Strategic Road Network: South West

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:12 am on 19th July 2017.

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Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 11:12 am, 19th July 2017

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that question. The answer is that we have a number of funds available and we look forward very much to the submission of bids, which will be given the full scrutiny that they deserve and merit.

Let me turn to the questions raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset. He started by referring to the A39, which I will touch on for a second. He will be aware that that is a local road, but as he also knows, the Government recently announced that from 2020, under the new roads fund that we have set up, which is entirely funded by vehicle excise duty—that is a tremendous innovation, or rather a move back to the future for our road network—we will segregate what we consider to be a major road network investment programme. I think that the A39 will be eligible to be funded under that programme. Once the consultation has been done and work is under way to programme that investment, my hon. Friend and local authorities will be absolutely welcome—indeed, they will be invited—to submit bids. I am aware of his strong feelings, rose-tinted spectacles or no, and those of my hon. Friend James Heappey about the importance of dualling that road in both directions.

Overall, the Government are investing heavily in the road network in the south-west and have committed some £2 billion to major schemes through the road investment strategy. Later this year, we will announce the preferred route for the A303 Stonehenge tunnel, which is a very significant project in its own right, and for the A358 Taunton to Southfields and A303 Sparkford to Ilchester schemes. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset has particular concerns—concerns that he expressed with considerable pungency—about the route that the A358 should take into Taunton.