APPROPRIATE and effective transport infrastructure is a fundamental requirement for the economic growth and success of every village, town and city across the country.
However, York’s setting presents a unique challenge for transport infrastructure in the city. Its Roman foundations and medieval layout would certainly not be approved by today’s planning authorities, and traffic congestion in the centre will always be a difficult issue for the city to tackle.
In some ways, York is a victim of its own success. It is an attractive place to live and do business, sitting in the heart of Yorkshire just outside the A1M corridor with good links to London, Newcastle and Leeds.
As York’s population has grown, its transport network has come under increasing strain. Sitting in my constituency is the A1237, which is known locally as York’s northern outer ring road. Some might call it other names, but I probably could not divulge them.
The road is in desperate need of dualling. It was built by North Yorkshire County Council back in the 1980s, and the single carriageway is now greatly over capacity. There has been a 10 per cent increase in journeys on the road since 2012. There is no longer a peak period, as severe congestion persists throughout the entire day. The current average journey time from Hopgrove roundabout to Askham Bryan is more than 30 minutes, meaning that the A1237, which is a national speed limit road, has an average speed of less than 20 mph.
As a road that was designed to reduce journey times and make villages to the north of York safer, the A1237 is no longer fit for purpose. Many drivers now choose to divert their journeys away from the road via the city centre or through outlying villages such as Haxby, Skelton and Strensall, and then on to the A64. Back in 2013, our then prime minister came to York Outer and experienced at first hand the “car park” on the A1237 – those were his words, not mine.
Some might say that the congestion is just an inconvenience, but that would be to overlook the terrible impact that overloaded roads have on the wider economy.
Simply put, the congestion on York’s outer ring road is acting as a noose on the city. It is choking growth and disincentivising inward investment. Having said that, York is still a great place to do business, and it is in a prime position to lead a regional economic surge at the heart of Yorkshire, but we cannot let poor infrastructure stand in the way of that great opportunity.
It must not be lost on anyone that the congestion issue on the A1237 has a wide-ranging regional impact beyond York. The road is a major east-west road for Yorkshire and serves journeys from the wider area, including the districts of Harrogate, Ryedale, Hambleton, Scarborough and East Yorkshire.
There is also a significant amount of heavy goods traffic between Teesside and Teesport in the north and Hull and the wider Humberside area to the south. Much of that traffic comes along the A19 and bypasses York via the A1237. If we are to rebalance our economy to make it work for everyone, it must also work for Yorkshire and the North, and infrastructure investment in projects such as upgrading the A1237 is key to achieving that goal.
Things will only get worse without future investment. City of York Council is currently consulting residents on York’s latest local plan, which allocates a considerable amount of land to housing developments to the north of the city and will only increase traffic pressure. York needs more housing, but it is vital that it has adequate transport infrastructure to accommodate those increases.
Back in the 2014 Autumn Statement, there was welcome news as the Government announced an investment of up to £250m in upgrades to the A64 and the Hopgrove roundabout. The A64 loops around the southern side of York and is dualled. The new investment will allow for works hopefully as far as Whitwell-on-the-Hill on the A64. That road is under the authority of Highways England, but surely we must take a wider and more strategic approach to infrastructure investment.
Some 44,000 vehicles use the dualled section of the A64 south of York daily, compared with 35,000 vehicles using the York northern ring road. Many drivers now use the A64 simply to avoid the northern ring road and save time. Upgrading the northern ring road would reduce traffic on the A64 and therefore cut the distances that motorists are travelling and the extra emissions produced.
Delivering a scheme of such magnitude clearly comes with significant cost. Dualling the A1237 between Copmanthorpe and the Hopgrove roundabout will cost about £142m. That is the scheme’s major hurdle but this is about delivering the well-connected economy outlined as a key priority in the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding strategic economic plan.
Julian Sturdy is the Tory MP for York Outer. He spoke in a Parliamentary debate on transport – this is an edited version.