IT’S a question of one step forward and two back when it comes to the much needed dualling of the A64 between Hopgrove and Barton Hill east of York.
Just as we thought we had successfully changed the focus from a flyover at Hopgrove roundabout to a new, seven-mile section of dual carriageway, Highways England appear to have reduced the value for money of these improvements from ‘medium’ to ‘low’.
It simply defies logic, particularly when their own feasibility study makes it clear that the root cause of the traffic problems is not the Hopgrove junction but the ‘bleeding obvious’ bottleneck effect of a dual carriageway becoming a single lane as you travel east from York.
This is why four Yorkshire MPs, Robert Goodwill MP (Scarborough & Whitby), Julian Sturdy MP (York Outer), Nigel Adams MP (Selby & Ainsty) and Sir Greg Knight MP (East Yorkshire) and I have written to Highways England to express our “grave concerns” about its assessment criteria.
In our letter, we say that its stance makes “no logical sense”. We also remind Highways England that its own A64 Hopgrove Feasibility Study said delays could be attributed to the the logjam effect of two lanes merging into one further along the A64 from the Hopgrove roundabout. This means making improvements to the roundabout alone will not solve the problem.
The issue about how to solve the horrendous tailbacks on the A64 has been a challenge for decades. It tested my predecessors and it has been a top priority for me since I became elected in 2015.
My Parliamentary colleague, Robert Goodwill MP, and I have had numerous meetings with the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, and many Transport Ministers to discuss what can be done and how the necessary funds can be allocated.
According to Highways England’s own data, the A64 carries twice the amount of traffic recommended for a single carriageway and, crucially, not just on bank holidays or warm summer weekends, but on average throughout the year.
Yet, here we are in June 2019, within months of the Department for Transport making a decision about what schemes should be included in the next road investment period 2020-2025 and the plans are still in doubt.
This is despite my having been assured by Highways England as early as April 2018 that, all options under consideration would include a dual carriageway from York to Barton Hill. It has since conducted a detailed examination of the environmental impact, traffic data, implications for side roads, costs and carried out a consultation last year.
All these studies have shown that the traffic problems are causing huge delays to our constituents, businesses and hundreds of thousands of tourists and, more worryingly, are set to get worse.
The A64 Hopgrove Feasibility Study estimates that traffic will grow by up to 28 per cent by 2035, so it is unthinkable that this situation would gradually worsen over a period of 11 years before we see the improvements we need.
The dualling of the A1237 York Northern Ring Road, which is soon to be approved under the Major Road Network programme, the creation of thousands of new jobs by Sirius Minerals and GCHQ along with thousands of new homes in areas that rely on the A64 is expected to substantially increase the volume of traffic in the years ahead.
The dualling of the carriageway has the support of just about every constituent I speak to and of the A64 Growth Partnership (a coalition of the Local Enterprise Partnership, local authorities and businesses) as it will significantly reduce traffic issues and journey times and make a huge difference to the regional economy.
Of course, we are mindful that budgets are tight and I am told by a Highways England insider that the scheme is competing with similar ones in the south, including a planned expressway between Oxford and Cambridge and the Lower Thames Crossing. Justifications for the loss of our scheme to a ‘more important, better value-for-money’ southern-based project would be totally unacceptable.
Highways England must revisit its business case for the dual carriageway and ensure that it is included in the next road investment period from 2020 to 2025. We cannot wait a moment longer.
kevin Hollinrake is the Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malt