A5 Upgrade

Part of Palestinian Children and Israeli Military Detention – in Westminster Hall at 4:58 pm on 7th February 2018.

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Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Vice-Chair, Conservative Party 4:58 pm, 7th February 2018

As ever, Mr McCabe, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I thank my hon. Friend David Tredinnick and congratulate him on securing this debate, which is a very important one for my constituents. I am delighted to see my hon. Friends the Members for Rugby (Mark Pawsey), for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey) and for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) present.

The part of the A5 under discussion is a vital part of the national strategic road network and the UK distribution and logistics network. All the constituencies represented by the hon. Members present are part of what is known in the logistics industry as the golden triangle, because of its excellent links to the rest of the country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth has identified, the A5 is a vital resilience route for the operation of the west midlands section of the M6 and the east midlands section of the M1.

My speech will address the particular challenges facing the route along the northern boundary of my constituency. This is often a heavily congested part of Watling Street, where there are challenges associated with heavy volumes of local traffic meeting heavy volumes of traffic travelling long distance along the A5. This section of road also includes a number of busy junctions, which are not just traffic bottlenecks; at times, there have been significant accidents, and there has been a very sad history of fatalities.

On the positive side, the A5 between the Royal Redgate junction and the MIRA Technology Park, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth mentioned, has been upgraded in recent years to dual carriageway. That was done under a £17 million regional growth fund grant in 2014. Since then, as my hon. Friend also said, over 600 jobs have been created at the MIRA Technology Park, and it is thought that another 1,500 to 2,000 could be created on that site.

We are therefore seeing economic development as a result of that comparatively small investment, but my constituents have also seen significant safety improvements. That is because the once lethal Royal Redgate junction, where people have to cross the A5 to go north or south on the A444, has been significantly improved and is much safer than it was.

My constituents also have significant issues in relation to the Woodford Lane junction, which my hon. Friend mentioned. I have a number of constituents in the Hartshill ward who use Woodford Lane. It is a minor but extremely busy junction, where it is possible to turn both left and right on to a very wide part of single carriageway. In recent years, there have been a series of minor accidents, some major accidents and, regrettably, several fatalities. Although there have been some very minor upgrade works there, we have not seen anything approaching the type of major upgrade scheme that is needed to make the area much safer. I must also say that a number of my constituents have contacted me recently about the quality of the road surface on the A5 in the area; currently, it is far from ideal.

Probably the most difficult area for the majority of my constituents who use this stretch of the A5 is the Long Shoot junction, where the A47 meets the A5. Despite upgrade works undertaken in 2015, which have been relatively successful, the sheer volume of traffic at this junction at peak times creates huge delays for my constituents on the A47 and the A5. Also, for those living at the top of the Long Shoot junction and on that stretch of Watling Street that runs alongside it, there is a significant problem with pollution from standing vehicles, given the length of time it takes them to get through.

The Minister will know that an upgrade is planned for the short section of the A5 between the Long Shoot junction and the Dodwells island, where Nuneaton meets Hinckley. He will not need me to tell him that, given the challenges in that area, that upgrade is very much a short-term fix. It is important and it is required, but it will not deal with the fundamental issues. I also understand that the work to upgrade that short section of road has been put back slightly, to facilitate the important upgrade of the M6.

Although this debate is not about the M6, there is the issue of resilience to consider, and I am glad that the Government are investing significant money to bring smart motorway to junctions 2 to 4 of the M6. That will hopefully cut down significantly on the accidents there, which have the knock-on effect of causing gridlock for my constituency, as people see fit to get through to the A5 and the M69. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby has said, we can absolutely guarantee even today that the people of Nuneaton will suffer absolute gridlock as a result of the closure of the M6, so we need to consider resilience.

As I have outlined to the Minister, there are challenges but they are set against the backdrop of a very positive economic story around the A5. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth of the plans that exist. As I understand it, there are 500 hectares of new employment land being planned along this stretch of the A5, which could deliver £1.4 billion in gross value added to the regional economy of the midlands and create thousands of jobs in the next 15 to 20 years.

There will also be significant housing growth, with 15,000 new houses being built in my constituency and in the neighbouring Bedworth part of the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire. Although many of my constituents are concerned with that development—I myself am concerned, because much of it is taking place on the north side of Nuneaton, in one large block—it highlights the necessity to find a better solution to the A5 problem, so that we can facilitate the new development.

I have explained the challenges; I will now turn to the solution. I am enthused by the concept of the midlands expressway. It will transform the A5, fully dualling the highway from Tamworth right down to Crick. As I understand it, there are several options to achieve that transformation, which would open up the potential for growth and, above and beyond that, transform the lives of many of my constituents, improving their quality of life tremendously.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth has pointed out, there is a partnership of local authorities, and I pay tribute to the excellent work of the Conservative-controlled Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council. It is a medium-sized district council, but it has been instrumental in the work of this A5 partnership. On my side of the A5, it is being very well supported by Warwickshire County Council, and on the side of my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth, it is being very well supported by Leicestershire County Council.

All those authorities are backed by a number of business organisations and businesspeople. Sir John Peace, the chairman of the Midlands Engine and Midlands Connect, is backing this project, as is Andy Street, the West Midlands Mayor, who sees the value of the works being proposed for this area.

Considerable feasibility work has already been done, as the Minister will know. Highways England has looked at this project and, encouragingly, it has concluded that there is a strong economic and strategic case for a scheme of this type on the A5. It has also concluded that there are a number of credible options and that the project would deliver “high” value for money.

The Minister is currently working on roads investment strategy 2. My ask is that the A5 scheme is acknowledged as part of RIS2 and that our request for the resource to develop more detailed work on a specific route for early implementation is looked on favourably. My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth said that £10 million is needed to take that initial work forward, so I will just impress on the Minister that this is an important matter for my constituents. If we are to achieve this transformation, it needs to be thought about now—even if the work itself is carried out several years from now—because this route needs safeguarding. That is because there is a lot of new development in the area, and the last thing we want is for that new development to take place where the route of the A5 should be.

I am sure that, throughout this roads strategy process, my hon. Friend the Minister will have colleagues from across the country knocking down his door to try to get a response on the road projects that they want. However, I just say to him that, on this stretch of the A5, there is clearly a solid business case, and the project will help to deliver significant numbers of new houses and significant amounts of commercial development and new jobs, allowing the midlands to fulfil its economic potential.

Finally, the time for quick fixes and sticking plasters along this stretch of the A5 is over. We very much need to take a more substantive approach. We need to make this once Roman route fit for the 21st century.