Upgrading West's transport links vital to our economic survival
The South West’s potential is hampered by the need for road improvements, argues David Savill, a partner at Bishop Fleming, Britain’s fastest growing Top 50 accountancy firm.
The economy of Devon and Cornwall has every ability to help drive the recovery of UK plc.
But that would be so much easier with better road links to the rest of the UK and more effective political access to central government – and I fear that the former will not be delivered without the latter.
There is no question that the Westcountry is a superb location for businesses and the people who work for them – the region is home to many thriving companies.
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However, the biggest barrier to the peninsula's business growth is our reliance on just two flaky road routes into the region, the M5/A38 and the A303/A30 – both of which still have bottlenecks and points of weakness.
Time after time, we have seen how a road accident or a severe storm can bring the peninsula to a grinding halt. These may be unwelcome exceptions, but the norm is delay and uncertain journey times.
Since the demise of the South West Regional Development Agency (SWRDA) and Government Office, this region has no effective voice in Westminster to demand its fair share of government funding, let alone support for the upgrading of those road links. There are many local bodies in the Westcountry rightly batting for their own corner or constituency but there is no voice taking the "bigger picture" view.
I won't suggest that the SWRDA was perfect, but it was at least a regional voice for the Westcountry.
No current body – be that a district or county council, or a sub-regional Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) – has the remit or gravitas to command the attention of Westminster to such region-wide issues as the need to upgrade our two sole road arteries.
In fairness, those councils and LEPs are mandated to focus on their own local bailiwicks, so they cannot take the wider view.
The dissolution of the SWRDA and Government Office left a gaping vacuum in the South West. This leaves the Westcountry at a severe disadvantage to other English areas, where there are more regional bodies in place and access to far greater legacy funds from their former RDAs.
If proof were needed, the government recently announced £170 million of "new money" for roads, bringing the pipeline spending for proposed road schemes to about £217 million. Just five of those schemes, totalling less than £14 million, are planned for the South West which has about 13% of Britain's road network and delivers more than 10% of the UK's economy.
The Peninsula's road crisis worsens the further west you go. Cornwall, and every business in the Duchy, is dependent on the main road artery, the A30, for tourists and for industry.
Although Cornwall Council has stepped in to finance turning the A30 bottleneck at Temple into a dual carriageway, the county's economy would be significantly boosted if this crucial road was a dual carriageway for its entire length. While Temple is the most urgent of the A30 bottlenecks, since it effectively clogs the whole of Cornwall, the Carland Cross/Chiverton stretch needs also needs urgent attention.
This will require central government funding, being far above the capabilities of a single council. The impact would be huge in energising the economic potential of the Camborne, Pool, Redruth and Falmouth industrial heartlands of Cornwall, along with the tourist areas of Falmouth, Penzance, Penwith, Helston and The Lizard.
Right now, Brussels funding for Cornwall is solely focused on job-creation grants, rather than on infrastructure projectsthat will deliver even more jobs.
It is great news that Torquay has finally won the funding to provide crucial road improvement for its economic development, and that Cornwall Council has agreed to make the A30 dual at Temple.
But these are just two local fixes – and ones that have taken a very long time to achieve. The South West can deliver a huge contribution to the recovery of the UK economy – but only if the Government will invest in the region's infrastructure.
There are sufficient businesses prepared to speak out about the peninsula's need for better transport links, but there is no longer a channel for those voices.
In the absence of the SWRDA and Government Office South West, we need our region's MPs to take their cross-party shared responsibility to speak up for us in Parliament and in Whitehall. This isn't a party issue, it's a regional issue.
In fairness, our MPs of all parties are doing that for the region's dire housing crisis. They have gathered into a cross-party parliamentary group.
Now we need them to adopt the same resolve for the South West's transport needs.