Strategic Road Network: South West

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 19th July 2017.

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Photo of Ian Liddell-Grainger Ian Liddell-Grainger Conservative, Bridgwater and West Somerset 11:00 am, 19th July 2017

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and it is quite correct to highlight such situations. His constituents suffer in the same way as those of my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil on those inadequate roads. We need a policy that covers A roads and motorways. My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester has done a noble job for his constituents, and I am glad he has raised that point.

Highways England had a brief to create an alternative route to the far south-west using the A303 and the A358, even if it effectively bypassed Taunton. As my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil is aware, it would have made much more sense to upgrade the A303 and carry on over the Blackdown hills with improvements to the A30. Devon County Council wanted that option, and my hon. Friend Neil Parish, who unfortunately cannot be in his place today, argued for it. It would be a much shorter route, and cheaper too.

The most cost-effective solution is just to improve the M5 and widen it. It would save a fortune—problem solved. That would be it sorted. The trouble is that Highways England did not get the choice. It was lumbered with the A303 and A358, and it came up with a series of wildly expensive plans. Surprise, surprise, it picked the cheapest option, although it makes no strategic sense whatever. The result has been a storm of protest. Highways England has totally cheesed off Somerset County Council, which thinks the plan nuts. Highways England stupidly cancelled the public consultation meetings during the May general election campaign. Why? It has made so many blunders that the Campaign to Protect Rural England is threatening to take it to court for a judicial review—ridiculous.

Worst of all, Highways England will be using something called a development consent order to secure the right to build the road. It does not matter how many people protest or what the local council says, because development consent orders were designed to put time limits on all objections. Basically, unless the Secretary of State intervenes, a development consent order can be a legal bulldozer. I should add that the long list of objectors to the proposal includes Taunton Deane Council, bizarrely, which desperately wants a new road but would much prefer a link with one of its plum building projects called Nexus 25.