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Date: 09/11/2018

“one of the country’s most important trade routes” - as report reveals potential £7.1bn boost to economy

  • For first time, “corridor approach” proposed to improve A46 from M5 in Gloucestershire to Lincolnshire coast;
  • Evesham, Stratford-upon-Avon and Coventry identified as priority areas for investment;
  • Time savings, reduced business costs and improved productivity from coordinated infrastructure investment could boost economy by £7.1bn over 60 years;
  • Almost all (97%) of West Midlands businesses surveyed along the route say a more reliable A46 would boost productivity; two thirds (65%) will create new jobs if the road was improved; one in five (20%) have considered relocating due to current conditions on the A46.
Taking a “corridor approach” to improving the whole A46 through the Midlands could boost the economy by  £7.1 billion, says Sub-national Transport Body Midlands Connect. The pan-Midlands transport agency is calling for urgent, co-ordinated action to improve traffic flows on one of the country’s most important trade routes.
Midlands Connect has released the first ever improvement plan for the entire A46 corridor, with a 20-year vision to future-proof the route and boost the national economy.

Stage One of the A46 Corridor Study recommends the acceleration of coordinated investment at key congestion hotspots - including Evesham, Stratford-upon-Avon, Coventry, Leicester, Newark and Lincoln - where rush hour average speeds regularly fall below 20mph.

The A46 corridor stretches for 155 miles from Gloucestershire to Lincolnshire, is home to 5.5 million people and 2.9 million jobs, with an economic output of £115 billion a year, equivalent to 9% of the English economy.

As well as serving local and regional traffic between the towns and cities along it, the A46 corridor is a vital trade and export route, providing access to Birmingham and East Midlands airports and with major ports in the Bristol Channel and the Humber at either end. Its economy is dominated by advanced manufacturing, aerospace, automotive, agriculture, distribution and textiles industries which depend on a reliable road network. 22% of goods produced along the corridor are exported, well above the UK average of 15%, accounting for more than half of the Midlands’ exports.
The Office of National Statistics forecasts an increase of 600,000 new residents and 250,000 new homes within the corridor by 2041. With 150,000 new jobs on the line too, Midlands Connect says only a comprehensive, holistic solution to improving the A46 can support this growth.

Suggested improvements
Midlands Connect supports all the current and planned interventions to improve the A46, including delivery of improvements to junctions at Walsgrave and Binley in Coventry. In addition, Midlands Connect has identified a number of potential improvement schemes across the Midlands, with input from Highways England and local authorities. These options will be evaluated in more detail in Stage Two of the corridor study. The current priorities include:
  • Gloucestershire & Worcestershire
    • Possible interventions and options for new bypasses in Ashchurch, Beckford and Evesham to provide a high quality dual carriageway standard between the M5 and M40
  • Coventry & Warwickshire
    • Alcester to Warwick Expressway
    • Junction improvements at Thickthorn, Stivichall and M6 J2;
    • Possible interventions around Stratford-upon-Avon
  • Leicestershire
    • Potential for a Leicester Eastern/Southern Bypass, including a link from M69 J2 and a new M1 J20A
    • Upgrading Leicester Western Bypass
    • Improving Hobbyhorse Interchange at Syston
  • Newark
    • Support acceleration of Newark Bypass proposal
    • Overcome congestion hotspots to lock in benefits of previous upgrades
  • Lincolnshire
    • Potential for southern Lincoln bypass, connecting to the under construction eastern bypass
    • Targeted improvements on the A15 north of Lincoln.
Midlands Connect’s improvement plan builds on the work already being done by Highways England and local authorities to improve pinch points along the A46, and on the success of the A46 Partnership – a coalition of LEPs and councils between Gloucestershire and Leicestershire – in promoting the route as one of local, regional, national and international significance.

Investing in a corridor-wide package of improvements could transform the performance of the route by:

  • Cutting journey times and offering more reliable connections for businesses and residents;
  • Helping to accelerate numerous housing and employment sites along the route; and
  • Providing a viable alternative to the congested motorway network, especially the M1, M5, M6 and M42.
The Economic Prize
Forecasts suggest that corridor-wide improvement of the A46 could bring economic benefits of £7.1 billion over the next 60 years through quicker journeys and improved productivity. By 2041, improvements are expected to bring significant annual economic benefits to Coventry (£17.3 million) and Solihull (£7m). These figures don’t include the potential growth from new jobs and housing, meaning the overall benefits could be significantly higher.

Businesses back A46 improvements  
As part of the study, Midlands Connect worked with chambers of commerce to survey more than 250 businesses based within a few miles of the A46.  Working with chambers in Coventry & Warwickshire and Herefordshire & Worcestershire, 97% of businesses surveyed said an improved A46 would boost their productivity, while 61% said it would enable them to create new jobs. 80% said current traffic conditions negatively impact their business performance, and 80% said traffic has got worse in the last 5 years. Significantly, one in five (20%) have considered relocating due to conditions on the A46.

Maria Machancoses, Director, Midlands Connect, said:
“Using today’s approach to funding, it could be 40 years before the A46 receives the investment it needs to match the growth in jobs and housing expected along the corridor. We must do things differently and accelerate a long-term investment plan to make sure economic growth isn’t held back. Delivering our vision will not only make our businesses more prosperous, it will improve the quality of life of millions of people living and working along the corridor. Doing nothing will hold back this progress.”

Nigel Huddleston, MP for Mid Worcestershire and Midlands Connect’s A46 Champion, said:
“Upgrading the A46 isn’t just a Midlands priority, it’s a national priority and this initial report will help get it higher up on the national agenda. We will only be successful in promoting the case for this corridor by working together – cross-Midlands, cross-sector, and cross-party. As Midlands Connect’s A46 Champion, it’s my job to support that collaboration in any way I can. We must find a way to stop thinking about major transport improvements as either or – either Northern Powerhouse Rail or HS2; either Cambridge-Oxford connections or upgrading East-West Midlands connections – in order to support a sustainable 21st century economy, we need them all.
“This report clearly states why the A46 is so important and deserves national attention. We need to unleash housing development sites, solve road safety black spots and take heavy traffic out of places it doesn’t belong. The next stage of the report being released next year will go into more detail about exactly where work should be focused, what it will entail and how it should be phased. That’s when we’ll need assurances that some of the roads funding which the Chancellor announced in the Budget will be allocated to this nationally-important project”.

Paul Butler, Managing Director of Evesham-based Rotec Engineering, said:
“The road network is really important to our business because we’re striving to reduce our delivery times, all the time. The A46 has become a bit of a nightmare over the last few years. Come 4pm on a Thursday or Friday it’s just fully congested and you’re talking about adding 30 minutes to your journey before you’ve even started.”

Cassie Bray, Director of Business Engagement, Herefordshire and Worcestershire Chamber of Commerce, said:
“Businesses are frustrated with current road conditions and have reported difficulties in recruiting because employees are unwilling to travel on the A46, unreliable delivery of goods and having to increase their prices due to the amount of time drivers are stuck on the road. The A46 cannot keep up with current traffic levels and more needs to be done to ensure firms can continue doing business in the local area.”

Network planning director for Highways England, Jeremy Bloom, said:
“We recognise the importance of the A46 corridor to the Strategic Road Network and the contribution it makes to the Midlands economy and beyond. We also support a more strategic approach to long-term investment and will continue to work closely with Midlands Connect to develop potential solutions for the route and to make the case for investment within the context of our national remit.”

The second stage of Midlands Connect’s A46 corridor study will further develop the proposed improvements and their respective business cases, and is due for release in 2019.