As the anniversary approaches of the tragic accidents on the West Berkshire stretch of the A34 last summer, Richard Benyon MP for Newbury, together with Ed Vaizey, Kit Malthouse, Layla Moran, Victoria Prentis, Anneliese Dodds and Robert Courts, MPs for the constituencies that adjoin this road, speak up about the progress that has been made towards improving safety.
‘Huge strides have been taken towards a proper joined-up solution to the problems of this road,’ said Richard Benyon. ‘Everyone from the Police to the Local Enterprise Partnerships to the Councils and Parish Councils are pushing in the same direction on this and the results are now starting to come through.’
Having met with the local A34 Action Group, set up in the aftermath of the tragedies last August, Ed Vaizey initially brought the issue to Parliament by securing a Westminster Hall debate last October and getting a commitment from the Roads Minister to commission a safety review. Meetings followed bringing together key stakeholders including Thames Valley Police, local businesses, local Councils, the Road Haulage Association and Highways England. At the end of November, Richard Benyon and Nicola Blackwood, the former MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, met with 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 the Autumn Budget of funding for the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway was further welcome news. Richard commented, ‘This scheme is generally recognised as offering the long-term solution to the problems of the A34 and bringing this forward is really good news. 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 in April this year. While statistically this proved that the A34 was no more dangerous than other roads, it 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 driver of the lorry that killed Tracy Houghton and three young children last August was convicted of causing death by dangerous driving; the driver that killed Gavin Roberts in June last year was jailed for causing death by dangerous driving; and the lorry driver that killed three-year-old Isla Wiggin and her unborn baby brother at the end of August last year was jailed for causing death and serious injury by dangerous driving. All three drivers were on their mobile phones at the time of the accidents.
Anneliese Dodds commented, ‘Although the A34 is not in Oxford East, large numbers of my constituents use it every day and many of them have been affected by the appalling accidents on the road in recent times. I'm pleased to see safety being prioritised and want to work closely with other local MPs to get real action taken.’
Robert Courts said, ‘As we approach the anniversary of these tragic accidents on the A34, and with more recent accidents on the A40, I want to praise the hard work and progress already made to improve the safety of these roads. I will continue to work with colleagues to find a joined-up solution to the various problems on this road and others. Sadly, many of these incidents are caused by dangerous driving - more needs to be done to ensure we all improve our driving habits and that the seriousness of these crimes is fully understood.’
The MPs are due to meet with Highways England again in the next few weeks and Ed Vaizey commented, ‘I am pleased the safety review is now nearing completion and look forward to working with stakeholders to implement the results’.