Peter Heaton-Jones MP
Working Hard for North Devon
News Update -
Date: 13th August 2017
Welcome to my latest newsletter.
North Devon Link Road
This edition of the newsletter is slightly different. I want to focus on just one issue: the North Devon Link Road.
So much has happened in the last fortnight, so it seems appropriate to provide a comprehensive update and also to be very clear about the current position. I also want to tell you about a meeting I’ve held in the last few days with Devon County Council (DCC), who are the highways authority leading on this project.
First, of course, our thoughts continue to be with the relatives and friends of the four people tragically killed on the road last week. It is especially sad that three children were among the victims. We must thank the emergency services who dealt with these awful incidents, and think too of the other motorists who were involved or witnessed the crash.
There were two accidents in almost the same spot in 24 hours, and then another incident not far away a couple of days ago. They all happened very close to my own home, on a stretch of road that I and many other local people use regularly.
We must now redouble our efforts to achieve major improvements to the Link Road. I have already written to the Secretary of State for Transport to ensure he is aware, and I pledge now to do everything I can to make these improvements happen as quickly as possible.
Why do we need improvements?
Safety is obviously a major consideration. We mustn’t pre-judge the investigation into the causes of the recent accidents, but I am absolutely clear than one of the reasons we need improvements is that too many people are being killed and seriously injured on the current road. Undoubtedly the current design of the road leads to a great deal of driver frustration and in those circumstances people will take risks.
But there is another main reason why I am working so hard on this. The road, in its current state, is harming North Devon’s economy. Investment and job creation are suffering, as is our vital tourist trade.
I have sat in the boardrooms of several companies in North Devon and been told straight out that they would like to create more jobs here, but they will not do so because of the state of the Link Road. The economic case for improvements is clear, and is one of our strongest arguments in favour of funding.
And of course there are the delays. We can’t hope to attract more visitors or businesses here with the reputation of the current road. During this holiday season, I and many others have crawled in stop/start traffic for many miles adding sometimes more than an hour to journey times. If it goes on like this, people will just start avoiding us and taking their trade elsewhere.
We have to get something done.
After a great deal of lobbying, the government has now made £1.5million available to DCC to draw up proper plans and put together the business case for the project. The latest public consultation on those plans has just ended. I understand DCC is publishing its report on the outcome early this autumn.
Broadly speaking, the plans on the table split in to three sections:
South Molton to Portmore (first Barnstaple roundabout): A third lane in one or other direction for the majority of the route, including major improvements to junctions.
Portmore to Brynsworthy: Two lanes in both directions to cope with the heavy volume of traffic around town.
Brynsworthy to Bideford: Major improvements to junctions.
Together, these works will represent a huge improvement on the current road. Remember, hardly anything has been spent on the road for the last twenty years, so these plans are a big step forward.
The total cost of the proposal is about £250million. This is a great deal of money. You’d think a road as important as this would automatically be in line for upgrades by Highways England. Sadly, the A361 was ‘detrunked’ about 15 years ago, meaning sole responsibility for its upkeep fell to the local highways authority – DCC. They simply cannot afford the sums of money we need, so we have to bid for funds from the government.
The funding application is due to be made to the Department for Transport before the end of the year. I am working closely with DCC to ensure this is the strongest bid possible. As well as the formal bid, I will continue lobbying hard in Westminster and Whitehall to ensure the application is well received. I have raised the issue several times in Parliament, and will do so again.
I am in regular contact with DCC who are working hard on the shape of the final bid. My role will be to ensure ministers are in no doubt about the importance of this scheme. I will make sure it is given full attention by the government, whatever else is going on. I have always fought to ensure North Devon gets its fair share of funding and will keep doing so.
Question (1): Why not a full dual carriageway?
Many people say we should be pushing for a full dual carriageway for the entire length of the A361 in North Devon. Indeed, to start with, that was my view as well.
However, there are two major problems with this idea.
Firstly, the cost would be prohibitive. I’ve been given estimates well in excess of half a billion pounds, and it could be much more. Bluntly, bidding for that amount of money simply would not be successful. We’d then be in the position of having a plan which we can’t get off the ground, and we’d be back to square one.
Secondly, a dual carriageway would take too long to deliver. I’ve been told that the planning process alone could last ten years, not least because the land acquisitions would trigger a full public inquiry. Incidentally, there’s an urban myth that the corridor on which the current road sits is already wide enough to accommodate a full dual carriageway. It’s not true, I’m afraid.
Bearing all this in mind, I am persuaded that the current DCC proposals present us with a far more realistic opportunity of getting significant improvements in a reasonable time frame.
Question (2): What about the concerns of local residents?
I’ve been contacted by a number of people who are worried about the current plans. In particular, some residents around Barnstaple have told me they’re concerned that the new four-lane section might encroach on their back gardens, mean the loss of some trees, and create extra noise. There are also people worried about the environmental effects of a busier road.
These are perfectly fair concerns, and I want them to be addressed.
That’s why last week I met Devon County Council’s Head of Planning, Dave Black, and Cllr Andrea Davis, the Cabinet Member in charge of infrastructure. I raised these concerns, and we agreed that they need to be taken into careful consideration.
The public consultation has just finished and many people have taken part, but I know some residents felt it didn’t give sufficient opportunity to state their case, or simply want more information.
I have therefore agreed with DCC that I will arrange a meeting between residents and council officials to discuss this further. It’s really important that people get their voices heard.
M5 to Tiverton
Although my focus is on the single carriageway stretch between South Molton and Barnstaple, we mustn’t forget the busier section between the motorway and Tiverton.
Last week the Transport Minister visited Tiverton to announce that the government is allocating £4.25million to Devon County Council to make some immediate improvements to the southern end of the A361. This will include significant renewal, improvements to drainage, and other refurbishment work on the dual carriageway.
Just a few weeks ago I raised the issue of the North Devon Link Road with the same minister in Parliament, so I am especially pleased that North Devon is being listened to. It is a good omen for the work that lies ahead to secure funds for major improvements in the longer term.
Overall, this is a major priority for North Devon. We have had 20 years of inaction, with no plans and no prospect of bidding for funds. In the last two years, we’ve turned that around.
DCC have now been given £1.5million of government money to draw up these plans, and there are now at least two possible pots of government money we can bid into for the major work. Frankly, the situation is more positive now that at any time since the Link Road was first built.
I want to ensure we get this done, and that everyone gets their voices heard during the process.
I will keep pushing our case to ensure North Devon gets what we desperately need – a Link Road that boosts our economy, is safe to use, and is fit for purpose in the 21st century.
Peter Heaton-Jones MP
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Mail: 1st Floor Office Suite, Church House, Church Lane
Barnstaple, North Devon, EX31 1DE
Telephone: 01271 327990