significance of the Midlands A5 Expressway in the larger Strategic Road Network…indeed, Midlands Connect have highlighted the A5 Expressway as a corridor of strategic and economic significance…which is a statement we also advocate”.
Highways England has undertaken four studies and concluded that there is a strong economic case for an A5 scheme, with a range of credible options for further study. Four options have already been tested and shown to offer high value for money. The housing infrastructure fund bids that have been submitted for key priority work in the north Warwickshire stretch of the A5 will have a huge impact.
I must raise a couple of parochial matters. A long headache in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton has been the fact that two national highways—the A5 and the A47, which runs through Hinckley and beyond—share a stretch of road. He and I have campaigned for years to improve that tiny stretch at the Long Shoot junction where the two roads become one.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire for providing me with information about his meeting with the Secretary of State; no doubt he will raise that today if he catches your eye, Mr McCabe. I also thank Councillor Brian Conway, lead councillor of the A5 parish councils contact group, who has highlighted problems with the rat runs through Witherley and Fenny Drayton; the notorious A5 Woodford Lane junction, which has the worst accident record of any intersection between the M42 and Milton Keynes; the anomaly of A5 traffic having priority over traffic already on the Mancetter island; and the Department for Transport’s reliance on old data.
To use modern slang, this is a no-brainer. We will not be able to deliver the terrific expansion at MIRA, the huge housing developments that I am sure other hon. Members will raise, or a solution to the pressure from Birmingham if we ignore the A5. We have to do something about it—the A5, the old great north-west road, Watling Street. That would be terrific value for my hon. Friend the Minister, because a proper relief road is essential when there is trouble on the motorways. I rest my case.