Sir Oliver Heald MP holds House of Commons debate on Hertfordshire's roads

Sir Oliver Heald, MP for North-East Hertfordshire, held an adjournment debate in the House of Commons this afternoon on the issues of Hertfordshire's roads. Ajournment debates happen at the end of a day’s sitting, and they last for about half-an-hour. They present an opportunity for MPs to express their opinions on matters of local importance, and they always end with a reply from a Government Minister.

Sir Oliver called for the A1(M) to be widened to three lanes to ease congestion for businesses and local residents, a by-pass at Standon to help people getting to and from Stanstead Airport and Bishop’s Stortford, and a by-pass on the A10 around Royston to reduce traffic, and help children get to and from school and those using Royston Hospital.

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Note that below is the script that Sir Oliver used for the speech, but Hansard will publish the official verbatim report of his speech, along with the Minister’s reply this evening. It will also be viewable on BBC iPlayer and on parliamentlive.tv

The speech is below.

Mr Speaker, I am glad to have the opportunity to raise the issue of Hertfordshire’s roads and the widening of the A1(M). This is an important concern for my constituents, for Hertfordshire, and the UK economy. Each morning and evening on the A1(M) there are long tailbacks at Stevenage and on the section from Welwyn to Stevenage. This affects a number of constituencies and the national infrastructure.

I am grateful to the Rt Hon Member for South Holland and the Deepings, the Trunk Roads Minister, for agreeing to meet me together with the Rt Hon. and Hon. Members for Welwyn and Hatfield, Hitchin and Harpenden, and Stevenage to discuss in more detail what improvements might be possible. As the Minister has now agreed to this meeting, it may be helpful if I set out the main issues.

Hertfordshire is one of the most productive and revenue-raising counties in the country. Its geographic location and the nature of its economy make it well suited to sustainable business growth. It has world-beating industry, such as Johnson Matthey Plc, based at Royston in my constituency, and major companies such as MBDA and Glaxo Smith Kline in Stevenage. Watford is a business success and the County is a centre for the cultural industries with Elstree Studios and many films and TV programmes are also shot on location in the County. Indeed Letchworth Garden City has an innovative Da Vinci School specialising in training young people aged 14 to 19 in the cultural industry skills. The Herts Local Enterprise Partnership makes clear that congestion is a key issue for businesses and residents and that addressing this issue will be instrumental in accommodating further economic growth in the county. The LEP believes that increased capacity on the A1(M) is the number one priority for the county’s road network between 2015-2020.

Our strong local science base has huge potential for further growth. 861 hectares of employment land is accessed from the A1(M) – employing over 200,000 people and a further 60,000 commuting into the area and many homes are due to be built in the corridor over the next 20 years. By 2017, this section of the A1(M) will be under even greater stress and will struggle to accommodate any anticipated growth in the corridor without additional capacity.

Hertfordshire can be accessed easily from both London and the Midlands and is convenient for the East Coast ports. 5 railway lines pass through. The main roads of the county – the A1(M), A5, A6, A41, M1, M11, and M25 – provide access to the rest of the country. Finally, Stansted and Luton – the two airports that straddle the county on its East and West borders – open the county up to the rest of Europe. 

This successful part of the country needs a well-functioning and well-funded transport infrastructure, and, although much of our infrastructure is good, there are some instances in which we are let down. I would like to elaborate on three of those this afternoon. I will come on further consideration of the widening of the A1(M). But I wondered if the Minister might write to me about two other roads’ issues.

I held an adjournment debate on this subject in 1998, in which I called for three bypasses to be constructed in my constituency: one around Baldock, one from Wadesmill to Puckeridge, and the third around Royston. Two have been built and are a substantial investment in our infrastructure, but not the one for Royston. There has long been a bypass to the North of the town, diverting the East-West A505 around it. However, the North-South A10 still goes straight through the town centre.  In the 17 years since I first called for a bypass on the A10, the situation has, if anything, worsened. The joint successes of London, Hertfordshire, and the Midlands, the development of the town and nearby areas in South Cambridgeshire, and a natural population growth are exerting ever more pressure on our road networks, and Royston’s problems are becoming more serious. Heavy traffic streams through the town on a daily basis, and tailbacks are increasing, both in and near the town.

Road congestion clogs up Melbourn Road, which affects children who attend the main schools located on the other side of the A10. The Town Council and local County Councilors are united behind this plan. Even in 1994, the Highways Agency announced that it supported the construction of an A10 bypass at Royston, and the then-Minister pledged to keep the case for a bypass under review. Mr Deputy Speaker, I think that the review has gone on for a long time. Royston remains the only town on the A10 between London and Kings Lynn without a bypass. The case for one is strong. I wonder if he might write to me about how best to make progress.

We have been very fortunate locally in recently gaining funding from Government for a bypass on the A120, around Little Hadham and improvements to the A602 both in my constituency. Hertfordshire County Council is currently consulting on the detail of the schemes, but given the strategic importance of the link between the A10 and the A120 in relation to Stansted Airport and travel on the A120 east of Bishop’s Stortford, I would be grateful if the Department could start to consider how best to further improve the route. I argue that a Standon By-pass is needed to complement the works just recently agreed.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I should now like to turn to issues surrounding the widening of the A1(M).

We have already seen the huge value of Hertfordshire in terms of its businesses and local enterprise. From our multi-national corporations to our SMEs, at all levels of the supply chain, our businesses are successful. In fact UK Trade and Investment say that inward investment to Hertfordshire indicates a 61% increase in the last year. Hertfordshire Chamber of Commerce members tell us that the pool of skills comes not just from local residents. Major companies like GSK and Airbus, though based in Northern Hertfordshire, cast a wide net in terms of employment. These commuters must be catered for on our roads. This road network, however, is not as strong as it should be, and so some of Hertfordshire’s potential is not being realised. One of the most important of these roads is the A1(M).

Starting in London, it moves into Hertfordshire, servicing Hatfield, Welwyn, Stevenage, Letchworth in my constituency, then going on to Peterborough, Doncaster, Leeds, Darlington, Middleborough, Durham, Newcastle, and, finally, Edinburgh. Clearly, this road is very important in getting workers to their employment, and then in getting their products out to the UK market and beyond. London and Edinburgh are extremely important in this, and, recent announcements by my Rt Hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, about the creation of the “Northern Hub” will make the A1(M) even more significant. The section between Welwyn and Huntingdon needs further improvement.

This road is not as good as it should be. The section of the A1(M) between Stevenage and Welwyn is a very important stretch of road, but it is comprised of only two lanes in each carriageway. Every morning and evening, the road is congested and tailbacks can be very long as the road narrows for this section. I received a letter from a constituent of Letchworth recently, saying that these problems have existed for over a quarter of century:

“During that time I have travelled up and down the A1M between Letchworth gate and the clock roundabout at Welwyn and ended up going into work before 7 and coming home after 7 in the evening to miss the jams on the A1(M). Even when I was travelling 25 years ago the bottleneck of the dual carriageway motorway from the Corey’s Mill roundabout at the Hitchin Junction and the clock roundabout is a crawl that adds considerably to travel time, pollution and frustration. Even today when I travel to Heathrow or Gatwick airport you either have to travel at 5 in the morning or the day before and the cost of a hotel because of the bottleneck. Successive governments have failed… on upgrading the road to 3 lanes in each direction.”

Mr Deputy Speaker, Junction 7, at Stevenage, connects one of the biggest industrial areas in Hertfordshire with the rest of the UK, but drivers see regular queues on the motorway, and some members of the Hertfordshire Chamber of Commerce suggest that continued non-remedied access to Stevenage could prompt their relocation. We cannot let this happen. At the other end of this two-lane section is Welwyn’s Junction 6. It is found in the dead-centre of the so-called “Golden Triangle” of Oxford, Cambridge, and London, but problems here too are a blight on one of the powerhouses of the UK economy. Some changes to the slip road at Junction 6 have been suggested, but there is confusion locally because the Managed Motorway Solution announced was for use of the hard shoulder to add capacity, but this was then rejected by the Department for Transport.

One of the best, and most simple things that can be done is the widening of this section of the A1(M) to three lanes on each carriageway. This would allow for a greater stream of traffic, easing congestion, and allowing such an important national connection to flow more freely. Businesses would be helped, things would be made easier for commuters, and less time spent in traffic jams would reduce pollution.

Mr Deputy Speaker, Hertfordshire is a strong contributor to the UK economy and to public spending across the country. Hertfordshire contributes £12 billion in tax revenues to the exchequer compared with £8 billion in public expenditure – meaning that the county’s net contribution to the UK economy is around £4 billion.

My constituents feel that some of these public funds should be used in Hertfordshire in alleviating our most serious road problems. I look forward to the meeting of the Trunk Roads Minister with me and other Rt Hon. and Hon. Members and I hope the Minister today might acknowledge the importance of the Hertfordshire economy and the need for good infrastructure to support it.