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DELEGATED LEGISLATION

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With the leave of the House, I shall put together the Questions on the motions relating to delegated legislation.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6)(Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

European Communities


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Question agreed to.

EUROPEAN COMMUNITY DOCUMENTS

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(9)(European Standing Committees),

Control of Foot and Mouth Disease


Question agreed to.

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A36 (Wellow)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Woolas.]

10.21 pm

Sandra Gidley (Romsey): I welcome the chance to have this Adjournment debate, which I requested because too many people are dying as a result of accidents on the A36 near Wellow. There is a touch of poignancy to the debate. The Minister is probably aware that a dreadful accident occurred on that stretch of road this very day. The multiple car incident appears to have caused at least one death, possibly two, and a number of serious injuries. I am sure that he will join me in expressing our condolences to the victims and their friends and families.

The picture is bleak. The latest figures that I have show that, from June 1997 to May 2002, 71 personal injury accidents occurred along the length of the A36 from New road to Fighting Cocks farm. At the junction with Whinwhistle road alone there were 21 personal injury accidents in that five-year period. The EuroRAP survey confirmed that that stretch of road has a higher than average accident rate. That is damning enough, but by examining recent history it is clear that the road has a long and chequered past with a long accident record, yet sadly little appears to have been done about it. It might help the Minister if I outline some of that history.

Most of my knowledge of the route is relatively recent, but a search of the web revealed a meeting of the road and development sub-committee of Hampshire county council on 12 December 1988. The introduction of the report of that meeting referred to


The same report stated that there had been 31 injury accidents in the preceding three years, of which four were fatal, nine involved serious injuries and 18 slight injuries. If we do a simple comparison with the latest five-year figures, it would appear that there has been an increase in the accident rate. The 1988 report provided further detail and suggested accident remedial works at two junctions—the junction with Whinwhistle road, where eight accidents had been identified, and the junction with Maury's lane. I shall return to the problems at Whinwhistle road. Although I do not have complete details, I am led to believe that today's fatal accident was near the Whinwhistle road junction.

The report also highlighted problems with driver behaviour, HGVs, overtaking accidents, and the speed limit. Thankfully, some progress has been made to reduce the speed limit, but sadly not enough. In addition, the report mentioned the possibility of a Wellow bypass. There was a recommendation to


I do not want my case today to be sidetracked by the re-emergence of that issue, but I will put the question of a bypass into context later.

I became more closely involved in the thorny issue of the A36 when a group of residents contacted me to discuss problems with the road surface, which were

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having an adverse affect on their quality of life and the structure of their homes, as well as problems with crossing the road and the possibility of providing a safe crossing. The road was resurfaced last year and there has been some improvement in the surface, but all the other issues remain. The more familiar I became with the stretch of road, the more I realised that something had to be done. It might help the Minister if I set the scene.

The A36 is a wide single-carriageway trunk road. The village of Wellow is clustered along one side of the road; on the other side is scattered development backing on to the New Forest. A certain amount of development has taken place over the years, which has contributed to increased usage of the junctions placed at intervals along the A36. That, coupled with the year-on-year increase in car usage, makes it easy to see why the accident rate has increased over the years. A roundabout has been installed at one of the junctions, the speed limit has recently been reduced from 50 mph to 40 mph, and signage has been improved, but little else has been done. The problems with the road are exacerbated by its slightly undulating nature. Toward the Plaitford end of the village, large vehicles head into Wellow over the brow of the hill and have to slam on the brakes when they suddenly spot cars emerging from a pub car park or other side road. Put simply, it is a recipe for disaster.

Let me concentrate for a moment on the problems in the vicinity of Whinwhistle road. That the problems were identified as long ago as 1988 is bad enough, but I recently learned the true extent of the procrastination on the issue. In November 1994, the Whinwhistle road feasibility study was carried out by Hampshire county council; that was rapidly followed by the 1994 Whinwhistle road supplementary report by Hampshire county council; and the May 1995 Whinwhistle road second supplementary report by Hampshire county council. All went quiet for a while, until in July 2001 we had the Whinwhistle road junction improvement study carried out by Atkins on behalf of the Highways Agency. The icing on the cake is a second study by Atkins: the A36 Plaitford to West Wellow speed and safety study, January 2003.

After nine years, five reports, and thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money—how many, I shudder to guess—there has been no action. That is not good enough, and the reason I asked for this debate is to urge the Minister to use whatever means he has at his disposal to ensure that something happens, and that it happens sooner rather than later.

There is a small bureaucratic matter that needs to be dealt with first. When I first started to pursue the matter in October 2001, the county surveyor at Hampshire county council told me that he was in negotiation with the Highways Agency about the de-trunking of the road. He hoped that that would happen some time in 2002. I was led to believe that that would be a good thing, because it would be possible to identify a package of de-trunking improvements that could be achieved prior to the road being handed over to the county council.

By December, the position had changed. In a letter dated December 2001, the county surveyor stated:


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For the good news, he stated that


and that it had requested further reports, mainly on issues connected with Somerset, but impinging on some more strategic points, such as the potential effect of the approval of the Dibden bay planning application. He added:


A letter from the Highways Agency confirmed that. It also informed me that Bath and North East Somerset council had requested a study commissioned by the Government office for the south-west before it would proceed with the de-trunking. The agency said that there was a possibility that the route could be divided into sections, and that that would be discussed at a later date. To the best of my knowledge, that never happened.

I come to the part that I find difficult to comprehend. The future of this road in Hampshire and the safety of my constituents is governed by the Government office for the south-west, even though we are in the south-east. I would be grateful if the Minister explained why that is so. Given that all parties appeared keen to go ahead and de-trunk the A36 in my part of Hampshire, why were others allowed to throw a spanner in the works and delay the whole process?

In January 2002, I received a fax from an irate constituent, who pointed out that there had recently been three multiple car crashes in three weeks, one near School lane, one outside the Red Rover and one opposite Landford new road. In February 2002, I decided to ask a parliamentary question, to ascertain whether I could elicit more information. There was little more information available, but the answer confirmed that de-trunking negotiations were likely to be on hold until early 2003.

In early 2002, I held a site meeting with some local residents, representatives of the Highways Agency and officers of the county council. I suggested that we walk along a stretch of the A36. The suggestion was greeted with horror. The response was, "No, you can't possibly do that." I should point out that there was a footpath and that we were not walking along the road itself. I was told that the road was far too dangerous to walk alongside it. There was some puzzlement when the residents burst out laughing at that stage. That was not on my behalf but because of the attitude of the officers. The residents felt that the reaction of the representatives of the Highways Agency and of the county council proved their point that the road was dangerous.

After some negotiation and promises not to sue, conspicuity security jackets were produced and we walked along a stretch of the road. Even though traffic always slows when a number of strange looking people are seen wearing fluorescent yellow jackets, the problem of speeding heavy goods vehicles was all too evident.

The residents were requesting a safe crossing point so that they could enjoy the pleasures of the New Forest. The little walk that we had could not have highlighted more the need for such a facility. However, a crossing in isolation in the wrong spot could be dangerous.

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Although I support the provision of a crossing, it must be part of a package of safety and traffic calming measures.

A little later the road was closed for resurfacing. That aspect of the road was much improved, but I would like to refer to a fax that I received from the A36 Residents Association, which clearly highlights its frustration. The fax reads:


There are many more points, but the fax goes on to claim that the improved road means that the traffic is travelling faster and the danger of a major incident is now greater. I am sure that the writer of that letter is not happy to have been proved correct.

I was also deeply frustrated, as there seemed little that I could do until the de-trunking issue was sorted out and various studies were completed. In November, I received a letter to say that the report was being finalised but that it highlighted a speed problem at both ends of West Wellow. I am not quite sure how much the report cost, but in the words of John Cleese it does seem to be "stating the bleeding obvious."

I was also assured that Atkins was committed to improving road safety and was continuing to seek long-term solutions. I certainly hope that there is not long-term implementation.

Sadly, despite the site meeting and despite numerous letters expressing interest, I have still not seen a copy of the report, despite a promise to let me do so. I understand that possibly it is still in draft form.

So where do we go from here, and why have I involved the Minister? I am aware that there are some schemes in preparation, such as the extension of the 40 mph speed limit and a puffin crossing at Canada roundabout. Hampshire county council is keen to install speed cameras at Whinwhistle road junction. This is a welcome, if long overdue, move, and I hope that the Minister can assure me that the scheme can proceed without further delay.

I am also aware that a scheme is being developed to provide a three-arm roundabout at Whinwhistle road. The observed accident rate at this junction is 7.4 recorded personal injury accidents a year, compared with the national average of 0.7. This scheme is due to take place in 2005–06, subject to the purchase of a suitable piece of land. I urge the Minister to use every means at his disposal to ensure that this happens sooner rather than later. Put simply, another two years is far too long.

I ask the Minister to take a look at the area. Plans for a bypass were dropped in the mid-1990s, although for a number of years the idea had a great deal of support. But

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no one could agree on the most suitable route and the idea seemed to be quietly shelved. Unfortunately, the shelving of the scheme did not coincide with a review of the safety of the road. I am not calling for a resurrection of the bypass plan, but if the accident record on such a busy road continues to rise, we will have to think again.

In the short term, various steps need to be taken. As a matter of urgency, a decision must be made on the de-trunking. If we are still at the mercy of the Government office for the south-west, I urge the Minister to go ahead with a decision for that stretch of road now. There is no reason why Hampshire should be subject to the whims of another county and another Government region. If the decision is definitely to go ahead, negotiations must be a priority, and a package of safety measures should form part of a de-trunking agreement. Residents of Wellow and users of the A36 do not need yet another survey. They do not need further procrastination. They need the road to be made safer, and they need that to be done as soon as is humanly—nay, superhumanly—possible, if we are to avoid further fatalities such as we have suffered this very day.


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