One of the biggest concerns people talk to me about is transport. In a rural area like ours we need a good train service, good road connections and a reliable bus service. But we also need motorist friendly policies as despite all of that, we are very dependent on our cars. Over the last two years I, and other South West MPs, have been campaigning for more funding and more action over the rail, road and port (both air and sea) links into the South West. We have made progress on all these fronts!
The Government recognised the unique challenges we have in the South West and Chris Grayling visited both the Teignmouth Cliffs and the Dawlish Sea Wall to better understand the sustainability issue and challenges we face keeping the rail line open. The Government committed £10 million to support the work that Network Rail have done in producing their proposed solutions and Chris Grayling made it very clear that work to keep the line open and running for the long term was a priority.
A rural area such as ours should be as accessible as possible and that means investment not just in the railway but in our roads and airports as well. The South Devon Highway, after a 60 year wait has finally opened! The Local Enterprise Partnership has been allocated £43.57 million with which it intends to support transport infrastructure projects in our region. After lobbying the Government, South West MPs managed to get this funding more than doubled after the draft figures were announced.
Exeter airport has reported its fourth successive year of growth, with 100,000 people coming through the terminal in August alone! In March a new year round service to Norwich was launched, the first UK route to start under the Government’s Regional Air Connectivity Fund. Exeter provides a real alternative to the railway as flight numbers show. Plymouth airport could still revive and the planning inspectorate will not allow development which would stop this happening if the right business case is made.
Teignmouth Port is continuing to grow into a bigger and better commercial hub. The harbour has now been dredged to accommodate bigger ships and when they are in port they are a sight to see! Animal feed, fertiliser and clay have been the core imports and exports but I am very pleased that, after four years of lobbying, the salt we bring to Devon to grit our roads now comes through the port rather than by road. The port has also now seen the arrival of its first ever cruise ship the Hebridean Princess.
Buses in rural areas are often the only transport option. The challenge has always been making those routes financially viable. The Buses Act just passed enables local transport authorities like ours in Devon to introduce franchising or a new partnership arrangement with private providers, to enable multi operator ticketing and enhance passenger accessibility and information. The DfT Community Minibus fund has also provided a new mini bus for each of Newton Abbot and Dawlish Community Transport!
The better the infrastructure, particularly transport links, the stronger the local economy. But this needs government investment which depends on a strong national economy. Theresa May needs our support to deliver the best Brexit deal to deliver that strong economy and the consequent investment in our railway and roads.
During the election period I will continue to hold surgeries to help anyone with a problem but clearly I will not be able to assist with political policy lobbying of ministers as Parliament dissolved formally on the 3rd May from which date I am no longer your MP. Please see my website for surgery times.