Transport Infrastructure: Devon and Somerset

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall am 4:16 pm ar 23 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 4:16, 23 Ebrill 2024

No, I will not, with no disrespect. I am going to try to address some of the many points that have been made. Not for the first time, my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset went on for quite a while. Obviously, it was all worthwhile listening, but it was certainly well beyond the 15 minutes.

The reality is that Devon and Somerset received a further funding uplift of approximately £15 million in the spring Budget of 2023, and then £10 million of additional maintenance funding in 2023-24. The point I was trying to make to my hon. Friend is that anyone who has ever worked as a parish, district or county councillor, as a Member of Parliament, or who has run a Department knows that having a long-term, seven-year budget is transformational. Any local authority leader will ask, “Could I have some more money and could I know what I am going to get over the next two to seven years?” That is transformational, that is exactly what the PM has done, and that is why local authorities can do different types of investment.[Official Report, 15 May 2024; Vol. 750, c. 5WC.] (Correction)

I make the significant point that we hold local authorities to account. There are two ways to address the point about accountability that my hon. Friend raised. First, many local authorities—I cannot comment on individual specifics—subcontract a lot of work to particular providers. Some are better than others, and I cast no aspersions. We now require local authorities to publish a plan every year, in which they have to set out what they intend to do with that money and where they intend to spend it.

We encourage the local authorities to do two things. First, they should look at the quality of the work. There is clearly a necessity on some occasions to do patching. No one disputes that; it must happen from time to time. However, we want better quality work, because the better quality work does not need repeat work.

Secondly, local authorities need to look after the road maintenance system itself, which involves ensuring that they have a sufficiency of gully suckers clearing the road and ensuring there is no water, so that they can deal with the winter weather in the usual way. We want them to check the quality of subcontractors so that the work follows the local authority guidance on how it should be done and can be checked. Personally, I would strongly encourage them to get into arrangements with their subcontractors if the work fails within a three-month, six-month or nine-month period. In our constituencies up and down the country, we have all come across the odd occasion where a pothole is filled and has to be refilled very quickly thereafter. It is for local authorities to hold their contractors to account, or if they are doing the work in-house, they need to be held to account as well. This transformation clearly relates and dates back to the core funding and the highways maintenance funding.

I am happy to say that both Devon and Somerset councils have published their plans, which my hon. Friend will want to look at. They allow all hon. Members’ constituents to see for themselves which roads will be resurfaced. In Somerset, the A37 Whitstone Road in Shepton Mallet and the A39 Puriton Hill in Bawdrip have already benefitted from the additional funding, as have the A358 Cross Keys roundabout in Norton Fitzwarren and the B3090 Marston Road in Selwood. In Devon, roads from Axminster to Yarcombe and from Ashburton to Widworthy will be resurfaced. All of that is because of the new money coming in.

The funding formula recognises that and allocates funding to local authorities based on road length. We acknowledge the particular circumstances in Devon, and I have set out in this House how it receives effectively more money than virtually any other local authority because of road length and its nature. Although my constituency is bigger, Devon’s circumstances are well known and well understood.

I will briefly deal with road enhancement. The Department has worked with Western Gateway, Peninsula Transport and the sub-national transport bodies to identify priorities for investment from our major road network and large local majors programmes. That has seen over £330 million of investment, subject to the Government approving the individual business cases from local councils. Obviously there is an outlined business case and a final business case.

Included are improvements to the A361 North Devon link road, the A382 between Drumbridges and Newton Abbot, the A379 bridge road in Exeter and the A38 in North Somerset. As I understand it, good progress is being made in the construction of improvements to the North Devon link road, and I look forward to its completion later this year. I could go on at great length about the substantial infrastructure investment in rail in this part of the world—and I see that the Rail Minister, my hon. Friend Huw Merriman, has snuck into the room to laud and applaud the massive investment that has been made in rail.

Massive investment has also been made in the bus and public transport network, and we have made further investment in active travel. I look forward to developments in all those.

I welcome this debate, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset introduced, and I welcome his enthusiasm in holding local authorities to account and ensuring that the taxpayer, who we all serve, will get the best outcome. That outcome will be a massive increase in investment, much better roads, a long-term plan for local authorities and better outcomes for all. That is something we should all strive for.

Question put and agreed to.