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Transport spending shake-up could hasten A303 upgrade

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 19, 2012

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The Westcountry is poised to get two influential transport boards to decide where tens of millions of pounds of state transport cash will be spent.

The Government yesterday confirmed it would press ahead with giving local business leaders and politicians power to decide which road and rail schemes get money from 2015.

It will likely mean one so-called Local Transport Body is set up for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, and another for Devon and Somerset.

The long-awaited £100 million improvement to the A303 and A358 section at Taunton, and the £80 million project to dual the stretch of the A30 at Temple in Cornwall, could finally come to fruition as the areas will be awarded ring-fenced cash.

Ministers have given regions until next week to form alliances involving councils and new business-led partnerships, known as Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), which were the Government’s brainchild.

Once confirmed, they will be given indicative funding pots by the Department for Transport (DfT) to plan the area’s priorities.

They will be charged with taking decisions on projects worth more than £5 million.

Heart of the South West, the LEP for Devon and Somerset, says it will write to the Whitehall department saying it is to form a Local Transport Body covering the two counties.

A board covering Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly will also be proposed to the DfT, Cornwall Council said, with funding “prioritised on projects in our area rather than us having to bid for that funding in a larger geographical area, competing with other local authorities”.

Under Labour, transport schemes in the greater South West were determined by the now abolished South West Regional Assembly.

Critics claimed money was prioritised to urban areas including Bristol and Swindon.

But some have voiced concerns that the shake-up could lead to key region-wide projects being overlooked in favour of smaller, more local schemes.

Furthermore, they warn, the Westcountry’s sparse rural population will be ignored in the cash formula when control of transport spending is handed down from Whitehall.

The DfT said money given to various regions would be based on the size of the population.

Transport Minister Norman Baker said: “Transport is vitally important to local economies, and new infrastructure can provide the missing links that are often so crucial in getting economies moving and creating opportunities for new investment and employment.”

But Maria Eagle, Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, said: “Decisions over investment in local and regional transport schemes should be taken by elected transport authorities and not by unaccountable LEPs as the Government proposes.”

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