Ben Bradshaw

Working Hard for Exeter

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Government's Re-"Announcement" of A303 Plans

Today's "announcement" of a "plan" to upgrade the A303 and A358 link into the Westcountry will have a familiar ring about it. That's not only because this Government has "announced" it several times before. It is also almost exactly the same proposal that was in the last Labour Government's transport plan, only for it to be dropped by this Government when it came to office.

It's also very similar to the "promise" made by the then Conservative Transport Secretary, Sir George Young,  in December 1996. You may notice a similarity between that date and now. It's 5 months before a general election.

Grand promises of extra infrastructure investment are easy to make just before an election, but Governments are rightly judged on what they do, not what they say. And this Government's record of investment in transport infrastructure is dreadful. It has fallen over the Parliament by 12.5% - at the very time when most economists were arguing we should have been making the most of record low long term interest rates to invest more and boost economic growth. People will be particularly sceptical of promises made now, given the terrible economic backdrop with George Osborne miles away from his deficit reduction target.

Others may ask, given the terrible state of much of our existing road network (potholes are still the complaint raised most regularly by Exeter residents with me) and the notorious vulnerability of our regional rail links, whether the Government has got its priorities right. There are streets in Exeter pitted with potholes that have not been resurfaced for years and with little or no prospect of anything being done without a change of priorities.

Every time we lose our main rail artery at Dawlish or elsewhere we lose £millions from the South West economy. Plans for the long overdue electrification of the railways are currently stalled at Bristol and then there's the complete absence of any proper strategy from this Government for walking, cycling and buses.

So, forgive me if I sound churlish. No-one wants better transport links for the South West than I, but what matters is what's actually delivered, not jam tomorrow re-"announced" just before an election.

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