I recently convened a meeting in Westminster with the Essex County Council cabinet member for infrastructure, County Cllr Lesley Wagland and the roads minister Richard Holden MP to discuss the Army and Navy sustainable transport package. It was a very positive meeting.
Regular readers will know that replacing the Army and Navy junction is one of my top priorities. However projects like this one take a frustratingly long time to deliver, and are expensive. Since the flyover was closed and removed for safety reasons the task force that I set up has met many times. Initial designs and engineering studies were prepared by Essex County Council working with the Department for Transport and looked at many different options. A new flyover was ruled out as this would have created even more congestion and had a very high risk of accidents compared to other options.
A public consultation took place to identify the preferred option. I am very grateful to the 5,000 local people who looked at the consultation and over 800 people submitted their thoughts. As a result the ”Hamburger” style junction was agreed as the preferred option. In order to reduce traffic and address congestion the package also includes considerable improvements to park and ride facilities as well as bus, cycle and pedestrian routes.
Since then further engineering and design work has taken place to address important details and an Outline Business Case was submitted to the Department for Transport last October. The total cost of this package is estimated to be £80.1 million. Essex County Council have offered to contribute £8.1 million and Chelmsford City Council have offered £4 million from developer contributions. We are therefore asking the Government to contribute £66.8 million. This is now with ministers for decision. Given the large amount of money this will need to be assessed against other projects across the country.
During the meeting with the minister, I stressed the vital importance of this project to the people of Chelmsford and the wider Essex area. The minister noted the high cost benefit of the project, which at a ratio of 2.7x clearly shows that investing in this type of infrastructure will benefit economic growth. He was also impressed by the level of local support and the strong local consensus support for this design as well as the environmental benefits of introducing improvements to other modes of travel. I will continue to press for the new junction to be approved and then delivered as soon as possible, but it will take time.
I recently met with Piers Marlow Managing Director of First Bus to discuss the challenges facing the service and to stress the importance of a reliable bus service for the people of Chelmsford. From January until the end of March, the maximum single fare on any First Bus Essex route has been capped at £2, as part of a £60 million government project to encourage more people to use the buses. I have agreed to meet with him again in early March. If the passenger numbers have increased enough on key routes then he will look at adding more services to improve the frequency.
I was pleased to be part of what was a huge turnout of Conservative women MPs for a recent debate in Westminster on spiking to urge the government minister to make spiking a specific and named offence in law. It was good to be there. Whilst spiking is covered by older legislation related to poisoning, we heard how if it does become a named offence it could make it much easier to collect accurate data and would act as a significant deterrent to perpetrators.