Newsletter 19th May

Peter Heaton-Jones MP

Working Hard for North Devon 

News Update -

Date: 19th May 2018

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Photo - delivering the Link Road bid back in December 2017

What a week….
It was 5.15 on Monday afternoon when I received a text message from a ‘mole’ inside the Department for Transport.  It didn’t say much; just a cryptic reference to Thursday, and one of those winking face things.
Over the next couple of days, the mists began to clear.  By Wednesday lunchtime I had the full details but was sworn to secrecy until the media embargo was lifted at midnight.
And then the news was out.  Our bid for £83.1million from the government for major improvements to the North Devon Link Road had been successful.  We were getting everything we asked for in the first tranche of funding.  Incredible.
My reaction….
Put simply, it's brilliant news.  It's the biggest investment in our area by any government for many years.
The North Devon Link Road has had no significant improvements since it was first built 30 years ago.  It is no longer fit for purpose, with long delays and a high accident rate.  It's holding back job creation and stifling economic investment in North Devon.  Since first being elected in 2015, I've made it my top priority to get something done.
Devon County Council have done a fantastic job putting together this bid for government funding.  We have worked together to make sure the Transport Secretary was fully aware of the vital importance of this project.  I've raised it many times in Parliament, and there has been extensive lobbying behind the scenes.
We'd asked for £83million to fund the first tranche of the project, and I was always hopeful we'd get most of it.  But to get all of it is a brilliant result.
A message from Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling:
“This Government is investing record amounts in our roads, spending £6 billion to improve journeys in our towns and cities and boost their economies.
Devon County Council’s plans to widen the A361 will ease traffic on the road and improve every day journeys for residents and businesses in North Devon.
Our commitment of £83.1 million to the scheme will help improve access to towns in the region.”
And from Councillor Andrea Davis, Devon County Council Cabinet Member for Infrastructure:
“The North Devon Link Road is a vital route for the region, and this announcement confirms that the government has recognised the issues of getting in and out of North Devon.
The improvements to this main route will give a huge boost to our economy, the benefits will be felt by our local residents, businesses and visitors. 
We’ve worked closely with the local MP Peter Heaton-Jones and DfT officials. Devon County Council officers have been tireless in their support for this important route, and today the result of all this activity has paid off for our beautiful area of Devon."
The details…. 
The £83.1million of government money is coming from something called the Large Local Majors Fund.  This was a pot of cash created a couple of years ago to pay for improvements to roads like the A361, which are vital for their areas but which don’t qualify for automatic funding from central government.  Instead, Highways authorities like Devon County Council have to bid for the money. We handed in our bid to Chris Grayling a few days before Christmas.
The Council is putting in £10million itself, giving us a £93million scheme which will widen the North Devon Link Road from South Molton to Barnstaple to provide more overtaking opportunities. Junction improvements and safety upgrades will also be carried out from South Molton to Bideford. 
Around 70% of the upgraded stretch from South Molton to Barnstaple will feature overtaking lanes, increasing on the current level of 10%. The road would continue to have a 60mph speed limit with the use of average speed cameras recommended to improve safety. 
This initial scheme is the first phase of planned improvements. The long-term strategy for the North Devon Link Road includes upgrades to eight junctions along the A361 and A39 and additional overtaking lanes on sections of the Link Road. There would also be an urban four lane road, with two lanes in each direction, between Portmore roundabout and Roundswell roundabout. 
To improve road safety, all uncontrolled right turns would be removed and pedestrian facilities improved for over 35km between Bish Mill junction, east of South Molton, and Buckleigh Road Junction near Bideford.
A planning application is now due to be submitted later this year, with a Full Business Case being submitted in 2020, which would potentially allow construction to start in late 2020.
Now some questions and challenges that have been raised with me, and some straightforward answers.
Why not a full dual carriageway?
Because it would cost more than half a billion pounds, the planning process alone might take more than a decade, and such a scheme probably wouldn’t be finished for 20 years or so.  We wouldn’t get the money, and we can’t wait that long.
Will the works cause disruption and delays?
Yes, probably.  But saying we shouldn’t do it because it’ll cause disruption is a recipe for saying we’ll never do anything, ever.  A bit of short term pain is worth it for long term gain.  And Devon County Council and its contractors will do their best to minimise any problems.
Why can’t work start sooner?
The planning process needs to be finalised, contractors and materials organised, and the final scheme signed off by the government.  But seeing as nothing’s been done for 30 years, it’s pretty good that work should be starting within 24 months or so.
I don’t use the Link Road, why should I care?
Because these improvements will provide a huge economic boost for North Devon, with more jobs and a stronger economy.  We’ll all benefit from that, whether or not we ever use the A361.
Why are you obsessed with the Link Road?
Because North Devon deserves better.  Nothing’s been done for 30 years, and I wasn’t prepared to put up with that any longer.  But I’m obsessed about getting a lot more for North Devon as well, and there’s many other projects I’m working on.  I may be a bloke, but I can multi-task!
What about other modes of transport?
On the very same evening as the Link Road announcement, I attended the Annual General Meeting of the Tarka Rail Association.  I was honoured to be invited to become their President. We’re going to see major improvements to the train service between Barnstaple and Exeter very soon. Watch this space.
Final thoughts
Huge thanks are due to everyone who helped make this happen.
This is proof that North Devon really is on the government's radar in a way it hasn't been for many, many years.
I'm thrilled and look forward to work getting underway on this project, which is vital for North Devon's future.
That future looks a lot brighter now.


Peter Heaton-Jones MP
North Devon
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Mail: 1st Floor Office Suite, Church House, Church Lane
Barnstaple, North Devon, EX31 1DE
Telephone:  01271 327990