A303 Dual It! Lord Paddy Ashdown backs Western Gazette A303 campaign
As a former local MP, Lord Paddy Ashdown is well aware of the importance of dualling the A303. Here he tells Claire Smyth why he is backing the Western Gazette’s Dual It! campaign...
Dualling the A303 is crucial if any investment is going to be put into infrastructure in Somerset, according to a former leader of the Liberal Democrats.
Lord Paddy Ashdown, who represented Yeovil in Westminster from 1983 to 2001, has joined a call for improvements to be made on the A303.
Lord Ashdown believes this is vital to safeguard the future of the region.
He is the latest in a series of political figures and business leaders to support the Western Gazette’s Dual it! campaign calling on the Government to dual the A303 in Somerset and Dorset.
He said: “There are three basic reasons to do this. One is road safety. Two is economic regeneration and three is that traffic volume has massively increased.
“It doesn’t matter what time of day or night, even in the early hours of the morning, you are going to get a traffic jam. Sooner or later they are going to have to do this otherwise the road is going to get congested.
“I’m strongly in favour of this from a road safety and also economic point of view. If we are going to invest in infrastructure then this is crucial.”
During his time as an MP, Lord Ashdown faced many grieving families as a result of incidents on the A303. He has seen first-hand the devastation road crashes can have on families and he believes dualling the road will make it safer.
He said: “Most people who use that road are not local. The volume of local people on that road is quite low. Certainly in my time as an MP, there were families I’ve spoken to who lost loved ones there.
“Of all the jobs an MP has, or any leader has, trying to comfort people at times of loss is one of the lost difficult things to do. You have always got to remember that no matter how bad you feel it is nowhere near as bad as what the family is feeling.”
Lord Ashdown campaigned for the Ilminster bypass after a number of serious and fatal accidents on the A303. Although he wanted the road to be a complete dual carriageway, he was successful in achieving a single-lane bypass from the South Petherton roundabout.
This was later changed into a three-lane bypass.
He said: “I fought a long campaign to improve it. In the early days they refused to do it because they said it was against practice and against what we do in Britain, but I said, ‘If they can do it in France then why not here?’
“The key thing about there is the bridges had already been built. When it was first built, my predecessor John Peyton, who was minister for transport, very wisely insisted that the bridges of the Ilminster bypass were built wide enough to take a dual carriageway so the cost of doing it would not be great. They wouldn’t have to rebuild the bridges.
“I fought very hard with the then Tory Government under Thatcher then Major to get them to do it for much the same reasons as you suggest now. You should remember the last recessions were in the early 1980s and mid 1990s.
“I was making the same arguments for the investment of the future, and the road safety implications.
“They wouldn’t do it then so now if we have the opportunity to do it, we should. I fought a long battle but I wanted it to go further. There was terrible carnage there and there still is.
“While supporting the campaign, and I’m delighted to support it, the key to me seems to be to dual from Amesbury roundabout all the way through to the Southfields roundabout and then link it to the M5 rather than dualling across the Blackdown Hills which would be environmentally damaging to an area of outstanding natural beauty, but also will have a bad effect on the villages around there because of the noise.”
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