Trudy Harrison – 2022 Speech on the A5 in the Midlands

The speech made by Trudy Harrison, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, in Westminster Hall on 23 March 2022.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) is a passionate advocate for his constituency. I congratulate him on securing this important debate, on working with local leaders and colleagues in the House and on articulating so clearly the need to increase capacity and to make other improvements on the A5 in the midlands.

I do not think there has ever before been such a comprehensive discussion of the need to improve roads. We have discussed the issue economically, environmentally, socially and culturally—even a song has been written about this road. I am sure we all appreciated the rendition from the shadow spokesperson, the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane). My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby set out why improvements to the A5 are so important to his constituents and to the wider area. It is good that Members are working together.

As we know, the A5 is an ancient road of 252 miles, yet just 15% of it is dualled. We heard the rationale for improving that percentage. Significant housing development proposed in north Warwickshire, Hinckley, Tamworth, Bosworth and Nuneaton and Bedworth, including sites in the immediate vicinity of the A5, add to the reasons why the road needs to be improved. The average daily traffic figure on the A5—21,338—-is considerable.

The A5 is part of a strategic east-west corridor running from London to Holyhead in Anglesey. As we have heard this afternoon, it links towns across the midlands, including Milton Keynes, Rugby, Lutterworth, Hinckley, Nuneaton and Tamworth. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) spoke to me at length yesterday about the need to improve the road, and he specifically mentioned the areas that most concern him: the Dodwells island connecting to the A47, the Longshoot junction and the Woodford Lane junction. He talked to me about the closures on the M6 and their impact on the A5. As we have heard today, rat runs are created in local communities when there are problems on the A5.

The A5 is a core artery bisecting the golden triangle of logistics distribution centres, supermarkets and high street stores in the midlands. Spanning from Northamptonshire, up the M1 to East Midlands airport and as far west as the Tamworth area, the golden triangle is bustling with big logistics names. As well as being in proximity to the huge distribution centres of supermarkets and high street stores—with Daventry in the south, Leicester in the north-east and Birmingham in the west—the corridor remains a key artery for communities in the midlands and for jobs in major employment sites such as Magna Park and the MIRA enterprise zone, which I had the pleasure of visiting thanks to the invitation from my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Dr Evans). I saw for myself the innovation happening there. As we decarbonise the transport system and think about the future of self-driving vehicles, automation and connected vehicles, the site will become even more essential to the transition. As he articulated so well, the work being done by the midlands engine is critical to the economic, social and environmental prospects of this country.

The Government recognise the role that the A5 plays. It is a key piece of infrastructure that supports and provides resilience to nearby locations, which is why we are spending £24 billion on our motorways and trunk A roads in England in the five years between 2020 and 2025, as part of the second road investment strategy. RIS2 builds on the £17.6 billon in the first RIS, covering 2015 to 2020—a then record. Of that £24 billion, £12 billion is being spent on the operation, maintenance and renewal of existing networks, including beginning multi-road period programmes of structural renewals and concrete road surface replacement.

More than £10 billion is being spent on improving the performance of the network, supporting the Government’s levelling-up agenda and underpinning national and regional growth. The core principle of our strategy is to create a road network that is safe, accessible and reliable for all users, and that meets the needs of those living alongside the network. Although investment has an important role in achieving that, the road investment strategy also includes challenging performance targets that must be met. I recognise the frustration of my hon. Friends, the business community and residents that the A5 Dodwells to Longshoot widening scheme commitment in RIS1 was not started in road period 1 and was instead incorporated into proposals in RIS2 for a more extensive improvement to the corridor.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth raised the challenge of Britain’s most bashed bridge. National Highways is in discussions with the developer about the possibility of lowering the carriageway in the vicinity of the low bridge. The discussions are ongoing, and I know he needs no encouragement from me to do what he does best, along with colleagues in the A5 area: to continue engaging with National Highways on this important matter.

In championing the need for improvements, the work of the A5 partnership has been exemplary, and I reassure hon. Members that this work will continue to be fully considered by officials within the Department and National Highways as part of the canon of evidence for developing our third road investment strategy, RIS3, which will cover 2025 to 2030. It includes informing decision making on the proposed A5 Hinckley to Tamworth scheme—one of 33 schemes in the pipeline that are currently being developed for possible delivery in RIS3. The likely cost of the scheme is substantial, in excess of £1 billion in all likelihood. As my hon. Friend will appreciate, with such large sums involved, investment decisions need to be taken in the round to ensure we maximise value for taxpayers.

My hon. Friends have set out the importance of this road improvement for the economic viability and social happiness of the area. Individual pipeline schemes will be considered alongside future operations, maintenance and renewal priorities and how we respond to environmental pressures and opportunities, planning for a future of connected autonomous vehicles as well as small-scale improvements. In practice, those decisions will not be made until the final road investment strategy is set in 2024.

Mark Pawsey

One of our key asks is that this 53-mile section of road is looked at as a whole, rather than in individual pieces. There is a marvellous precedent in the midlands with the work being done on the A46—plans are coming forward for the final roundabout in my constituency—which will provide a continuous road from the M5 in the south-west at Evesham all the way through to the M69 and then the M1 at Leicester, providing a south-west to north-east link. That road has been looked at as a whole and will be a complete, uninterrupted road. Can we have the same for the A5?

Trudy Harrison

I am sure my colleague in the other place, Baroness Vere the roads Minister, will be listening to this debate. I reiterate how effectively my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby is championing this cause, and he is being taken seriously. Also, this is not all we are doing for the A5. As I am sure hon. Members are aware, National Highways has committed to delivering another scheme for the A5. The Dordon to Atherstone scheme is set to deliver improvements that will unlock the potential for 4,000 homes. National Highways will deliver that scheme, and the design of the improvements can be tied into the wider options being considered for the route. National Highways will also be completing safety improvements to the A5 Northampton Road this month.

I appreciate hon. Members’ concerns about the current operation of the A5 and its impacts on proposed growth in the region. My hon. Friends and I agree that efficient, reliable transport is a catalyst for enterprise and enables growth. Better connectivity means greater economic opportunity and all the benefits it delivers for communities.

I know that my hon. Friend for Rugby and other hon. Friends who advocate for improvements on the A5 are passionate about investment in the midlands for their constituents, and I recognise it is in everyone’s interest to mitigate the barriers to growth. That is why the Department is working closely with National Highways to fully understand congestion issues along the length of the A5 and how its key congestion pinch points can potentially be mitigated, including the A43-A5 Tove roundabout, the A5-A426 Gibbet Hill roundabout and junction 1 of the M69. I assure hon. Members that National Highways will continue to work closely with the local highway authorities and stakeholders to understand and deliver improvements where they are needed, so that the region’s potential can be truly realised.

As we look to the future of the network, National Highways has just finished the formal evidence-gathering phase of the third round of route strategies, which will inform its assessment of the current performance of the network and its needs. Those strategies provide an important input, alongside strategic studies and other evidence-gathering mechanisms, in informing decisions about further investment on the strategic road network beyond 2025. The route strategies review performance, pressures and opportunities on every part of the network, and provide a significant opportunity to consider the needs of the A5 corridor and, in particular, reinforce the case for improving the Hinckley to Tamworth section. The input of Midlands Connect and the A5 Partnership was an important contribution to that process and, as we have heard, the input from my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and his colleagues was an important contribution to the series of roundtable meetings that the roads Minister, Baroness Vere, hosted in the autumn.

I thank my hon. Friend once again for the work he does with Midlands Connect and the A5 Partnership to ensure the overwhelming support for improvements is well represented within Government. I welcome the integrated approach with local community leaders, sub-national transport bodies and transport authorities to demonstrate a united front on the need for investment, which is essential for building the case for improvements along this stretch of the strategic road network. The formal window for feedback through the route strategies feedback tool came to a close at the end of December 2021. It is vital for National Highways to understand and prioritise the issues that matter most for users of the road network. I encourage my hon. Friend to continue making the case for investment in the strategic roads that matter most, and the important engagement that is already under way with National Highways across all these issues is making a tremendous difference.

I conclude by thanking my hon. Friends the Members for Rugby and for Bosworth for this debate. In preparation, I learned much about the 252 miles of the A5 and I hope they are satisfied with my response to their concerns. We recognise the vital importance of the A5 in supporting all aspects of the regional and national economy, and the concerns and views that have been expressed will be dealt with as matters of the utmost importance when considering how to improve the A5 now and in the future.