West's plea for fair deal on road and rail transport funding
Frustrated business leaders have launched a campaign to win a fairer share of public funding for the West’s “Cinderella” transport network.
Treasury spending on road and rail infrastructure in the region is the lowest in the country. Government figures show that in 2010 and 2011 the region stretching from Cornwall to Dorset, and including Bristol, received only £212 of transport spending per head of population, compared with £774 per head in London.
Hundreds of firms have responded to a South West Chambers of Commerce survey asking them to show how lack of transport investment holds them back, and to put a cost on it.
With flooding causing major disruption to roads and railways in the West, the Chamber says the need for investment has never been more urgent. MPs, Local Enterprise Partnerships and councils are partners in the new campaign.
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“What we need to prove to Government is that there is a demand for greater investment in both road and rail infrastructure in Somerset and the South West,” said Rupert Cox, chief executive of the Somerset Chamber. “For the first time we have asked businesses to put a cost on the impact. We have had approaching 400 responses and expect 600.”
The longer it takes for a road scheme to win backing, the more chance there is that the route could be destroyed by other developments.
Businesses on Portland fear the long-awaited western relief road will never be built. It would be primarily Government funded. Business lobbied hard when a development which would have compromised the route went before planners.
The scheme was rejected but has gone to appeal. Ian McQuade, Commercial Manager at Portland Port, warned: “if the development goes ahead it would spell disaster for Portland’s local economy, and the buoyancy of the whole regional economy as a whole.” Scores of businesses supported Portland Port’s call for a full debate at the council meeting that considered the plan.
Richard Fry a director of Framptons Transport Services, based at Shepton Mallet, said: “An outstanding example of lack of investment at the moment is the plan to close the railway bridge at Castle Cary for 19 weeks for refurbishment when a great deal of time could be saved by replacing it with a prefabricated bridge which could be built off-site.
"They wouldn’t close a motorway. It would only cost about £1million extra but in the scale of things that is nothing. It would be a major saving on the costs caused by the road diversion. The road would still have to be closed for a time, but nothing like as long. They said a refurbished bridge would have a 50-year life, but to replace it would extend its life by 150 years, it’s a no-brainer.
“The problem is that rural areas have always played second fiddle to urban areas. There are classic bottlenecks and the affect everyone. We have ‘A’ roads in the area that are effectively closed because you can’t physically get two heavy goods vehicles to pass each other. The A361 at Croscombe is an example, and the A371 at Rodney Stoke.
"You can’t really call them ‘A’ roads if that is the case. These places need bypasses. Then of course there is the problem of the A303 at Stonehenge. Cars trying to turn right for Stonehenge at Amesbury roundabout can easily add an hour on a driver’s day. To run a truck you are talking about £130 per hour.”
A spokesman for Nertwork Rail said the cost of replacing the bridge would be significantly higher than the cost of making repairs and Network Rail is not funded to deliver this option. We understand that the Community Representatives are going to lobby their local MP for additional funding.”
The survey can be reached at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/SW_Transport_Survey or via www.somerset-chamber.co.uk and all responses must be in by 5pm on Friday February 15.