M1: Junction 28

– in Westminster Hall at 4:43 pm on 11th January 2023.

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Photo of Mark Fletcher Mark Fletcher Conservative, Bolsover 4:43 pm, 11th January 2023

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the potential merits of improvements to junction 28 of the M1.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McVey, and I hope that today’s discussion is suitably blue-collar for you.

I am absolutely delighted to be joined by my neighbours, my hon. Friends the Members for Ashfield (Lee Anderson) and for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills). I send the apologies of my hon. Friend Ben Bradley, who is unfortunately unable to be in Westminster Hall today. However, I know that he is incredibly supportive of the discussions that we are about to have and the case that we are about to make.

I am particularly delighted to see that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Mr Holden, is responding to the debate and I will pre-emptively butter him up. I know that he very much shares my passion for investing in roads and infrastructure, and for levelling up. He also understands the importance of the Bolsover constituency to this country; I look forward to his just signing off on this project on an ad hoc basis.

I was elected on a manifesto that was about levelling up places such as Bolsover. The former mining communities that I represent are a hidden gem in the heart of England. We are blessed with great people and great potential, but there is a need to unlock some of that great potential. We have low unemployment locally, but average wages are low and many jobs are low-skilled. I want to deliver high-skilled, high-wage jobs and allow every young person in my constituency to fulfil their potential. The essential ingredients for levelling up are good infrastructure and transport links, which I will return to, good housing stock, a skilled and educated population, and skilled jobs and investment—all underpinned by a culture of aspiration. The Bolsover constituency is fortunate to sit close to Sheffield, Derby and Nottingham—all cities undergoing a renaissance, with the East Midlands airport and a soon-to-arrive freeport attached, and major companies such as Rolls-Royce powering the regional economy—but that means nothing if residents and businesses cannot get to and from those places due to inadequate transport links.

I am here to make the case primarily on behalf of the residents of South Normanton and Pinxton for the long-overdue upgrade of junction 28 of the M1. I say “primarily”, because a wide-ranging list of stakeholders supports the upgrade of the junction, including, but not limited to, the Conservative county council leader, the Co-operative Group, National Highways, the Labour district council leader, local district councillors, local parish councillors, Councillor Julian Siddle, the county councillor for South Normanton and Pinxton, Midlands Connect, a McDonald’s franchise and dozens of other businesses, not to mention the thousands of people inconvenienced by the junction every day, not all of whom live in the Bolsover constituency.

Junction 28 of the M1 was built in 1967 as the key strategic node linking the M1 and the A38, connecting north and south, the east and west midlands, and facilitating the movement of goods and services between local, regional and nationwide locations. Locally, it links South Normanton and Pinxton to the motorway network and the A38, which, heading eastwards, goes past various major distribution and business parks as well as the McArthurGlen shopping centre outlet, before leaving the safe confines of Derbyshire, a mile or so down the road, and entering Nottinghamshire, first into Ashfield and then into Mansfield. Heading westwards along the A38, a person will soon reach Ripley, then Derby and then the west midlands and Staffordshire, beginning with Burton upon Trent.

This junction of major strategic importance acts as the gateway to the south of my constituency, including communities such as Tibshelf, Newton, Blackwell, Pilsley and Morton. It also acts as a major logistics and employment hub for the whole region, yet it is simply not fit for purpose and is over capacity. When it comes to safety, delays, air pollution or reliability, junction 28’s design is causing problems. It is an all-too-familiar sight, particularly for those of us travelling south from places such as Clowne, where I live, to see the signs approaching junction 2 state: “Queues on sliproad”. It is not infrequent that the queues stretch back to Tibshelf services, three miles back from the junction.

As one constituent wrote to me,

“I’ve had several incidents on my way to work, where I was forced to join the back of queuing traffic that extended from the junction slip road on to the slow lane of the M1 motorway. Many cars were using the hard shoulder to queue, to avoid being stationary on the M1 itself. It was evident to me that the stationary vehicles were being passed by cars and lorries travelling at high speed. The risk of injuries or death from a multi-vehicle collision is very high.”

That sense of danger when using the junction is almost ever-present. Twenty-nine per cent. of local residents said their experience of the junction was very unsafe, and 41% said it was unsafe. Tellingly, only 1% said it was very safe.

The situation is no better from the northbound carriageway. Queues often trail back on to main carriageway. One resident, Emma, from South Normanton, who uses the junction every day, wrote in her survey response:

“the daily situation of queuing on the M1 northbound to get on to the slip road is very dangerous and has been shown as such with the recent serious accidents.”

Residents often tell me that they avoid the roundabout as it is unsafe, with one even describing it as “treacherous”. This sense of fear plays out in the data. There have been 16 serious accidents—the highest category—in the past 10 years. Many other minor scrapes and near misses are not recorded, but anyone who has used the junction, particularly heading into South Normanton on Mansfield Road, will know how dangerous it can feel.

Councillor Julian Siddle, who shares my passion for upgrading the junction, sent me a note ahead of the debate, highlighting how the problems have been aggravated in recent years. A lot of new housing has been built locally and a number of new businesses have understandably invested in the area, such as the Panattoni park complex. It joins others like Alloga and the McArthurGlen shopping outlet, which have expanded locally. That is not to mention that attractions like the Peak District have grown in popularity, all increasing usage of the junction and the surrounding areas. Some parts of the network have been improved to cope with these pressures, such as the A38 around Derby and the move to make the M1 four lanes—albeit under a smart motorway scheme that I think local residents would prefer to do without—but this junction connecting those critical roads remains outdated.

The stationary traffic has a huge impact on local air quality. South Normanton has been an air quality management area since 2001. That was fortunately removed in March last year because of improvements to vehicle emissions, but as a letter from South Normanton parish council said last year,

“the queuing caused by this junction is nothing short of an environmental disaster for the local people”

—a sentiment I hear regularly across South Normanton and Pinxton. The same letter points out that the knock-on effects of the queuing mean that drivers take alternative routes that can become rat runs, which are often close to the local schools. I hasten to add that Pinxton also suffers tremendously from the number of heavy goods vehicles that travel through it, causing air and noise pollution—though that is a slightly separate argument from the one I am making today.

This issue becomes more acute for residents when there are problems or works on the network. Any issue south of junction 28 sees a diversion towards Derby on the A38. Maintenance work or accidents on the A38 see traffic diverted through South Normanton. More than once I have seen the entire region become one long traffic jam. Alongside these dangers and inconveniences for local residents, an economic cost is involved. There are delays to the traffic heading north and south on Britain’s main motorway and east and west on the main arterial route that connects the east and west midlands, not to mention the impact that the congestion has on the wider region around Bolsover, Chesterfield, Ashfield and Mansfield.

I am extremely grateful to the team at Midlands Connect, who work across the midlands on behalf of the Government to recommend the most important transport investments to the Secretary of State. Midlands Connect has recognised that improving junction 28 is a priority and has been working proactively with me on putting the case forward for the necessary investment. It has produced the following data, which helps underline the strong case for investment. Analysis by Midlands Connect shows that delays at junction 28 of the M1 lead to over 1,100 hours of delays every day at peak times. Simply, in monetary terms, that costs the local and national economy over £4.5 million a year. Thousands of pounds every day are being lost from unnecessary delays, and many stakeholders have identified issues with that junction as a barrier to investing in our constituencies. In an independent survey, over half of the residents of South Normanton and Pinxton thought that improvements to the junction would be “very important” to businesses.

The Co-operative Group has a major depot just off the junction. In a letter to me in April last year, it said it makes around 135,000 vehicle movements through junction 28 in a year. It estimates that the average four-minute waiting time per vehicle amounts to 9,000 lost hours, or 900 driver shifts, that could be saved by making improvements. Strata Products, which has a factory in Pinxton and a warehouse just off junction 29 in Holmewood, in my constituency, runs an average of 12 return trips between the two every day. It believes that the delays at junction 28 add five minutes per trip, costing the company two hours of productivity every day. Those are just two examples, but there are hundreds of businesses located in the area, and the delays are costing our economy so much money.

As an aside—I appreciate that this is slightly wide of the debate’s scope—junction 29, in my constituency, is another junction in desperate need of improvement; the residents of Holmewood, Heath, Bramley Vale, Doe Lea and Glapwell, and particularly Councillor Suzy Cornwell, would not forgive me if I did not mention that. The case for improvements is not the issue with the junction; rather, it suffers from two complications: the walkways that run underneath the junction, which affect the design, and the land that surrounds the junction, which is currently tied up, somewhat ridiculously, by High Speed 2 safeguarding on a line that we all know is dead.

I hope that the Minister will be in post for a very long time so that he will be present at a future debate on junction 29, in which I can make similarly thrilling arguments to him. However, both National Highways and Derbyshire County Council are aware of the overwhelming case to improve the junction, and I will continue to work with both of them in the meantime.

I return to the delays at junction 28, which are costing the economy £4.5 million a year and deterring investment locally. Vitally, that is happening in the context of economic research showing that the gross value added per head and job density in the districts nearest to junction 28, which are represented in the Chamber today, are lower than the east midlands average and significantly below the UK average. Indeed, Bolsover is the most deprived district in Derbyshire. I know that the Minister shares my passion for levelling up, and improvements to junction 28 clearly fall into that category. Indeed, in an independent survey, 80% of local residents said that they saw improvements to the junction as levelling up in action.

The Department for Transport will soon receive a whole range of bids for projects to be part of RIS3, or tranche 3 of the road improvement scheme. It will not surprise the Minister that I think junction 28 should be top of the pile, and if he feels inclined to skip the process and approve it today, I will be very happy to accept that.

In 2021, initial projections by National Highways, which was then known as Highways England, showed that £21 million of investment in junction 28 could deliver benefits of around £150 million, although those figures are now two years out of date and the former probably needs updating to closer to £30 million due to inflation. Based on the economic delay figures outlined today, we would be looking at a return of investment in around five to six years. The project has a very solid benefit-to-cost ratio, and it clearly makes commercial sense to improve the junction.

As an aside, it is slightly ludicrous that we rely so heavily on central Government for regional transport issues, and on funding over such long timeframes. My constituents would like to see junction 28 improved today, but unfortunately we will be involved in a process that takes a number of years. I am just one of many MPs in the east midlands who support a devolution settlement for our region, which would unlock a lot of additional funding for the region and help to provide a more convenient approach to investment and infrastructure through a regional mayor.

Perhaps central Government should be involved in a project such as junction 28, where we are talking about investment of £20 million to £30 million, although that seems too low a threshold. However, on the other side of Whitwell, in my constituency, sits Darfoulds bridge, where the road simply needs lowering to prevent HGVs from taking detours through small villages. The project will cost around £2 million—too much for our local authorities, but too little for central Government—yet the benefits would be extraordinary for businesses and residents. I hope the creation of a regional mayor will help to unlock the stalemate.

Since being elected, I have worked solidly on improving junction 28. I have met National Highways several times, I meet our local authorities regularly, I have bothered Ministers until I am blue in the face, and I have spoken continuously to Midlands Connect. I have surveyed local residents, held a business roundtable, collated business testimony and brought together the case that I have presented today.

There is a real case for the Minister to consider. This is an affordable scheme, it is popular—84% of local residents support it—it has a strong business case, it will help investment and save us from losing £4.5 million per year, it is supported by many local MPs, councillors and business groups, and it will help the environment. Barry Lewis, the leader of Derbyshire County Council, says:

“We wholeheartedly support the bid for Government funding to keep this part of Derbyshire moving by easing congestion to improve journey times for businesses, commuters, residents and visitors alike and cut carbon emissions generated by vehicles caught up in lengthy queues.”

This is the sort of levelling up the Minister could and should be delivering. On behalf of the residents of Pinxton and South Normanton, I say: let us get this done.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Conservative, Tatton

Order. We look forward to future debates on other junctions on the M1, but the question today is that this House has considered the potential merits of improvements to junction 28 of the M1. We will go to the Front-Bench speakers at 5.25 pm, with the winding-up speech at 5.40 pm. For now, I call Nigel Mills.

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley 5:01 pm, 11th January 2023

Thank you, Ms McVey, for calling me. We have plenty of time to make our case. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mark Fletcher on securing the debate and making so comprehensive a case that there is not much left for the rest of us to say, so we could get an early finish. But hey, we are parliamentarians—we should use the time we are given.

The junction is not in my constituency—it is 2 to 3 miles from the border—but, conveniently, I can look at the live traffic on Google Maps, and at 5 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon the delays have made it back to my constituency. That highlights the seriousness of my hon. Friend’s case. This is not an occasional problem; it is a daily problem. At peak times, the congestion backs up several miles in every direction from the junction. Something really does need to be done.

Every day, the congestion gets back to part of the A38 at Alfreton and Swanwick where there are houses literally as far from the M1 as I am standing from the Minister. Those people are blighted during the day and night by noise, and at busy times by fumes. At the very least, we could find a way of taking the congestion away so that they are not in that horrible situation.

The Minister probably does not know the junction—although perhaps he has driven along the M1—but it is actually a very large area, so there is plenty of scope for improvements. The reason such significant improvements are needed is that every time there is a new housing development anywhere remotely near the A38, the developer’s prospectus says, “Easy access to the A38. Great connectivity to Nottingham, Derby, Sheffield, the M1.” What it does not say, of course, is that at peak times that connectivity is not quite so great, because vehicles will get stuck in a queue for quite a while.

Access to the road infrastructure—the A38 south, the M1 north, and the A38 going across the M1—is key to the attractiveness of investment in new housing and industrial development. If we cannot improve the situation so that people do not suffer all these delays, that will hold back the local economy. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover that there is a compelling economic case for improvements to the junction. If we want to drive the growth of the region, we need to sort out the congestion on the junction. It is not just about convenience and quality of life; it is about economic growth too.

My hon. Friend tried your patience, Ms McVey, by talking about other M1 junctions. The only other M1 junction I get near is junction 26, when I have to go the other way, past the constituency of my hon. Friend Lee Anderson. We have long campaigned for a link road to connect the A38 to that junction, which we have never had. In the absence of such a road, all the traffic that wants to get on to the M1 has to go up the A38 north. If they are not doing that, they are going down the A38 south to get to Derby and Birmingham.

If we do not get connectivity right, we push people into bottlenecks. If there are ever any problems on the M1 south of junction 28, or even on the M42, a lot of traffic will try to nip down the A38 to get on the road to Birmingham, which makes the daily problem even worse. People try to find alternative routes around a horribly congested road network as they go through the east midlands.

I agree that the case for improvements is compelling and really important to provide connectivity to residents of not just Bolsover but Amber Valley and other areas around it. We are not that greedy about the scheme that we would like. I would love to stand here and ask for a flyover on the A38 so that people can just keep driving and not stop at the M1 junction unless they actually want to go on to the M1, but I suspect that would be quite expensive—perhaps there is a business case for it.

We have rightly found a business case in Derby for an underpass and an overpass at the island to the south of my constituency. The problem with those schemes is that they will speed up traffic through Derby on the A38 north that will then just hit this queue. All that traffic will do, if we do not fix junction 28, is get to the end of the queue a bit faster and make it a bit longer. Sorting the junction out will improve the case for the schemes that the Government already have in progress.

As I said earlier, junction 28 is a very large junction, and the traffic island in the middle of it is huge; I think it is the place where loads that need an assistance vehicle to take them further north must wait. They park in the middle of this huge traffic island because there is nowhere in South Yorkshire for them to wait for the police escort handover—they are all done there. There is plenty of space to put more lanes on the island, or to reconfigure the lanes to try to avoid queues conflicting with each other and causing unnecessary tailbacks.

I have not seen any designs, and I do not know whether there are any in place, but there is scope to make some pretty significant improvements without spending a fortune on major re-engineering. We could just add a couple of extra lanes in the right place on the island and on the access roads to get traffic moving more freely and not conflicting. That would not cost tens of millions of pounds, but it would give much of the benefit that we need, and I suspect it could be done relatively quickly. We would not be waiting years, as we have in Derby, for complicated schemes to get planning permission and funding and have their logistics sorted out.

My case in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover is that there is a very real need here. This problem is happening on a very regular basis and causing significant tailbacks that impact the lives of people who live near the A38 and those who try to use it. It is constraining development of both housing and industrial economic growth in the area. There are solutions that are pretty easy to conceive and not that expensive, so I say wholeheartedly that the scheme should be brought forward as soon as possible. It will clearly meet all the various cost-benefit tests that are normally set for this sort of infrastructure improvement.

Photo of Lee Anderson Lee Anderson Conservative, Ashfield 5:07 pm, 11th January 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McVey. I thank my hon. Friend Mark Fletcher for securing this important debate, and I also thank my hon. Friend Nigel Mills for speaking passionately for the past 10 minutes or so.

I have lived near the junction for all my life. It is about 200 metres from the village of Huthwaite, where I have spent most of my life. I have been impressed with the Minister so far during his brief tenure, and I think he is the man to move this forward. He is the sort of man who has the chequebook ready to sign this off—there is no pressure there. If we as a Government are serious about levelling up in places such as Ashfield, Bolsover and Amber Valley, we must start getting our infrastructure and transport systems right.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover is quite right that this was built in 1967. I think my dad worked on the M1 in the ’60s; that is how old it is. It was fit for purpose then, because there was hardly any traffic. The M1 is the second-longest motorway in the country and the A38 is one of the longest roads in the country, and they meet at junction 28. The amount of traffic that comes through there is quite incredible. We live within 20 minutes of Derby, Sheffield and Nottingham—and Leicester is probably 35 minutes away—so it really is a gateway to the whole of the east midlands, South Yorkshire and Derbyshire. The amount of traffic that comes through that junction is absolutely phenomenal. I travel through there in the morning, and every time I get there I think, “My goodness, why did I come this way,” because the traffic goes straight back.

Our area is quite successful at the moment, with the levelling up that we have secured with the towns fund and the future high streets fund. Ashfield is a bit of a go-to place. Businesses are looking to set up. There are all the old colliery sites. We have got businesses like Amazon, which have set up and provided nearly 2,000 jobs. We have got the Co-op in Bolsover, on junction 28, which is a massive transport depot. Logistics is massive in our area; we are like a warehouse for the country—particularly places such as Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and South Yorkshire. All those companies are setting up, but we have substandard roads and a substandard motorway junction.

If we look at all the old colliery sites—the pit sites—in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, I guarantee that 90% of them are now industrial parks. Many years ago when the pits were open they had the railway line. They were quite smart then; they had a railway line that would bring materials in, and then they had a railway line that would take the coal out to the power stations. But what did successive Governments do? We shut the pits, we ripped out all the railway lines and then—hey presto!—30 or 40 years later we start putting factories in these places but there are no railway lines, so we have to use the roads. It is absolute madness. We should all hold our hands up and say that is wrong and we should have learned our lesson.

We are living in 2023, and we have colliery sites that employ thousands of people across Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, but the only way we can get materials in and out is through the roads. The majority of that in my area comes through junction 28, and the road is not fit for purpose.

I will make another plea to the Minister—I am going to hijack the debate a little. With villages such as Huthwaite, Pinxton, Tibshelf and South Normanton, as well as the little villages around Ashfield, Amber Valley and Bolsover, I strongly believe that the amount of traffic that goes through them is damaging our roads. It is playing havoc. It is noticeable that the closer we get to the motorway on any junction, the roads get worse. Next to a motorway the roads are shocking, because there are thousands of lorries and buses coming off every day, bringing minerals and materials to those industrial places. When we move out to the shires, the roads get better and better.

I suggest that the Minister takes that thought away when he is working out his funding formulas for road repairs. He should bear in mind that when we live next to places like junction 28 our roads are absolutely shocking, as are the roads leading into the motorway, such as the A38, which runs past the top of Huthwaite—the top of Common Road. There are craters in that road. Someone only has to sit there for a couple of hours to see how many lorries come by on that road every single day. It is absolutely phenomenal, yet the north of the county is not getting that sort of traffic. I put that plea to the Minister.

The Minister knows that I am going to talk about cycle lanes and hijack the debate a little more. I drive up to the motorway—up to junction 28—and I see cycle lanes being installed when we should be spending that money on the junction and proper road repairs and resurfacing. I hope that gives the Minister food for thought.

In Ashfield, which I represent, we have had over £100 million of investment from this Government, which I am incredibly proud of. That is through the towns fund and the future high streets fund. We have two new schools being built. We have had money spent on the hospital. We are doing really well under a Conservative Government; we are getting lots of money.

I share that junction with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover, and as many of my constituents use that junction as do people from Bolsover or Amber Valley—if not more. I pay special attention to it. I have lived there all my life; I have seen the changes, the extra traffic and the extra investment that has come into the area. People want to come to our area, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover said, we are close to three cities, there is an airport and there are good rail links close by. If we want to attract more investment and get more businesses coming in and spending more money—and if we are serious about levelling up in places like Ashfield, Amber Valley and Bolsover—we need to sort out our transport. Transport is the most important thing—it is key to everything.

Photo of Gill Furniss Gill Furniss Shadow Minister (Transport) 5:14 pm, 11th January 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship again, Ms McVey. I congratulate Mark Fletcher on securing this important debate, and on his tireless campaigning on this important issue for his constituents. I have much sympathy with him and with the comments he made, particularly about the 1,100 hours of delays, which are obviously going to impact the productivity of that area and the economic levelling up promised in the manifesto on which he was elected. I also thank the two other hon. Members who have made contributions today—it has been a very lively debate.

Motorways are vital to the British economy. Despite accounting for only 2% of our road network in England, they carry approximately one third of all traffic each year: they are essential in connecting people to jobs, and businesses to goods. The hon. Member for Bolsover eloquently told us about the barriers to growing productivity, the issues with air quality, and particularly the high cost of providing those improvements—I think he estimated it would cost £30 million in today’s figures, which is not small change by any means.

Years of short-sighted cuts to our transport budget by successive Conservative Governments have left many of our roads unfit and underfunded. Expenditure on local roads by council authorities has fallen in real terms by approximately 30% since 2010, yet those authorities are responsible for managing 98% of all roads in the country. That fall in expenditure has led to a huge backlog of repairs, estimated to have cost over £12 billion to clear. The number of bridges on our roads classified as substandard has risen by 5% since 2020 alone. There is an estimated cost of £1.6 billion to repair all those substandard bridges, but due to cut after cut to our local authorities, only a fraction of those bridges will get the necessary work carried out within the next five years. As the Government continue to slash budgets as we enter the coldest and wettest months of the year, conditions on our roads will only get worse.

The Department for Transport’s own figures show that a third of all local B and C roads in England need repair. Research by the Asphalt Industry Alliance found that preventive maintenance is at least 20 times less expensive than reactive maintenance. It is both economically and socially responsible to ensure that our transport network is in the best condition possible, yet motorists up and down the country are faced with poorly managed and decaying roads every day. Nine in 10 road users have experienced issues with at least one pothole in the past year, and one in three reported that they had changed their daily routine to avoid them. While the pothole problem gets worse and worse, the Government have been asleep at the wheel, with 75% of motorists surveyed now believing potholes to be a bigger issue than they were three years ago. Why will the Government not take action and reverse their highway maintenance funding cuts?

Labour has long demanded action on the issue of smart motorways, and it is a tragedy that lives have been lost waiting for the Minister to act. The Office for Rail and Road has found that stopped vehicle detection technology is failing to meet National Highways’ minimum requirements.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Conservative, Tatton

Order. I remind the hon. Lady that the debate is about junction 28 of the M1. We are going slightly out of scope.

Photo of Gill Furniss Gill Furniss Shadow Minister (Transport)

I would like to carry on talking about smart motorways, Ms McVey.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Conservative, Tatton

Order. They are not the topic of the debate; today’s debate is about improvements on junction 28 of the M1.

Photo of Gill Furniss Gill Furniss Shadow Minister (Transport)

It is absolutely vital that the Government do something about this issue. I think they will have listened to the hon. Member for Bolsover, but in the end, as I have highlighted, commitment has not been shown when it comes to funding ways of maintaining roads, growing productivity and delivering the levelling-up agenda promised in the manifesto on which many Members were elected. I urge the Minister to explain to us whether he is going to support this project, following the eloquent speeches that Government Members have made.

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 5:19 pm, 11th January 2023

It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McVey, and to respond to the speech made by my hon. Friend Mark Fletcher—the best of Bolsover. He has raised some very important points, as have my hon. Friends the Members for Ashfield (Lee Anderson) and for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills), who have helped the hon. Member for Bolsover champion improvements to junction 28 of the M1. It is a tribute to my hon. Friend and his ability to pull in colleagues that they are here to support him.

Junction 28 is an important intersection with the A38, connecting the communities of Alfreton in the west and Sutton-in-Ashfield and Mansfield in the east to the vital strategic road network. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover is a passionate advocate for his constituency, and indeed for the wider region and all those areas that the last Labour Government—in fact, several Labour Governments—left behind for so long. I congratulate him on securing this debate. More broadly, he is clearly not only a fantastic political champion but a real local champion, getting Midlands Connect onside and achieving local cross-party support. That shows exactly the sort of MP he is, standing up for his constituents in Bolsover.

The M1 is Britain’s oldest and longest motorway. I think my hon. Friend will agree that it is possibly one of the most significant pieces of national infrastructure in our country. It is the spine of our country’s road network. It has connected north and south for more than half a century—long enough to have had the father of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield work on it. It will continue to play that vital role for decades to come. Therefore, the importance that the Government place on this junction cannot be understated, nor can its role in supporting national, regional and local development, particularly across both the Derbyshire and the Nottinghamshire areas.

I am sure we can all agree that reliable, resilient transport links can be a catalyst for enterprise and growth. That is why this Government have invested record amounts in our country’s strategic road network since the first road investment strategy was announced. RIS1 took place between 2015 and 2020 and invested £15.2 billion. RIS2, which we are currently in, has almost double that investment, at £27.4 billion I am very hopeful that, with the entreaties of Members such as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover, the Treasury will listen and ensure that we get extra funding in RIS3 from 2025 onwards.

Of the £24 billion currently being invested in this period, £12.5 billion is being spent on operation and maintenance—to answer to the questions posed by the Opposition spokesperson, Gill Furniss—and the renewal of the existing network, including beginning the structural renewals and concrete road surface replacements where the network is reaching the end of its design life following its creation decades ago. Over £10 billion is being spent on improving the performance of the network, supporting the Government’s broader levelling-up agenda and underpinning national and regional growth.

It was an absolute pleasure to hear from my hon. Friends the Members for Ashfield and for Bolsover about their positivity for their areas and about what they want to see for their communities. They want to see jobs and investment. They are not asking for handouts for the day to day. What they want to see is investment to deliver jobs and opportunities for the long term for their constituents.

Work is well under way to prepare for the third road investment strategy beyond 2025. Negotiations are literally happening over the coming weeks between the Secretary of State for Transport, Treasury officials and Ministers. As part of these preparations for the future network, we are seeking to identify ways to improve it and important schemes.

The case for improving junction 28 of the M1 is well understood, and the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover and regional partners has been exemplary, with extensive parliamentary engagement to work with key stakeholders, such as the roundtable he hosted last year, which brought together businesses and local authorities to consider and strengthen the case for improvements. This work has been supported, as he mentioned in his speech, by the regional, sub-national transport body, Midlands Connect, which highlighted the scheme as an investment priority for the midlands within its strategic transport plan, and the strong local support for improvements to the junction.

As we plan for the future of the strategic road network, National Highways, as the network operator, is required to produce a series of strategies covering the country, which will inform its assessment of the current performance of the network and its future needs. Strategies review the performance, pressures and opportunities on each part of the network, and the issues associated with junction 28 and the potential interventions to alleviate congestion and improve safety will be considered principally in the London to Scotland east route strategy. As part of the process, National Highways has spent much of 2021 and 2022 engaging with vital local stakeholders in the region.

Using the evidence gathered as part of the development of the route strategies, National Highways has been conducting extensive analysis and preliminary study work on junction 28 already. This will assist its understanding of what options are feasible and also can address key safety concerns in the short term, which were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley, among others. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover has been party to this work as it has developed and has provided helpful insights to National Highways. I can confirm that a significant proportion of the preliminary study work will conclude in February. I encourage my hon. Friend and other hon. Members, as well as local stakeholders, to engage with National Highways to discuss its findings.

As I am sure my hon. Friend understands, considerable effort and work is required to develop solutions from the ground up, and when dealing with the significant sums involved for even a comparatively modest investment in the network, investment decisions cannot be taken in isolation. Rather, they need to be considered as part of the wider development of the road investment strategy.

The core principle of our strategy is to create a road network that is safe, accessible and reliable for all road users and that meets the needs of those who use it. Ultimately, final decisions on the balance of RIS3, the third road investment strategy, and possible enhancement schemes to be included in it will not be finalised until the road investment strategy is published in 2024, accompanied by the significant analytical work that has got us to that point. My hon. Friend has made a very important contribution to that today.

Perhaps junction 29 is for another Westminster Hall debate, as my hon. Friend suggested. I know that he enjoys seeing me almost as much as I enjoy seeing him, so I hope he will be successful in that venture. I urge him to write to me about his local road lowering project, because even if it is not something that the Department would involve itself in directly, I would be very happy to engage with local stakeholders to see if we can do more in that sphere.

I would like to close by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover and my hon. Friends the Members for Ashfield and for Amber Valley for supporting him in this debate. I also thank him for his commendable efforts on behalf of his constituents, the region and the whole country. As someone who regularly drives from Westminster to County Durham, I can tell him that I have seen those queues on the M1 before weaving off further north and merging into the A1 as I head to my constituency. It is vital for the whole country and its connectivity, not just the region.

I want to make clear that the Government recognise the concerns regarding junction 28 and the many positive benefits of seeing it improved, as my hon. Friend highlighted, including its benefits-cost ratio and other factors. My hon. Friends the Members for Bolsover, for Ashfield and for Amber Valley have really shown their commitment to the long-term project that is levelling up the UK outside London via jobs, accessibility to education, training and skills. Transport, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield said, is a vital part of that. My hon. Friends epitomise the positive 2019 generation of Conservative MPs who want to make a real difference to their communities.

I will ensure that my officials work closely with National Highways as its study work concludes to understand the feasibility of options for the junction, and that all Members are fully engaged and kept up to speed with its progress. I encourage my hon. Friends and local stakeholders to continue to advocate for improvements as the investment plan for RIS3 develops over the coming year or so—not just for his constituents in South Normanton and Pinxton, but for the wider region and, in fact, the whole country.

Photo of Mark Fletcher Mark Fletcher Conservative, Bolsover 5:28 pm, 11th January 2023

We have had a fantastic debate in which we have all agreed about everything, and the Minister is going to go forward and sort this project out. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley for first of all giving us live traffic updates—that is a first for me in Westminster—but for also touching on some of the east-west connectivity issues. He mentioned the regional economic argument and the housing issues, and in particular issues about the design of the roundabout, which National Highways has been looking at in some detail.

I feel like my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield had his Weetabix this morning. We heard of his family connections and he gave us a tour de force on levelling up and what is happening in our region. We are, of course, the warehouse of the country, although we have great aspirations for other industries, including many green industries, to come to our region as well.

I thank the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough, whom I am incredibly fond of. Indeed, she is a Sheffield MP, although she did not out herself as such, and so is part of this regional debate. I am slightly bereft that she got cut off in her flow on smart motorways, because I felt like she was just getting to the good bit.

I would also, of course, like to thank the Minister. He has done a number of Westminster Hall debates this week and is a superb operator and a fantastic Minister. I feel safer with him in position when it comes to investing in our road network. I thank him for his many kind comments.

Most of all, I would like to thank you, Ms McVey, because this was by far the best chaired Westminster Hall debate I have ever been to.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Conservative, Tatton

The question is, is there no end to Mark Fletcher’s buttering up?

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered the potential merits of improvements to junction 28 of the M1.

Sitting adjourned.