The M5, as the only strategic route into the West Country, cannot cope alone, which means the A303/A30 must be made a dual carriageway throughout, argues Neil Parish, MP for Tiverton and Honiton
The Autumn Statement from the Chancellor George Osborne was a bit out of season, coming as it did in the first week of December.
However, the news he was able to report was well worth the wait and is cause for yet more cautious optimism on Britain's economic future.
Employment is up, with 400,000 more jobs this year, and unemployment is predicted to fall to 7 per cent by 2015. We are also continuing to put the state's finances back on a sensible footing. The deficit we inherited is projected to fall to 5.6 per cent in 2014-15 and the Office for Budget Responsibility expects to run a surplus by 2018-19. Also, the national debt is falling faster than originally thought.
There were also measures announced in the statement that will be welcomed by hard-pressed businesses, including a 2 per cent cap on everyone's business rate increases, extending the doubling of the Small Business Rates Relief to April 2015 and up to £1,000 allowance in 2014-15 for retail premises with a rateable value of up to £50,000, including shops, pubs, cafés and restaurants. Also confirmed in the statement was the fact that fuel duty will be frozen for the remainder of the Parliament. It will be 20p per litre lower by the end of the Parliament, which will save the average motorist £11 every time they fill up their tank. This will be especially welcome in Devon, with nearly 56 per cent of residents living in rural areas across the county, where a car is often not a luxury but a necessity for many of thousands of people to get to work.
Devon's roads have been a particular concern of mine. I have long campaigned for improvements to be made to the A303/A30 and it featured in my maiden speech to the House of Commons shortly after I was elected. Plans to improve this road and make it a second strategic route into the South West have been in the pipeline for last 15 years but have never come to fruition after the last Labour Government cancelled the project. Dualling this road would undoubtedly alleviate congestion on the M5 and act as a vital back-up route.
Recently there have been encouraging noises coming from the Government that work on improving the A303 may be able to start soon. During a statement made by the Treasury Secretary, Danny Alexander, I asked him: "Will he turn the tap on in relation to the A30 and the A303 running east out of Honiton so that it can be continuously dualled and we can have a second pipeline of roads into the West Country?"
He replied: "The pipeline of money is already open for that project, as I announced in June. The work is now being done to work out precisely what improvements are available for the A303 and the A30 in that important link to the south-west of England. The Government is committed to ensuring that the route is upgraded, which is why we are conducting a feasibility study."
Later that day I met with the Transport Minister Robert Goodwill MP, along with representatives from local authorities in Wiltshire, Somerset and Devon – all committed to dualling the whole of the A303 into the A30. The minister was certainly sympathetic and has offered to come and drive the whole route of the A303 and A30 to see for himself the challenges faced by motorists and visitors on this road.
The West Country is still too dependent on the M5 for tourism and movement of business and products as it is the only strategic route in or out. Businesses in our region are very vulnerable to disruption on this road and congestion, especially during the tourism season, is a real concern. There must be a second strategic route that is dualled all the way into the West Country. The A303 and A30 between Honiton and Ilminster is the only other major road into the West Country and for much of this it is a single carriageway that is susceptible to traffic jams.
I have written to the Prime Minister to ask that work begins before 2015. Much of the road has been surveyed already and it would be possible to start the improvements. With the billions of pounds being poured into transport infrastructure in other parts of England, I am asking for his support for a second strategic route into the West Country as soon as possible.