A5 Upgrade

Part of Palestinian Children and Israeli Military Detention – in Westminster Hall at 5:33 pm on 7th February 2018.

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Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 5:33 pm, 7th February 2018

I am rather regretting giving way to my hon. Friend, because his intervention was of such a length and repeats information he already put on the record through his speech. I have very little time to make a quite a lot of points that I know he and other colleagues will want to respond to. Needless to say, of course the Government are sensitive to great and fast-breaking developments. We have schemes, including the large local major transport scheme, that are designed precisely to assist local government to petition where there are important local developments that can require new infrastructure on shorter term notice.

Highways England is making good progress according to the investment strategy launched in 2015, which brought with it a very large increase in funding for the strategic road network—more than £15 billion in the five years between 2015 and 2020. Highways England has already delivered something like 18 schemes that are open for traffic. Work on the £1.5 billion A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon scheme is advancing well.

My hon. Friend Mr Jones mentioned the interaction between the M6 junction work and the work at Dodworth. He is of course right about that. What it shows—I use this to respond to the hon. Member for York Central—is that work has got to be phased, and sometimes the acceptance of bids is not consistent with the intelligent structuring of investment. As a result, Highways England routinely and quite properly slightly overprogrammes the amount of investment it is making, knowing that some of those schemes will not hit the correct benefit-cost ratios, some local authorities in some cases will not have their bids and other work ready on time, and there will be local opposition in some cases that may delay a scheme. Therefore, it is important to understand that some balancing out will be required, and that is what has happened in RIS 1. There has been some delay for all of those reasons. That does not, unfortunately, mean that the money that has not been spent can be redeployed, because it is overprogramming within an overall envelope that has been used for purposes of investment.

This represents significant progress, but we recognise that there is more to do, and it is in that context that it is important to think about the second phase of the road investment strategy, which has been highlighted by colleagues today, and the Government’s investment in the strategic road network between 2020 and 2025. It will be funded by the new national roads fund, which is designed to assist planning, remove the potential for disruption and ensure that all money spent by taxpayers on vehicle excise duty in England will be reinvested back into the roads network. There will be a much closer link between the money people pay and the investment that is made, which will allow us and Highways England to take a co-ordinated, long-term approach to investment in the network.

It is vital that the strategy’s potential is realised, and that we use RIS 2 to unlock wide-ranging benefits for the whole nation. The RIS 2 system deploys and relies on proper input from local authorities, and we are very pleased with the work that has been done by those who have submitted bids and expressed interest in RIS 2 schemes across the country. That crucial feedback will help us to make and Highways England to implement the right investment decisions for our strategic roads.

I thank my hon. Friends the Members for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa), for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey), for Nuneaton, for Rugby (Mark Pawsey), and for Bosworth for their co-ordinated approach to considering this road, which is entirely appropriate for a regional bid. I also thank them for the letter they jointly signed supporting the proposed upgrade between the M42 and the M1 near Rugby. I note that the scheme is backed by 18 local authorities and has been endorsed by the Midlands Connect strategy.

It is important to understand that Highways England is taking careful note of the bid—I want to put that on the record clearly. We are grateful for that. Highways England has proposed the conversion of the country’s busiest A roads to what it calls an expressway standard. It has provided evidence to suggest that that could provide users of those roads with improved performance and safety benefits, and a motorway-standard experience. As hon. Members know, the Department is consulting on the proposals, and the consultation closes, as luck would have it, today, having been open for two months—again, serendipity for my hon. Friend’s debate.

I assure colleagues that the case Highways England made for investment in the A5 has been recorded as a formal response to the consultation, and I have noted it in this debate. The Department will publish its response to the consultation in the spring. Officials—those present and those in the Department—will have been noting all the advice given today, which will be taken into account as part of the consultation.

The hon. Member for York Central was right to raise a quizzical eyebrow about the £10 million that my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth said would be the total cost of the scheme. If I understand it right, that £10 million will be required for the next phase of work into a study of the options. We are not quite in the world of Linda Evangelista, but £10 million does not go far when we are building roads. The research phase concludes after the Department’s response to the public consultation, after which decisions will be made about the content of RIS 2.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton rightly identified the importance of avoiding accidents and pollution wherever possible, and of getting the full benefit from investments. I share that view. The reason for treating this as a route is so that a holistic view can be taken across all those issues—