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Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire) (Con): I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) for permitting me to make a short contribution. I congratulate him on securing this debate and on presenting it so comprehensively and expertly. I know that my constituents will be grateful to him for the way in which he has presented the issue.
My hon. Friend kindly mentioned that I had also brought up the issue on 16 December 1998. It is now six years later. Since then, my hon. Friend and I have fought for the multimodal study on the Huntingdon to Cambridge corridor to be put into tranche 1, because the Government were going to put it into tranche 2. After it came out of tranche 2, we had to fight for the right route to be selected. Then we had to fight for it to be put into the targeted programme of improvements. As my hon. Friend rightly pointed out, we thoughtgiven the Government's rhetoricthat the targeted programme of improvements equalled a commitment to proceed with a small number of projects on the fastest possible timetable, so that something would actually happen.
My hon. Friend rightly said that some villages are deeply affected by this issue. He knows that because he represented them in the past. I have represented them since 1997, and they include Bar Hill, Lolworth, Conington, Longstanton and Oakington. It is virtually impossible to leave those villages or to travel south or north when the A14 is blockedand that is often the case. That makes life in those villages intolerable and it is vital that we have a public consultation on the route as quickly as possible, so that the people living in those villages can see an end in sight to the blight on their lives.
My hon. Friend said that I had more detail on the date of the public consultation and indeed I do. I wrote to the Highways Agency in June and it told me in a letter later that month that the public consultation would start in September 2004. It did not. I wrote to the Minister in October and he replied the same month, saying:
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I wrote to the Minister in November, but he replied that there was
"nothing to be gained by rushing this stage . . . public consultation is now expected to start early in the New Year."
I wrote to him in December, when he replied:
Well, if we look outside at the weather, it would appear that spring has arrived. I wrote to the Minister in January and he replied on 1 February. All that he could say was that
As my hon. Friend said, it is now approaching two years since the targeted programme of improvements was announced. I said back in 1998 that it would be unacceptable for it to be as long as 10 years before work was undertaken on this road. We are now approaching the point at which it will go beyond 10 years, and it is indeed unacceptable.
Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) on securing this debate and thank him for allowing me a couple of valuable minutes in which to speak.
The people of Huntingdonshire are tiredtired of constantly hearing of the accidents and deaths on the A14, tired of their inability to get around Cambridgeshire, tired of diversions, tired of A14 accident traffic running through their villages, and tired of this Government's consistent shilly-shallying, delaying and false raising of hopes.
I have written more letters to Ministers and asked more written and oral questions on the A14 than on any other issue. Much good it seems to have done anyone. Every few months, there is a new reason for delay and some lame excuse from Ministers. In December, the Minister wrote to me that the consultation was delayed from January to spring 2005. He has not, however, seemed in much of a hurry to set a date.
In demanding action on behalf of my constituents, I make three brief points. First, last Saturday, I talked to a pre-eminent research doctor who lives in my constituency. He works in Cambridge, but is now considering moving because of his inability to commute on the A14. Thus we see the ripple effect out from Cambridge which is meant to be a regional prioritygoing into reverse. We all have big plans for the eastern region, but if this road is not sorted out, those plans are next to useless, as will be this Government's plans to build thousands more houses in the region.
Secondly, the Government must start to put the A14 plans in the context of the separate plan for the A1 and the A428. I have been shocked at how disjointed the Government are on what is meant to be multi-modal transport.
Thirdly this is a national problem. If every local car between Huntingdon and Cambridge were taken off the road, traffic would decrease by less than 5 per cent. on the A14. Therefore, while better local public transport is
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welcome, it will do next to nothing in itself to solve the problem of what is the main road from the docks to the west midlands.
With rail expansion simply not happening, the Government owe it to the people of my constituency, the region and the country to get the new A14 built and to do it now.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): I congratulate the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) on securing this debate, and on giving the House an opportunity to discuss this section of the A14. Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman started the debate in rather a churlish manner, and complained about the way in which he said that he was treated by my office. He requested some information in an e-mailI have it herethat arrived at 6.19 pm on Monday.
Mr. Paice: Will the Minister give way?
Mr. Jamieson: No, not for a moment. The hon. Gentleman will listen to what I have to say now.
At 6.19 pm on Monday, the hon. Gentleman requested some information via a complex set of questions, and my officials set about putting the information together for him the next morning. The information arrived in my office at 2 o'clock today, and as soon as possible I made sure that the information was provided to his office in a fax that went out at 5.34 this afternoon. Had the hon. Gentleman put in his request in good time, we might have been able to get him more information, and more complete information. As it was, I had to make sure that the information that had been provided to me was properly and fully checked. We were not sure whether some of the information provided by the county council was entirely accurate, so we wanted to check that, too.
Therefore, the hon. Gentleman was provided with information. As someone who has occupied ministerial office in the past, he should know that it takes more than 24 hours to get a complex set of questions answered. Now I will give way to him, and will perhaps hear his explanation and apology.
Mr. Paice: There are words that one is not allowed to use in this House, but if I were, I would use them. What the Minister is suggesting is totally untrue. On Monday, my office telephoned the Highways Agency in the morning, and subsequently rang and asked for written confirmation, to which he has referred. This afternoon, his officeI could name the individual in his office, but I will notstated clearly to me that he had personally ruled that the information could not be released to me because of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. That is absolutely clear.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I remind Members of "Erskine May". The words "good temper and moderation" come to mind, so perhaps they will bear them in mind.
Yes, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have explained to the hon. Gentleman when the information
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was sent in writing. In fact, what I asked to be conveyed to him was that we could not provide the information until we had checked its accuracy. Fortunately, that was done later in the afternoon and it was then given to him. He was told that under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, there could be a delay of up to 20 days before he received it. I hope that I have clarified what happened, for the benefit of the House.
The A14 was established as a trunk road in 1994 following completion of a new high-standard dual carriageway between the M1 and M6 junction at Catthorpe and Huntingdon. It is a route of strategic national importance, connecting the midlands with the ports of Harwich and Felixstowe. As the House will know, it is a mixture of dual two-lane and dual three-lane carriageway and has a variety of junction types, some with flyovers and some without. Congestion at peak hours at the Milton and Histon junctions caused by traffic queuing into Cambridge affects A14 through-movements. Average daily traffic flows on the A14 in Cambridgeshire range from 40,000 at Ellington to 72,000 between the St. Ives interchange and Bar Hill.
We are concerned about the casualty rate on the A14. Records for the period 200204 show an average of 200 personal injury accidents per year. Although the number of accidents is relatively highany accident is unacceptablethe rate is below the national average for similar dual carriageway. That said, I do recognise that any accident is regrettable and involves human misery.
Following the Government's strategic review of the roads programme in 1998, we announced our intention to carry out a study of the problems on the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon. The Cambridge to Huntingdon multi-modal studyknown as CHUMMSreported in August 2001. The East of England local government conference, the predecessor to the East of England regional assembly, concluded that the preferred plan was consistent with the emerging regional transport strategy for the east of England and represented an integrated package that should form the basis for resolution of transportation problems in the corridor. The Government accepted the Conference's view that the package was a sound basis for pursuing integrated transport solutions, and asked the Highways Agency to take forward the recommended A14 improvement scheme.
The multi-million pound A14 Ellington to Fen Ditton improvement was added to the Government's targeted programme of improvements in April 2003. I should remind the hon. Members for South-East Cambridgeshire, for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) and for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) that this scheme includes the widening of the A14 between the M11 and the A10, and that such a scheme was withdrawn by the previous Conservative Government in 1996. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire said with mock indignation that the situation is a disgrace, but if his party were in government, there would be no such scheme at all. The 2004 spending review has confirmed that the scheme is of national importance and will be progressed for future construction.
But there is much that we are doing in the short term, and the Highways Agency is also doing a lot to improve safety. Measures to improve traffic signing and white lining are programmed for completion before the end of this March. Such measures, combined with the
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installation of closed circuit television cameras and incident detection equipmentthe latter has already been installedare elements of the CHUMMS preferred plan. The agency is also in the early stages of planning other safety improvements for later in the year, including a further extension of the existing CCTV coverage.
The Highways Agency has also undertaken in-depth analysis of the accidents at the Spittals and Brampton Hut junctions, and it is developing short-term and medium-term measures to reduce the number of crashes at these locations. A scheme to provide improved traffic signs and road markings at the Spittals interchange is programmed to commence later this month; it will take about a week to complete. That will be complemented in 200506 by the installation of traffic signals, which will bring safety and journey time benefits. Many other improvements are being made to that stretch of road, but I do not have time to expand on them this evening.
Following a tragic accident on the A14 last year, the chief constable of Cambridgeshire asked representatives of the Highways Agency to travel the A14 with him and undertake an audit to address safety issues and driver behaviour. In September 2004, the agency assisted Cambridgeshire police in a multi-agency operation to monitor safe driving practice along that section of the A14. Special patrols spent a week monitoring drivers in a bid to put a stop to tailgating, needless overtaking and other offences involving mobile phones and seat belts. That survey exposed many instances of poor driving behaviour.
Returning to the Ellington to Fen Ditton improvement, I acknowledge the support for the scheme, but whatever the level of support, it is important to ensure that all opinions are properly invited and considered. Hon. Members will be aware that as a result of consultations with local authorities in preparation for the public consultation about the scheme, an alternative proposal, which differs from the strategy proposed by CHUMMS, has been suggested by the residents of Buckden in the constituency of the hon. Member for Huntingdon.
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