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A5 Queue relocation in Dunstable

A new traffic scheme in Dunstable has not delivered the expected benefits, according to a report by the National Audit Office published today.

Dunstable town centre suffers severe traffic congestion, due to limited road capacity and high volumes of heavy goods vehicles, causing poor air quality. The Dunstable A5 queue relocation scheme was designed to improve the flow of traffic, reduce queues; improve safety and accessibility for pedestrians; reduce accidents and lessen noise and pollution. Construction began in 1999 and was completed in 2004. The scheme was budgeted to cost £1.4 million and the final outturn was £2 million.

The way the scheme’s objectives were described by the Highways Agency created high expectations locally which were not ultimately satisfied. The scheme has resulted in busier roads and longer waits at pedestrian crossings.

The Agency’s own Evaluation indicates that the scheme has not delivered some of the benefits forecast for safety, journey times, environment and accessibility. There has been an overall reduction in accidents but there has been an increase in the number of accidents occurring at two junctions in the town centre. (However, since July 2004, the total figures for accidents causing injury as a whole, and pedestrian injuries in particular, have fallen.)

Whilst the circumstances of the Dunstable scheme are specific to that location, the NAO has identified lessons which could apply more widely across the Agency.

For future schemes, the Agency should keep stakeholders informed as soon as possible of constraints on delivering service improvements, so as to help manage expectations. And where modifications are made to the specifications of road schemes or to scheme objectives after consultation locally, the Agency should inform all parties of changes and their likely impact especially if these are potentially adverse. Lastly, as far as possible, the Agency should model the full effects of a proposed traffic scheme to pick up issues like increased ‘rat running’.

‘The residents and workers of Dunstable were led to expect reduced congestion and improved air quality, and so were naturally disappointed when these did not materialize. I encourage the Highways Agency to learn from this and do more to keep local communities informed about schemes, their progress and their likely effects.’

Sir John Bourn

Notes for Editors

  1. Rat running is where drivers use other routes to make regular frequent journeys.
  2. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website at Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.
  3. The Comptroller and Auditor General, Sir John Bourn, is the head of the National Audit Office which employs some 800 staff. He and the NAO are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of all Government departments and a wide range of other public sector bodies; and he has statutory authority to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and other bodies have used their resources.


PN: 34/06