Safety on the A34
Safety improvements on the A34 remain a top priority.
Having met first in the autumn of 2016 with the A34 Action Group, I followed this up with fellow MPs, Ed Vaizey and Nicola Blackwood, by lobbying the Roads Minister and holding a debate in Westminster Hall. This resulted in a commitment from the Roads Minister to commission a safety review from Highways England. Meetings followed bringing together key stakeholders including Thames Valley Police, the Local Enterprise Partnership, local businesses, local Councils and Parish Councils, and the Road Haulage Association. At the end of November, Nicola and I met the Chancellor who then confirmed funding worth £50m as part of the 2015-20 Road Investment Strategy, of which £25m was allocated for A34 ‘technology enhancement’ – vehicle detection loops, CCTV camera and driver information systems – between the M4 and the M40, and £25m for improvements previously agreed to the Peartree and Botley junctions at Oxford. The confirmation in that Autumn Budget of funding for the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway was further welcome news as this scheme is generally recognised as offering the long-term solution to the problems of the A34. Works will start from Junction 13 of the M4 and will include upgrading the A34 to the north of this.
Highways England presented a first draft of its safety review at Westminster in April last year. Although the A34 was found to be statistically no more dangerous than many other similar roads, this did acknowledge the particular issues on the stretch by East Ilsley and, importantly, it recognised the huge economic impact caused by hold ups and collisions, given the increasing importance of the road as a major north-south transport link. The A34 Action Group did a great job in running an online survey which provided further useful evidence.
Highways England then came back to Westminster at the end of October with the final version of its Safety Review (see below). This focussed on the stretch between the M4 and the M40 and we were pleased to see some positive and sensible recommendations, including improved signage and reconfiguration of both laybys and junctions. The Review made clear that some of these (around Beedon and East Ilsley) are below the safety standard required for roads of this kind. To my mind, this alone should mean that improvements must be prioritised. A great deal of work has gone into getting to this stage but the fact remains that to the average driver not one thing has changed on the A34 since those tragic accidents in the summer of 2016. In my view it is being negligent at best, culpable at worst, if the safety implications are ignored and no action is taken.
Along with the other MPs involved, I responded to the review giving my full support for the recommendations and emphasising the urgent need for funding. I also met again with the Minister in January to put the case. As a result of this meeting I received confirmation from both the Minister and Highways England that most of the recommendations will go ahead – subject to ‘further development work’. The financial evaluation was due to be completed by mid April. There is still a strong combined will across all agencies to address this problem and I want to assure you that it has not dropped off my agenda. I will keep you updated on progress.