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30 Apr 2008 : Column 122WH—continued

The hon. Member for West Suffolk mentioned that process, and his part in it, and spoke with great modesty about his role in improving the relationship
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between parliamentarians. We should all like to put on the record the remarkable work that he has done in strengthening bilateral relationships between the UK and Ukraine. He was kind enough to mention—as did a number of hon. Members on a cross-party basis—the excellent work done by that young man, my hon. Friend the Member for Selby.

There is an increasing understanding in the UK of the importance of, and the complexity of, Ukrainian society. The opportunity to increase understanding will be amplified with the excellent decision to co-host the European 2012 football championships. It is a remarkably opportune moment for Ukraine to highlight itself as a nation, a culture, an ally and a friend, and an excellent opportunity for inward investment and so much more. I do not want to pursue the footballing analogy much more than that, Mrs. Anderson. However, I had cause for celebration earlier in this season in respect of the underperformance and failure in Europe of a Ukrainan team, Shakhtar Donetsk, which was defeated by my team, Celtic. Hon. Members have paid tribute to the great skill of the current Chelsea player, Shevchenko, although my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North cannot really expect him to be a Fulham player next season.

I want to talk about the specific points raised. Remarkable practical assistance is being afforded by the UK Government to help Ukraine in its efforts to develop and integrate more closely with both the EU and NATO. Successive British Governments have supported Ukraine's development as it has faced many challenges, and it has, by any objective analysis, overcome remarkable obstacles since gaining independence in 1991. Our total assistance during this period has exceeded £100 million. Assistance has rightly evolved, as the country has changed, from supporting transition from the post-Soviet system to assisting its move towards EU standards. In January 2006 the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development rightly re-classified Ukraine as a middle income country.

It is a cause for some delight that, as a result of the progress that has been made, the Department for International Development closed its bilateral programme a few weeks ago, in March 2008. It is never a cause for celebration when programmes end, but the fact that we are moving away from DFID involvement to a more sustained economic relationship is emblematic of the way in which Ukraine continues to change. However, that does not mean—it should never be misconstrued as meaning—that the UK will no longer take a close interest in Ukraine's socio-economic development. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office will continue to support political and economic reform to Ukraine through its “Reuniting Europe” programme and bilateral funds worth more than £900,000 in 2008-09. We will also provide support through funding for multilateral organisations, including the European Union, the World Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Ukraine is a priority country for European Commission support. More than 17 per cent. of the
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Commission’s aid to Ukraine is provided by the UK as part of our overall share of the EU budget. Again, that is a reminder of just how engaged the UK continues to be in supporting Ukraine.

I will not be able to answer every point in the time I have left, but if colleagues wish—the tenor of the debate suggests that they would—I will circulate a more detailed response on the issues that I cannot capture now.

There is an element of EU enlargement fatigue in other European capitals, but we in London do not share that fatigue, the Government do not share it and it is fair to say that it does not appear to be shared by any Opposition parties. I would argue, and the Government would, too, that it is in our strategic self-interest for Ukraine to be a full, equal member of the EU in time. We have not set a timetable—it would be wrong for us to do so, because this is a condition-based accession process—but we are clear that if, in time, Ukraine fulfils its criteria, it should be admitted into full membership of the EU. The European neighbourhood policy, which is important, should not be regarded as an alternative to eventual EU membership.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South and the hon. Members for East Dunbartonshire and for Rayleigh asked about the Ukraine and the NATO perspective. Let us be clear about what was declared at the NATO summit. No third country has or will have a veto over Ukraine’s aspirations to be a member of NATO. NATO allies agree that Ukraine will become a member of NATO and that we must help it move towards that objective as soon as possible. NATO also reaffirmed the importance of the NATO-Ukraine relationship and will now begin a period of intensive engagement with Ukraine, at a political level, to address the outstanding questions on the membership action plan.

There is an important point to be made about public perception and opinion in Ukraine in respect of NATO. There is strong Government support for Ukraine’s membership of NATO, but more has to be done to encourage wider public support among the population of Ukraine towards that ambition. The UK Government will play an important part, wherever we are invited to do so, in advising the Ukrainian Government on how to ensure that there is an educated, informed conversation in Ukraine about NATO membership.

The UK looks forward to President Yushchenko’s visit and will continue to work closely with Ukraine to pursue our common goals and interests. Our two nations have a strong, enduring friendship that we believe can only be strengthened by continued dialogue. Ukraine is a strategic partner for the UK in the world and we are determined to see, and are committed to, an ever-closer working relationship and Ukraine’s eventual membership of the EU and NATO.

I congratulate the hon. Member for West Suffolk once again on securing today’s debate and for the way in which it has been conducted.

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A14/A45 (North Northamptonshire)

4 pm

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs. Anderson, and I thank Mr. Speaker for granting me this debate. He has been generous in providing a series of debates on the expansion of north Northamptonshire to both me and my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone). I thank the Minister for his attendance, and I hope that this debate will be constructive and that he will be able to provide answers to my questions and concerns. I look forward to his response. I also thank my hon. Friend for attending. He will try to catch your eye, Mrs. Anderson, later in the debate. He works tirelessly on behalf of his constituents and, like me, he has grave concerns about the road infrastructure in north Northamptonshire.

The A45 and A14 are east-to-west trunk roads passing through or near Wellingborough. My constituents must use one or both roads to get about in their daily lives, and they are both extremely busy. The A45 and A14 trunk roads feed into the M1 and are the main links through the constituency to the east of England. They are extremely well used, extremely busy and extremely underfunded.

It seems that things are set to become much worse for my constituents who use those roads. The Government are forcing 52,000 new homes on north Northamptonshire in the next few years as part of the south midlands and Milton Keynes spatial core strategy. That equates with about a 50 per cent. rise in the number of existing homes. Moreover, plans for two large developments in my constituency—Wellingborough East and Wellingborough North—have already been submitted to the planning authority. They will not happen in the future; that huge increase in development is happening now, but where are the plans for the infrastructure to support it? Who knows? That is what I am trying to find out.

The fact is that there are no plans to improve capacity or to carry out major and necessary improvements to the A45 and the A14 in time for the increased development, increase in population and increase in the number of vehicles. What is even more worrying is that it is not just our roads that will fall behind; it is our local public services, which are already stretched to the limit with the current population. In Welllingborough we have no hospital, a demolished secondary school and no available NHS dentist.

Let us consider one issue—the hospital. One might ask what that has to do with the road infrastructure. As there is no hospital in Wellingborough, my constituents must travel by car or, in an emergency, by ambulance to Kettering or Northampton general hospitals. If they go to Kettering, they must use the A14; if they go to Northampton, they must use the A45. When those roads are congested or blocked my constituents’ journey time to hospital could be severely delayed, which in turn could be life threatening. I have argued strongly that there is a moral and financial case for a hospital in the Wellingborough and Rushden area. If we had such a hospital, at a stroke thousands and thousands of car journeys along the A14 and A45 every year would not be necessary. If there were any
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joined-up government thinking, there would be a plan for a hospital in the Wellingborough and Rushden area—but of course, there is not.

Today, the Institute for Public Policy Research report confirms that outside London, Northamptonshire has seen the largest influx of workers from eastern Europe. Even more worrying is that we have been told that a third of the new development will be used by migrant families from eastern Europe.

I run a rolling survey in my constituency as part of the “Listening to Wellingborough and Rushden” campaign, which lets me know regularly what is of most concern to my constituents. For the first time ever, the latest survey shows that immigration is local residents’ No. 1 concern. A year ago, that was not an issue, and did not even register. It is now a concern because of the huge impact on public services, including our major roads, which cannot cope with the amount of new development and increase in population.

There was a recent borough council by-election in the Redwell ward, which adjoins the proposed Wellingborough North development. It is a safe Conservative ward and the Conservatives easily retained it. However, for the first time, a British National party candidate stood, and he stood on the issue of overdevelopment and lack of infrastructure, including the state of our roads. He received more than 15 per cent. of the vote and beat Labour into third place. That should be a wake-up call for all mainstream politicians in north Northamptonshire.

Before I talk about specific housing developments in the very near future, I want to relate how overcrowding on the A14 and A45 creates not only long delays and frustrations for those who must use them, but the more serious effects of underfunding our roads: casualties and accidents. In 2004, there were five fatal casualties on the A14 and one on the A45. By 2006, the numbers had risen to eight fatal casualties on each road. Since 2004, the number of fatal, serious and slight casualties on the A45 has risen dramatically. In 2004 the total number of casualties was 96. In 2006, it was 194. The casualty reduction target set by the Highways Agency for the number of casualties on the A45 in 2006 was 149. The actual number of casualties was 194. That is about a third more than expected. Something must be seriously wrong if targets are being missed by such a large proportion. That was the situation in 2006, before the extra development took place.

The A14 and A45 trunk roads are part of the Highways Agency’s area 88. Within that area it also manages the A1, A421, A428, A5 and A43. The total number of casualties on all those roads in 2006 was 907, of which 447—almost half of all casualties in that year—happened on the A14 and the A45. Again, it does not take a rocket scientist to realise that accidents and casualties on those two trunk roads are too frequent and too many. The reason is lack of planned infrastructure and lack of funding to improve those roads.

One issue on which I have campaigned at Westminster and in my constituency is the lack of improvements to the Chowns Mill roundabout at the A45/A6 junction at Higham Ferrers. The “Listening to Wellingborough and Rushden” campaign demonstrates what is wrong with the system. Chowns Mill interchange is a roundabout designed for 4 roads. It now has five roads going into it.
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A grade-separated junction is desperately needed at Chowns Mill to alleviate the enormous congestion caused by the short-sighted and inappropriate layout. There have also been a number of accidents and casualties at Chowns Mill because, although small improvements have been made, they have been so minor and confusing that drivers are still unsure about which lanes to use. I used that roundabout recently and was in the right lane to head forward when a car shot straight across me. I do not believe that that was a bad driver; I just think he was confused by the road layout.

The campaign for improvements to Chowns Mill roundabout has been led by my constituent Mrs. Julie Nacca, who had an accident on the site. She was so incensed by not being able to get anything done to improve the roundabout that she started her own petition. I presented that petition to Parliament in March 2007. I would like to praise Mrs. Nacca’s hard work and dedication in raising the matter with the relevant organisations and in trying to get improvements from which everyone can benefit.

The campaign has resulted in a meeting between the parish, district and county councils, the Highways Agency and me. It was universally agreed that improvements should be made, but then things went horribly wrong. The decision was made by an unelected, undemocratic, unaccountable quango: the East Midlands regional assembly. The assembly is a regional organisation based in Leicestershire. It might vaguely know where Wellingborough is, but certainly would not know where Higham Ferrers is and would have no idea of the problems at Chowns Mill. The assembly refuses to make the improvements at Chowns Mill a priority and does not put it in its forward plan, which covers the next 15 years.

Mrs. Nacca, Councillor Derek Lawson, who has also been campaigning on the issue, and myself met the chief executive of the East Midlands regional assembly at the end of last year. We were told that these desperately needed improvements to our road system would not be carried out, regardless of the amount of new development, the numbers of new businesses and the increase in new vehicles that would soon be on the A45. We were told that there was no chance of the grade-separated junction being put into the programme.

Two new major developments planned for Wellingborough in the immediate future are Wellingborough East and Wellingborough North, which includes Upper Redhill and Pulse Park. Some 3,200 houses have already been approved for Wellingborough East—or WEAST as it is more commonly known—and more than 3,000 homes are planned for Wellingborough North. Moreover, plans will shortly be submitted for a new development east of WEAST, which will include thousands of new homes and will create a new urban conurbation. Where does that development lie? Right on the A45. It is my understanding that the Highways Agency does not have any proposals for major improvements to the A45 between the M1 and the A14 in the next 15 years. I would be interested to learn whether the Minister has any updated, more encouraging information on that. The Wellingborough North development, for which there are two planning applications at the moment, will cover more than 3,000 new homes that will be linked by the A509 directly to the A14. That will mean more houses, more people and more traffic for the A14.

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It is clear that the Government have a blinkered approach; they have tunnel vision and can only see houses. They are determined to build thousands and thousands of new homes in north Northamptonshire. Those homes are already being built, yet the Government have no serious, structured or firm plans for improving the road infrastructure. If they were to take their blinkers off, they would realise that the A14 and the A45 are heading for complete gridlock.

4.14 pm

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I am delighted to be here to support my parliamentary neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone). He works tirelessly day in and day out for his constituents, and I congratulate him on securing this special and important debate.

It is obvious to anyone who lives in and around Kettering that the A14 needs urgent attention. There are far too many accidents on the road and it is getting increasingly congested. Kettering simply will not be able to cope with the thousands of extra houses unless the A14 is improved fast. The Government and the Highways Agency have dithered for far too long over this issue, yet it is the most important infrastructure improvement that Kettering needs. Local roads are becoming more and more congested, and the Kettering rail service is to be cut back. The strain on existing public services is increasing as each month passes. Unless the Government agree to guarantee the additional infrastructure that Kettering needs, the plans for housing expansion in the area need to be radically scaled back or stopped altogether.

The Government’s overall plans for Kettering envisage 13,100 new dwellings by 2021, which would increase the population of the borough by one third. There are to be 145,000 new houses across the county as a whole, increasing Northamptonshire’s population from 660,000 to 1 million. Yet the current situation with the A14 is that there are no official plans to improve the road around Kettering until 2017 at the earliest. However, more than 70,000 vehicles a day already use the A14 around Kettering and the road is at capacity. Specific detailed plans to improve the A14 have been awaited for at least two years. Growth in local traffic is such that the Highways Agency is now considering restricting local vehicular access on to the road through so-called demand management measures. Planning approval for large-scale housing expansion to the east of Kettering, possibly involving up to 5,000 homes, simply cannot proceed until improvements to the A14 are announced.

BB Developments and Buccleuch Estates have submitted to Kettering borough council, of which I am proud to be a member, a planning application for 5,500 houses to be built to the east of Kettering. Without guidance from the Highways Agency that plans are to be put in place to improve the A14, Kettering borough council is unlikely to be able to make a decision either way on the application within the requisite timetable. That is likely to lead to an appeal by the applicants to the planning inspectorate, which would involve the council in a costly and lengthy planning inquiry. Likewise, plans to develop the old scrap yard site at the junction of the A43 and the A14 near Broughton are blighted until firm proposals for an improvement to the A14 are announced by the Department for Transport.

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Since being elected in May 2005, I have asked a series of parliamentary questions about the A14, and the timetable for an announcement about the road continues to slip. In July 2005, the answer given was:

In May 2007, the answer from the Minister’s predecessor, the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), was:

In September 2007, the answer was:

In November 2007, the Minister said:

At the other end of the A14, Government plans for the Catthorpe interchange with the M1 and the M6, which is used by 100,000 drivers every day, continue to be delayed. A £200 million improvement scheme was announced in December 2006, with works to start in 2009. However, plans are still being prepared and have yet to be presented to a public inquiry. Only £500,000 has been spent on interim improvements since the announcement of the scheme, and the interchange approach continues to be subject to frequent accidents.

The A14 is one of the most congested roads in the country. It is a killer road and it will block all the Government’s plans for developing the local area. The Department for Transport needs to make an urgent announcement about how it intends to improve the road, and the improvements need to be delivered extremely quickly.

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