12:00 am January 7, 2022
Those of us who are seasoned travelers now approaching the trip from Tiverton to Barnstaple will be a little concerned as we anticipate that the trip will take longer than we would like. This section of road works and the seemingly endless speed limit are a familiar echo of many trips we have all been through.
Let us remember, however, one of the worst catchphrases “there is no gain without pain”.
Our link road has been a vital lifeline since its construction, but some may recall that the original two-lane solution was reduced to the current mishmash of two- and three-lane sections with the stroke of a pen. by those responsible for cutting costs in the treasury all those years ago.
Until then, its appalling road network put North Devon in the same category as a certain area of South Devon beautifully captured by legendary broadcaster Terry Wogan – “If you want to visit Torquay, grab a packed lunch”.
Since its construction, the North Devon Link Road has been essential to the economic and social well-being of the region. Too often he has been dubbed the villain due to some tragic traffic accidents, spectacular speed limit violations and endless traffic jams.
What a way to welcome our tourist visitors, many of whom have bad memories of both entering and leaving. What a way to encourage business investment, especially in our manufacturing businesses, many of which depend on just-in-time deliveries and who can face penalties if finished products do not reach their destination on time.
The case for further improvement of the road was obvious and, in fact, thanks to the brilliant work of our local authorities and parliamentary representatives, turned out to be a relatively painless exercise in tackling the minefields which surround the Ministry of Transport and the even more delicate bunker. mentality of treasury officials.
Suddenly Treasury Secretary Grant Shapps smiled at us with a check for £ 60million.
Work is focused on this 5 mile section between South Molton and Barnstaple which will have a wider roadway, greater overtaking possibilities, improved capacity, improvements at eight key junctions, improved safety and resilience, and new facilities. for pedestrians and cyclists along the route.
The business plan that justified the project was based on simple and obvious objectives: boosting the local economy, supporting plans for 6,700 new homes, facilitating job creation and facilitating travel for businesses, consumers and employees. In theory, government statistics suggest that for every £ 1 spent on infrastructure, it earns £ 4 for the economy at large. This would translate into overall regional benefits.
Awesome – but what are we doing to prepare for it?
The road is expected to be completed by the end of 2023. So, take or wait for the likely delays, by mid-summer 2024 it will be open to business. There have already been benefits as prime contractor Alun Griffiths has been tasked with opening up opportunities for local contractors, suppliers and employees.
It is not enough, however, to seek to justify this enormous (and probably increasingly unique) investment based solely on the fact that approximately 91% of our residents travel by road and that approximately 70% of our transport is goods is carried by commercial vehicles, ie convenience. Many parts of the UK have fought for years for new roads only to find they were poorly prepared and the only benefit was getting in and (too often) out faster – this can also lead to job cuts.
What is both exciting and challenging is how this asset can be turned into real change for businesses and local residents. Do it right, and there are chances of improving market access, boosting business confidence, fostering economic integration, and boosting competition. Promoting the benefits to potential regional / national / international investors is an obvious goal. Improving business productivity must be achievable. The strengthening of branding and marketing campaigns proudly announcing that North Devon is ‘open for business’ should be part of a planned structured campaign.
It is not as simple as building roads equivalent to the “road to recovery”. It’s also not without challenges, particularly the need to support net zero goals and establish an ecological footprint for travel – the trick, of course, is that it’s not about cars, but emissions.
We cannot just say that our local authorities and our politicians should fix this problem. To a large extent, they have already done their job and are to be commended. The ball is firmly in the hands of the business community to seize a fabulous opportunity and prove that this unique investment is the trigger for a lucky step in the economic prospects of the sub-region.