I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the proposal to dual the A120.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. A line in my maiden speech to this House in 2015 was a request of the Government. I said that I would fight for the Government to
“help relieve congestion on the A120, a road so regularly and heavily congested that many drivers cut through Braintree in order to bypass the bypass.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 596, c. 1287.]
It got a chuckle at the time, if not today. The point was that much of the town of Braintree, after which my constituency is named, is regularly blighted by heavy congestion and long tailbacks. My commuters and residents experience frustration because the A120 is regularly backed up to both the east and west of Galley’s Corner, a major interchange. To the west, people trying to get to the major retail site at Freeport are often stuck in traffic, as are people coming home from work. To the east of that junction, a number of small villages that straddle the A120 are brought to a standstill because of the tailbacks.
For those who are unaware of the geography of the A120, the section we are speaking about starts just to the south of Braintree and stretches across to the junction with the A12. It is part of a major east-west arterial route in a significant part of the country in both cultural and economic potential terms. Stansted airport is on it, and at the other end is the seaport of Harwich. There is a natural flow from an airport to a seaport, yet in the middle—the section we are speaking about—it reduces to an unsegregated minor road with one lane in each direction.
I congratulate my hon. Friend, who has been a doughty campaigner on this issue, on bringing the debate forward. Does he agree that the A120 is a road of national significance because our region is a net contributor to the Exchequer and that, if it wants that to remain the case, we need the infrastructure in East Anglia and the south-east that supports Essex, Suffolk and the whole region?
I thank my hon. Friend for that point. He is right, and he invites me to come on to what I think is a credible pitch for why this road needs improvement. I am certain that my parliamentary colleagues who have constituencies along the route will enhance and reinforce some of the points that I will briskly make, to give time for others to speak.
I have already mentioned having a major airport and a major seaport at either end of this section of road, but ambitious plans have been discussed by local government at both district and county level to unlock the economic potential of this part of Essex and, in doing so, reinforce the economic potential of one of the few net contributory regions to the UK economy. The east of England is one of the net contributors to the UK economy. We want to contribute more, and we would be able to if we could unlock the entrepreneurialism and business acumen of the people who live and work in our part of the country.
Both at district and at county level, there are ambitious plans for business investment and housing investment. Housing is interwoven with the necessity for good quality infrastructure—transport infrastructure, as well as digital and water infrastructure, and social infrastructure such as schools and doctors’ surgeries. It is absolutely key. The road is currently well out of date; it is at best a 1950s or 1960s road, dealing with a 21st-century level of traffic. Improving and dualling this road, rerouting it and taking away the pinch point at Galley’s Corner will not just benefit my constituents in Braintree—although as their representative here that is what I am passionate about—but it will benefit the county as a whole and the country as a whole.
The reason I talk about residents, local government and businesses is that we speak with one voice on this issue. It has been incredibly important to us that local residents, local small businesses, local businesses, Members of Parliament, district council and county council are all on the same page. We are keen not to miss the chance to get funding from Government in the next few years to relieve the pressure on a congested and often dangerous road.
I conclude by saying to the Minister that at this time we need to ensure that the whole of the UK economy is optimised. We have a fantastic opportunity ahead of us. We are now talking about international trade really, for the first time in a generation. For a road in the home counties, with an airport and a seaport, to still be so under-resourced is no longer acceptable. I ask Government to look seriously and sympathetically at the route that Essex County Council has put forward as its favoured option, because if the Government are able to support it, we can help the Government to pay the bills.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank my colleagues for securing this important debate. It is a debate that gives me déjà vu, as I have previously held and spoken in a number of debates on this very road and on strategic infrastructure in Essex over the last eight years, in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. Once again, the walls of Westminster Hall are about to hear the economic case for the A120.
As my hon. Friend James Cleverly has already outlined, the A120 is an economic corridor stretching from the international port of Harwich in the east, which has trade links across northern Europe and serves around 700,000 passengers a year, to Stansted airport in the west, an important international airport that is growing and expanding, and is a huge employer both in Essex and now also in parts of Hertfordshire.
The A120 is important to our economy; in my view and, I think, all our views, it is even more important to the United Kingdom because of the connectivity for the east of England. Research from the brilliant Essex chamber of commerce, a great champion of strategic infrastructure improvements across Essex that has campaigned and worked with the business community, has shown that 56% of Essex businesses that responded to its survey regularly use the A120. Only the A12 at 82% and the M25 at 72% were used more than the A120. However, the Government know, and have heard not just from me but from successive Members of Parliament from the east of England over the last decade and more, that the A120 is not fit for purpose. It needs investment to unlock future economic growth and jobs.
The A120 is also a dangerous road. I remember standing here in this Chamber in 2010, denouncing the A120 for being the 10th most dangerous road in the country. The number of fatalities and road accidents that take place on the A120 is simply appalling. In particular, the 12-mile stretch of carriageway between Braintree and Marks Tey has the greatest number of problems. This stretch of the road, which runs mostly through the Witham constituency, is one of the 10 most dangerous in the country. The accidents and fatalities are appalling. Figures produced in 2005 showed up to 25,000 vehicles using that stretch of the road every day, when single-carriage roads should usually carry up to around 20,000. Data published by the Department for Transport in 2010 on annual daily traffic flow suggested that 14% of vehicle movements on the A120 are accounted for by heavy goods vehicles, compared with an average of 6% across Essex. Too many people are getting hurt and injured on this road.
Likewise, too many businesses are haemorrhaging money while they are stuck in delayed traffic. The Minister will know—I do not think anyone in Government needs to be reminded—that Essex is an economic engine and the county of entrepreneurs. Since 2010 the number of entrepreneurs in the county has risen by 25%, from 52,000 to 64,000 and, as the county contributes £40 billion in gross value added to the economy, the economic case for investment in the A120 more than stacks up.
Back in 2008, proposals were put forward to dual the A120 so that we could meet new demands and sort out its dangerous nature; but as the last Labour Government trashed the economy they also spent a lot of time ignoring Essex, and the scheme was scrapped. Since then, colleagues and I have been campaigning with the Essex chambers of commerce, local businesses and the county council to get this back in the Government’s in-tray, so I was delighted when the Government and Essex County Council agreed a joint funding package to examine once again the feasibility of upgrading and dualling the A120.
Earlier this month, after route option selection, consultation and considerable analysis and assessment, Essex County Council announced its favoured route, known as route D. This route provides the best benefit to cost rate, at 3.75, of the options considered, and is less disruptive to the environment and existing settlements than other routes. It will also help to take traffic out of villages in my constituency, including Silver End and Bradwell, and could save travel time between Colchester and Braintree in the rush hour. Importantly, it will also be a safer route.
The proposal will bring the A120 from the location known as Galley’s Corner—we call it something else that I will not repeat here—through to a new junction with the A12 south of Kelvedon. I appreciate that the favoured route may still have its critics and that, as the proposals progress further, many other issues will need to be addressed, but our county has waited too long for road investment, for this road to be invested in, and for this strategic improvement to take place. We want to see clear action and leadership when it comes to investment in the A120. That means including the A120 in the second road investment strategy process, RIS2.
To make further progress, more work by Government and further work by Highways England is required. It will come as no surprise to our colleague the Minister that I will continue to press this case, as will all colleagues. While I appreciate that the Minister cannot prejudice the RIS2 process and the selection and prioritisation of routes for investment, the Department will have files, which I have no doubt are substantial, on the economic benefits of investment in the A120 and of the gross value added and the return from investing in Essex.
In discussions with the Treasury over the funding envelope of RIS2, it is fair to say that the Department for Transport can be confident in the economic case, which is part of a strong business case. The current cost estimate is around £555 million, which is an enormous sum. However, we do not speak enough about aggregate returns on investments, and we are talking about a strategic location that supports exports, trade and investment. Upgrading the A120 at the earliest opportunity will bring greater resilience to the economy, to the region and to our country.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, when making the business case, it is important to look not only at Essex but at Suffolk? This road is vital to my constituency—connectivity is vital in attracting inward investment—and investing in it will very much help to attract investment to Suffolk, where significant plans are afoot for investment in the energy sector, both at Sizewell and in the offshore wind farms.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Delivering route D will provide £1.1 billion in GVA through new jobs, businesses and housing. It is important that, when looking at the work that we do on transport across our region—on rail, for example—we put forward a coherent business case to the Government for that very purpose. We are an attractive part of the country and we have different sectors that are expanding and growing.
To be up front about this, when we think about our trading options and the economic benefit to the eastern region post Brexit, investing in our roads will enormously benefit Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex. That brings me to asking the Minister to look into not only the A120 but the widening scheme for the A12, which is linked to the A120—these roads cannot be seen in isolation. A failure of successive Governments in the past has been to look at transport and roads as a singular and not a plural, in terms of having an integrated transport strategy.
The Government have already committed to widening parts of the A12 in a three-lane carriageway scheme. Most of the first section to be upgraded—the stretch between the junction 19 Boreham interchange at Chelmsford and junction 25 at Marks Tey—runs through the Witham constituency and is parallel to the great eastern main line. That widening scheme was subject to a consultation by Highways England last year and we are expecting an announcement of the route and the sections to be re-routed.
However, Colchester Borough Council has unfortunately put a spanner in the works at the last minute, as part of its local plan process. I am mindful that I, other colleagues, Highways England and local councils put forward proposals for the A12 widening scheme—announced back in 2014—that would not be compromised by any work taking place with the local plans. We had that assurance from Highways England and the Department. That widening scheme needs to be re-established alongside the configuration with the A120, and all the councils must be clear with Highways England and the Department. We need to ensure that we again have an integrated approach to the development of our road transport links across Essex and to the facilitation of transport investment across the eastern region.
Essex needs the A120 to be upgraded and the A12 to be dualled. I hope that the Minister can answer fully today. As I said, her Department will have plenty of detailed engagement, work, correspondence and all the files from over the last decade on this, so there is no excuse for the Department not to put forward a coherent approach. The point to make today is that, when it comes to the A120, this is a huge, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to use RIS2 to be much more strategic and to have an integrated roads strategy for the east of England and for Essex.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. The A120 has long been in my heart as something needing improvement since well before I became involved in local or national politics.
Driving from my constituency—where we have wonderful beaches; it is a great tourist venue—and going westbound, as my hon. Friend James Cleverly said, it becomes completely blocked up at the section between Marks Tey and what we call cholesterol corner. I am sorry that I have to iterate that. Going from my constituency along the A120 has been a regular commute of mine. It sort of peters out beyond Bishop’s Stortford, where it goes back to being a two-way road, and then it peters out altogether in the middle of the countryside. The section between Stansted and Harwich is an absolute nightmare and has been for years.
We are now celebrating the decision on a preferred route, in which the A120 will be dualled between Braintree and Marks Tey—or south of Kelvedon, I should say. That is not ideal for me, but it is light years ahead of what we have to put up with now. I commend the application for RIS2 funding for this and I hope the Minister will take it further. It also should not be forgotten, as my hon. Friend mentioned, that the A120 is trans-European network route. It is a curious thing—all the major cities are supposed to be linked, east to west, from Moscow to Dublin. This section of the A120 is part of that, and it is a two-way road. It is nonsense. This is a major step towards realising that ambition.
I take this opportunity to call for further work, further down the line, to complete the A120 in an area that does not go through my constituency but that affects it hugely. My hon. Friend Sir Bernard Jenkin knows all about it. It was built in the ’70s and it is now crumbling and beginning to fall apart. It needs a renewal, so why not get the whole thing done, from Harwich all the way to Stansted, and finish the job?
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that part of the A120—from Horsley Cross to Parkeston— which is vital for the economy of north Essex and is crumbling, as he says. However, I believe the Government should be able to say something this afternoon about the Highways Agency activity on that bit of the road and the resources that will be committed to it in the short term, if not the long term.
My hon. Friend is right. I am delighted to hear that the Government can say something about that section, because it is still holding us up. Cars can still bowl along it at about 55 mph most of the time, but it is still a single lane on either side. It takes forever.
I look forward to our delivering a new, world-beating infrastructure across Britain, east to west, which we need now more than ever. We have not had that over the years. The A14 was improved many years ago, and it is about time the A120 was brought into line, so let us get that infrastructure in place. While I am standing here, I might as well mention that we ought to improve the railways in our area, too.
It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I again congratulate my hon. Friend James Cleverly and all hon. Members who have spoken.
It is timely that my hon. Friend Peter Aldous has arrived, along with me, to underline that this is about not just Essex, or Suffolk, but the whole of East Anglia. The A120 is a critical road for the eastern region’s economy. As I said when I intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree, we are a net contributor to the economy, and if the Exchequer puts up a cheque for this road, it will get its money back and then some. That is critical to the case that we are all making.
I will just pick up on a few specific points. My right hon. Friend Priti Patel made the point about the A12, which I wholeheartedly agree with. It would be good to get an update on that. The two roads have to be seen as an integrated project, not least because once trebling has occurred from Chelmsford to Colchester, the next stretch is in south Suffolk, where I can safely say we have possibly the worst junctions to be found in the United Kingdom. Drivers join a very sharp bend at national speed limit, probably in first gear. All I can say is that drivers should check that they have life insurance before they do so. I actually took the Minister, my hon. Friend Jesse Norman, to see that, and he was struck by the danger it presented. I think we often underestimate the safety issue for all these projects. My hon. Friend the Member for Braintree made that key point—this is dangerous; it is not just about the economics.
However, the business case will be about the economics, and while there is obviously an understandable focus on housing, we have to emphasise the extent to which the road can drive serious industry, exporting and services—not least with the airport. I do not want young people in my constituency just to get on a train to London to try to find a good job; I want them to have opportunity at home, in the local region. At the moment, to go from Sudbury, the biggest town in my constituency, to Stansted is just beyond commuting distance. If we improve the road, we can get it within commuting distance and the thousands of vacancies can be filled with people from the local workforce. I therefore endorse what has been said so far. The economic case is strong, and I urge the Government to consider it wholeheartedly.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and to follow my hon. Friend James Cartlidge. I congratulate my hon. Friend James Cleverly on securing this debate on a hugely important topic—a stretch of road that is hugely important to so many of our constituencies across the eastern region.
The A120 does not, in fact, touch my constituency at all, yet it is hugely important to it and to its future prosperity. In the past few years, tens of thousands of homes have been built in Colchester, but without adequate or appropriate transport infrastructure to support them. We have had the housing but we have not had the roads, locally or regionally, to support that massive growth. In fact, ours has been the fastest-growing town in the country for some time.
My hon. Friend made a very valid point when he asked whether there could be another road in the country that links a growing international airport and an international port, which is also growing, by a road that is single track in some parts. It gets so congested that people can get stuck behind a slow-moving vehicle and it can delay their journey by a considerable amount of time, and yet the road is of major strategic importance.
My right hon. Friend Priti Patel made a valid point about the economic case. That is not in question. My hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk so eloquently made the point that the Government will see a return on this investment and then some. We know that because Essex and the eastern region are already powerhouses for the British economy.
Does my hon. Friend agree that not only will there be an economic return on investment in this road, but, because of the particular nature of the local and regional economy, the return on investment in the road will be greater and quicker than those on similar investments in other road projects around the country?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention; I could not agree more. I have touched on the international airport and the port, but there is so much more. Colchester, which is sandwiched between those two important infrastructure projects, is hugely important in terms of business growth. The University of Essex, which is just across in the constituency of my hon. Friend Sir Bernard Jenkin but hugely important to both our constituencies, is growing and contributing to huge amounts of business growth; it is attracting businesses to the area.
We know that this is coming. There are plans, as part of the garden settlement movement—that is a debate for another day—for a business park larger than the biggest business park, in Cambridge. If we get it right and if we get the transport infrastructure piece right, this will be a prosperity corridor, stretching from Stansted airport to the port of Harwich, and we can benefit from that.
Does my hon. Friend share my view that there is an opportunity through investment in the A120 but also our wider road network—and, in fact, our railway lines—when it comes to the wider transport and infrastructure approach, and that Departments should be working in a much more joined-up way? He has already touched on planning; this is a question of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Treasury and the Department for Transport working on a holistic and coherent case.
I thank my hon. Friend for letting me make this point. On joined-up thinking, does he agree that resolving the issues on the A12 is also part of the bigger-picture solution? Unlocking the issues on the A120 is key to unlocking the improvement on the A12, which we also need in order to ensure that Essex is better connected.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. It is almost as though she has read my mind, because in my response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham, I intended to make exactly the point that the A120 cannot be seen on its own, in isolation, as the panacea. It is not the whole answer, but it is part of an overall picture that includes the A12; that is why the extra lane is so important between Chelmsford and Colchester—and beyond, up into Suffolk. This is also about our rail line, and we need to get this right. We have a whole fleet of new trains starting to arrive next year on the Great Eastern main line. If we start to unlock the additional capacity that will come with the digital railway—if we start to see that investment from the Department for Transport via Network Rail in our rail line—all of a sudden we will become a real powerhouse, because through transport infrastructure we open up economic opportunities and business growth. In particular, Colchester, but also wider Essex and the eastern region, will be the place to invest and the place to relocate a business to. The size of the prize is so great—it is a huge opportunity—and the Government really should sit up and listen to us about it. If Departments work together on housing, transport infrastructure and beyond, and if they work with us, the opportunities are huge.
My final point is not just about the economic case, but about why this scheme is so important to the region. That is clear to see, because of the overwhelming and clear support from everybody—and I mean everybody. Borough, district and county councils, the local enterprise partnership, businesses and business groups—such as the chambers of commerce—are absolutely invested in it. They have been so invested in it that they have put in money, resource, time and effort. We all know from our postbags the number of people who contact their Member of Parliament about issues with the A120 and how keen they are to see those issues resolved.
Whether it is about the economic and business case, the social impact on our constituencies or just the fact that we need to connect a major international airport, a major international port and a very important town in the middle—Colchester—we have to ensure that the A120 scheme goes ahead. I encourage the Government to stump up the cash to make it happen.
It is a pleasure to serve under you as Chair, Mr Hollobone. I thank all hon. Members for their considered contributions to this important debate, and not least James Cleverly for initiating it. I think we can agree that the case made by all hon. Members was very compelling. The link between the port and airport serving Essex is at the heart of the economic strategy presented today. The economic opportunity that such an enterprise corridor could deliver, in terms of real growth in the region, has been cited by some to be worth as much as £1.3 billion, I have read, and all for a cost of £555 million in its creation. It is clear that domiciliary development is occurring, and that brings an opportunity to see industrial investment to provide jobs for those communities as well as the wider economy. Clearly, where such development takes place, there has to be well developed transport infrastructure, but that certainly is not currently the case, especially at some of the pinch points on the A120 route where there is significant congestion.
Does the hon. Lady agree that it is not only industrial development—manufacturing and so on—that would benefit from this scheme and that there is a massive tourism offer? I am thinking of the wonderful beaches of the east coast. At Parkeston Quay, we have so many cruise ships that come in every year. It is a pity that the people who arrive there have to struggle with our dreadful infrastructure to get to other parts of the country such as London and across to the central midlands.
I agree that tourism is a really important consideration when we are looking at infrastructure investment. It should be at the heart of the wider discussions and seen as an economic piece all by itself.
The debate on how the A120 can be improved to alleviate much of the congestion has been a long time coming. Five options were originally presented. I appreciate that those have been whittled down to four, and option D has been favoured by Essex County Council as the preferred route for the new A120. I also note that option C, interestingly, would see approximately one third of the route bifurcating Bradwell quarry and therefore would relieve some of the environmental impact should that scheme go ahead. We must also note the importance of farmland and agribusiness. In the Government’s planning of development, whether rail or road, they should take on board the need to ensure fertile land is maintained for the purposes of growing our food. I know there is much debate on that point.
The second compelling case made by Priti Patel was about road safety. With 53 fatalities and 325 serious injuries on this stretch, it is clear that not intervening would allow those risks to continue. That is a serious consideration.
It is worth saying, however, that we cannot look at road improvement without looking at intermodal and alternative modes of transport, and seeing the improvements that can be brought in from other schemes—particularly our rail, but also other forms of transport—in serving communities. While I understand that all hon. Members are trying to promote their local scheme for RIS 2, I say to the Minister that we need to look at intermodal options before we look at road. It appears we have shifted to a road-first policy, as opposed to looking at public transport as the preferred option. Evidence from Newbury, Blackburn, Lincoln and other similar cases has shown how induced capacity is having a serious impact on their local economies, so we have to be careful as we make these decisions and look at them in an integrated-transport way.
Looking at alternative modes is a fair point, which I hear about all the time. The issue we have is lorries. In our modern economy, all our goods have to go through lorries, from Felixstowe or whatever port. It is coming down on HGVs. It is very hard to get that on to rail when it is at capacity, even though we have a good freight service. Does the hon. Lady agree that that is where there is a shortcoming in alternative forms of transport?
I agree, there is a challenge with the use of freight. It creates an opportunity, however, to put the focus back on putting freight on to rail. We are already 45,000 lorry drivers short in our economy. How we expand rail freight, therefore, is a serious consideration, in order to see that fast through-put of freight. That is something to which we have given much thought and attention.
Where there have been road-widening schemes, after 20 years we have seen induced capacity building congestion again, with an increase as high as 45%. Out of 25 projects only five have delivered the economic benefits that were promised. We need to ensure that everything is thoroughly tested before investment is made.
I most definitely did not say that. The hon. Gentleman must have misheard me. I emphasised the focus we need to put on intermodal transport in particular, looking at issues such as increasing capacity on our rail networks, because we know other serious challenges are afoot across our freight industry. It is important we take those considerations on board.
I have campaigned for rail freight for many years. Is the hon. Lady aware that Chelmsford is the busiest two-platform train station in the country and there simply is not additional space to take additional freight down the great eastern main line in the timeframe involved? Digital networks may add a bit more, but we need to resolve the freight by mending this road and our road networks, not just by saying, “Let’s get it on the trains.”
There are choices to be made. I am saying that we invest either in road or in rail. Looking at investment is part of what is called for by the freight industry.
If I may, I will finish my point. The Rail Freight Group, which I meet with regularly, has identified how those east-west connections need serious investment. If we want to develop Harwich as a port and see Felixstowe thrive as well, in order to take freight from the east into the west, it is important that we do not dismiss those opportunities and see that proper investment.
The hon. Lady is being gracious in giving way. It is not a binary choice between rail and road. We can and must have investment in both. She said that intermodal schemes should be a priority over roads. This is not an intermodal scheme. Therefore, is she saying that the Labour party would not prioritise the dualling of the A120?
I have already answered the hon. Gentleman. I said that we would have an intermodal approach to all transport systems. It is crucial that we look at the opportunity that public transport can provide.
If I may move on a little, we will see what time there is left. It is important that our approach to strategically developing economic growth, transport planning and housing development brings all development and planning together. We have seen a piecemeal approach to planning, which has not looked at how to serve economic or residential communities and ensure that there are sufficient transport mechanisms to provide that support. We believe that truly sustainable economic and residential hubs need to work together with the integrated transport system in order to best serve communities. We know that in the developments that have taken place, 81% of people living in those areas drive to work, as opposed to having wider options and intermodal choices. That is what I am arguing today.
The hon. Lady is again taking my words and not using them in the way they were said. We will look at intermodal first and at the wider options of ensuring properly integrated transport. Any Government should do that, to ensure that we have the most sustainable and usable rail, bus, active travel and road system that there is. Intermodal integration will give us the best transportation system. Talk to anyone across the transport sector: they would agree with that approach, as do many Government Ministers, who say that they want to see an intermodal shift, too. I have heard such words many times from the Government. I am sure they would agree that is also important, if they are looking at proper economic and residential investment, such as is being suggested by the scheme presented today. That is the approach Labour would take.
We need to ensure that improvements made today do not call for further improvements and widening just a few years down the road, as has happened in many of these schemes. We need long-term solutions and investment put in place, to ensure there is not chaos in the future.
I am not suggesting that at all. I am talking about intermodal choice, which is important. Going forward, people need to have real options in how they travel, whether for work or leisure. We want to see those choices expanded. Many people at the moment, as I highlighted, have such limited choices that they have no option but to use the car. If we truly are to make the intermodal shift, we need to see more options being made available for commuters and people travelling for leisure.
Unfortunately, the hon. Lady has missed quite a fundamental point and I will reinforce it, if not for her benefit then for the ears of the Minister. This proposal is not about taking existing transport patterns and just making them happen on an improved road. What this proposal is about is unlocking residential and employment opportunities within the region, so that people are not forced to drive or take the train to London, for example, to get good-quality work. So the idea behind this proposal is to develop sustainable communities and sustainable economic activities in and around the region itself, reducing the need for long and polluting journeys, and increasing the opportunities for people to work close to where they live, where their children go to school and where they have amenities around them.
I fully understand the scheme; I have read it in much detail. That is why I am making the case that it is so important that we give people real choice.
In my closing remarks—
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady. Will she just give an assurance that the Labour party supports the dualling of the A120 all the way from Colchester to Parkeston, which is a stretch of road that is long overdue for dualling?
I think I have made myself perfectly clear in today’s debate, with all due respect. What I have said is that we believe that we should have a fully integrated, intermodal approach to transportation, which, as I have—
As I have said in this debate, we need to look at that intermodal option and that has not been presented in the case that I have read. Clearly, we need to see investment across all our modes of transport, so that hon. Members’ constituents have real choice over how they travel and so they do not have to take the car if it is their preference to take a bus or train. That is what I am saying. We have got to see integrated—
May I finish my sentence? So that we can see an integrated approach to how we assess transport projects in the future, rather than looking at the silos of rail over here, and road over there, which is the approach taken at the moment, as we know, because the RIS process is completely segregated from the control period, and we want to see a real integrated approach. That is the point that I have made throughout the debate.
I see two hon. Members. If it is going to be a completely different point that will be made—[Interruption.] If it is not a completely different point, I will not give way. I will not keep repeating what I have said, so I will just bring my remarks to a close.
It is really important that we consider how we can build sustainability into the long-term future. That is why we want to put the resources and support behind a truly intermodal approach to transportation, but not just transportation in isolation. We want to integrate that across all planning, including economic and residential planning, so that all of our constituents have real choice as to how they travel to work and for leisure.
Mr Hollobone, it is an honour to serve under your chairmanship.
No doubt my colleagues have realised that I am not 6 feet 4 inches, so I am not the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Jesse Norman, who is the Minister with responsibility for roads. However, I will do my best to respond to all the questions put today and no doubt Department officials will write to answer any questions that are not responded to.
I congratulate my hon. Friend James Cleverly on securing this debate about upgrading the A120 in Essex. He has made a strong case for the economic benefits of upgrading the A120. Other hon. Members, in particular my right hon. Friend Priti Patel and my hon. Friend James Cartlidge, also spoke, about not only the economic benefits that would be opened up but the business case, the residential case and the case for tourism, which was also mentioned by my hon. Friend Giles Watling.
We know that transport is a key driver of the economy and an improved network will provide better journeys and boost local growth, productivity and opportunities. I agree with all of the representations that have been made here today and no doubt the Department is listening very closely, especially to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham, who has been banging this drum for eight years—nearly a decade—and I do not doubt that there are reams of paper about the correspondence and meetings that she has had with the Department over those many long years.
I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for giving way and for her support. Was she shocked, as we all were, that today the Labour party was unable to commit to supporting explicitly the dualling of the A120? Does she agree that we can talk about choice, but in the real world, where our constituents live, they do not have a choice? We cannot move goods, other than a small proportion, down rail; they will continue to be moved on HGVs for a long time. People may not like that, but that is the real world in which we have to plan our roads today.
It has been a very passionate debate and I was also slightly startled that the Labour party representative today, Rachael Maskell, could not bring herself to recognise that Essex is a gem of a county in economic development and somehow was taking away choice, by removing the opportunity to invest in road infrastructure, let alone in tourism, business, residential or economic development in the future. However, these debates sometimes bring out surprising results.
Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister could outline, in response to some of the comments made by the shadow Transport Minister, the urgency of this situation, because if this road is not in the next road investment scheme or RIS2, and goes back to the drawing board, how long would that set us back? More than that, does she think that that would be a slap in the face for all of those people who have worked so hard together, over years, to put this road scheme forward, and to promote it and push it? It would be a slap in the face for all those people to say, “Back to the drawing board—not good enough”.
My hon. Friend mentioned the phrase “slap in the face” a number of times; I am not sure how I can respond to that. However, the Labour party is not even putting this scheme on the drawing board; it will not even consider it. No doubt, that will be absolutely frightening for hon. Members’ constituents to hear.
I do not want to prejudice the outcome of the road investment strategy 2 process, but I hope that what I will go on to say later in the speech will provide some succour to the Members who are here today and their constituents. However, I was surprised just as much as my hon. Friend was that the Labour party will not even consider this scheme in the future.
In December 2014, the Government launched the first road investment strategy—RIS1—which outlines how £15.2 billion will be invested in our strategic roads between 2015 and 2021. This is the biggest upgrade to our strategic roads in a generation. It includes the widening of the A12. Many Members said we need to approach this work holistically: my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham; and my hon. Friends the Members for South Suffolk, for Braintree, for Colchester (Will Quince) and for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford). They understood that both these schemes—for the A120 and the A12—need to be linked, so I will just touch on the A12 first.
The proposed work will include the widening of the A12 between junction 19 at Chelmsford and junction 25 at Marks Tey, where the A12 currently joins the A120. We have also provided funding for smaller scale safety improvements. On the A120 east of the A12, at the Hare Green junction with the A133 to Clacton, Highways England has commenced construction of a new £3 million roundabout to improve road safety. Work there is expected to be concluded by the end of this year.
The Government continue to invest in improvements to rail infrastructure in Essex and Department officials continue to work closely with local partners to identify local transport improvements. The South East local enterprise partnership, which includes Essex, has secured £590 million from the three rounds of the local growth fund, supporting projects, including transport schemes, that facilitate economic growth and housing. It has enabled key schemes in the county to be taken forward, such as an investment of £16 million towards improvements on the A127, and an investment of over £70 million towards the widening of the A13 in Thurrock. Both those routes are seen as key routes in Essex.
We recognise the importance of the A120 as a key part of the wider transport network, including all the other benefits that it brings, such as tourism, housing and business. The A120 is a key east-west route connecting areas across the region from the port of Harwich to Stansted airport. It links the east of England to the midlands and the north, so is of national as well as regional importance.
The single carriageway section between Braintree and the A12 near Colchester is currently a bottleneck on the route. Heavy traffic is a burden on the towns and villages that it passes through. That is why we have provided £4 million to Essex County Council as a contribution to the development work for the proposed improvement scheme. I am very grateful to the council for the excellent work it has done to develop these proposals and take them through a non-statutory public consultation on a range of options.
The proposed scheme would support the plans for new housing and growth in the area, in particular the proposed development at Marks Tey. This will boost the economy in Essex and beyond. It will complement the widening of the A12 between Chelmsford and Marks Tey, which we are currently developing as part of RIS1.
I thank the Minister for being very generous both in her remarks and in giving way. She touched on the A12 widening scheme, and I want to re-emphasise my earlier point on that. That road’s development has been put on hold because of the development of the local plan in Colchester. We were told that categorically about five weeks ago, having previously been told that all planning factors had been considered. I know that the Minister responding to the debate is not the Minister for roads, but perhaps her officials will take away that I would like a meeting with that Minister and with Highways England to find out what on earth is going on. It seems crazy to advance the A120 without the A12. We need to integrate much more this whole way of working, and I again make my plea that all three Departments I named earlier come together on the issue.
My right hon. Friend has been a strong campaigner for her constituency, particularly on this issue, and I do not doubt that her request for a meeting will be respected and taken forward. I understand that there was a delay and that the notification of it was made most recently.
The favoured option for the A120 scheme that the council announced on
We are currently developing an affordable, deliverable investment plan for the strategic road network—the SRN—for the period 2020-25. The work draws on two years of research and public engagement. For example, Highways England has refreshed its 18 route strategies, which cover the whole of its network and present a high-level view of both performance and constraints on the existing road network. The route strategy for the east of England identified a number of capacity and safety issues on the A120, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham mentioned.
In December 2017, Highways England published its initial SRN report, which set out its proposed priorities for RIS2 and looked at the strategic road network as a whole rather than suggesting specific enhancements. The Department consulted on the document over the winter and we are using the responses to shape our thinking as we develop the next road investment strategy. Essex County Council’s work in developing the A120 scheme is also feeding into the process.
Our consultation on RIS2 has confirmed the considerable competition for the funding available for new schemes. A great deal of evidence arguing for a range of investments was received, including responses in favour of the A120 upgrade, among other things. There was also support for the schemes that were included in RIS1 for development for RIS2—the A12 Colchester bypass widening and the A12/M25 to Chelmsford improvement. All those proposals are being considered for inclusion in RIS2, alongside others from across the country. I cannot prejudice the process and the outcome, but the Government will announce their final decisions on RIS2 in 2019. Strong representations regarding the business case, as well as the cases in support of homes, the social environment and tourism, have been made today.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree and other Members are reassured that the Government understand the importance of the A120 scheme, both in the region and nationally, and that we see the need for investment in transport infrastructure to provide much needed economic growth. We will take that into account as we finalise our plans for the next road investment strategy.
I thank the Minister for her comments. What I take away is that although she was careful not to prejudice her Department’s decision, and we completely understand that she is duty bound to go no further than she has, I think I speak for all Members representing the A120 route and the region when I say that we are pleased to hear that, on behalf of the Department, she recognises the strategic importance of the road, the economic opportunity that improvements would unlock and, perhaps on a personal note, the passion of all of us in the room. Although it is always iniquitous to single out individuals, I know that my right hon. Friend Priti Patel and my hon. Friend Sir Bernard Jenkin have been fighting this fight for a very long time. If for nothing more than their sanity, I urge the Minister to take back the message to the Department that the passion overflows among regional MPs.
It is disappointing beyond belief that where we have geographical unanimity we seem not to have been able to get as reassuring a set of noises from the shadow Minister. To say that her response was lukewarm would be an exaggeration beyond my capabilities. Therefore, we rely on the good offices of the Minister and the Department to turn what I believe is a genuinely held recognition of the road’s problems—the congestion, the danger and the negative impact on the ability of businesses to maximise their potential in what is already a great part of the country to do business but which could be so much better—into a relatively modest investment in the A120.
I thank the Minister for listening intently and for what I know she will do next, which is to take the passion of the Members present back to the Department and reinforce the case that has been made by us, by local government at both district and county level, by local businesses and by groups such as the A120 campaign, to which we all subscribe and give our energies. If ultimately we are successful in securing the funding to improve the road, I give the Minister our collective guarantee that we will personally hand over the large bags of cash that will inevitably flow from the investment into Treasury coffers, to be deployed in the great work that public expenditure does around the country.