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However, we have to recognise that dualling the remaining single carriageway sections of the A303, and the necessary upgrading of the A358 from Ilminster to the M5, would involve a number of expensive schemes. In a world of finite resources we must ensure that our transport investment is focused on the most important
priorities. That is why in July 2005 we asked the south-west region for advice on transport priorities, within an indicative funding allocation for major schemes in the south-west.
The regional funding allocations process, for the first time, has given regions a say in decision making about transport schemes that affect them. The RFA process is an opportunity for people in the region to work together to develop a realistic, prioritised and affordable transport investment programme, to support the regions high level objectives for jobs, the economy, housing and the environment. It is central to our thinking that regions are better placed than the men and women of Whitehall to advise decision makers on how transport can help make regions into even better places. I hope the hon. Gentleman will welcome that approach.
We are backing the RFA process with massively increased investment funding. We have increased our annual spending on such schemes by 50 per cent. since 2001-02; for example, the Highways Agency has invested £92 million to improve the A30 between Bodmin and Indian Queensa scheme that, subject to events later this week, I hope to open on 11 July. In addition, £16 million is being spent on improving the Commonhead junction on the A419 in Swindon. The agency is spending £42 million to provide a much needed bypass for Dobwalls on the A38 in Cornwall and £65 million constructing the Blunsdon bypass, also on the A419 near Swindon.
We intend to provide almost £865 million over the next 10 years for regionally significant transport schemes in the south-west. I hope that figure might impress the hon. Gentlemans constituents. However, he and others have suggested that we are not making enough money available in the south-west. That was certainly the suggestion made when prioritisation took place; some people claimed that there was no way to prioritise the Ilchester to Sparkford improvement.
As I have told the House on a number of occasions, I hear similar arguments from every region in relation to many other schemes, which makes me think that we have been pretty fair in dividing the pot between regions. It could be argued that the regional pot should be bigger, but then it would have to be made clear where the money would come fromwhat tax would be raised or what other investment would be cut. We have to be realistic. The Government do not have unlimited funds and sometimes tough choices have to be made. The RFA process helps us to make those choices in the best and most sensible way. Following its advice, the south-west region assigned funding to a total of 31 schemes in the period to 2016. The region advised us that the Ilchester to Sparkford improvement may well prove to be a long-term priority but should not come forward before 2016.
Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD):
My hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) makes a good point about the section of
road he is talking about. The Minister talks about other regional needs. I have driven all over the country over a number of years and in the midlands or the north I drive on motorways or dual carriageways. Very rarely do I have to drive on long sections of single carriageway, as I do in the south-west. Does the Minister accept that the south-west has been deprived of funding in the past and that there is a need for the Stonehenge link, the section of road that my hon. Friend mentioned and other links through to the south-west, so that the south-west can improve its economy, as other areas have in the past?
Dr. Ladyman: Of course I can understand why Members from the south-west want these investments. Were I in their position, I would probably be arguing for the same thing. However, I find it a bit rich that when I take part in Adjournment debates with Liberal Democrats they spend the evening telling me that the road scheme in their constituency is a priority and must go ahead. On other occasions, they tell me that we should not build any more roads and that we should concentrate on other initiatives. They really cannot have it both ways.
Dr. Ladyman: I will give the hon. Gentleman a list of Liberal Democrat MPs who are constantly telling me and the newspapers that we are not nearly green enough and that we should not build any more roadsexcept of course for the roads in their constituency. The fact of the matter is that there was a certain amount of money to be distributed around the country. We asked the regions how we should distribute it. The formula was agreed. It was allocated to those regions and then we asked the regions to do their best to prioritise within that envelope. We have taken their advice. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman, as a Liberal Democrat, would welcome the fact that we took local advice.
Mr. Jeremy Browne (Taunton) (LD): One of the road projects that has been agreed in principle and that the Minister mentioned earlier is the dualling of the A358 between Ilminster and the M5. Many people in my constituency would welcome that because it would ease congestion and make that stretch of road safer. However, there are real concerns among the residents of Blackbrook in Taunton about the proposed loop design, which would take northbound traffic off the M5 and onto the new A358. They are unhappy about that because it would mean the loss of a playing field, it would be ugly, and it would add to noise pollution and other pollution. Can the Minister update us on whether it is possible to have the new stretch of the A358 dualled without those adverse effects on the residents of Blackbrook in Taunton?
I cannot give the hon. Gentleman that sort of information this evening. I can certainly investigate the matter and write to him setting out the latest position. I can assure him that we are keen to work with stakeholders and local communities to identify designs for schemes that have the least possible negative impact on local communities. If there is a way of building the scheme that does not add to the cost
and is just as effective, but does not have those negative consequences, we will look at it. I will happily write to him about that.
To return to the regional funding allocation process, I understand that hon. Members may be disappointed about the outcome, but, nevertheless, we accepted the regions advice. We have asked those involved in the regional funding allocation to look at their priorities again and come back to us next year to tell us whether those priorities have changed. I put it to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, his colleagues on the Back Benches, and hon. Members across the House that if they do not like the priorities that their region has come up with, they have the opportunity over the next year to work within their local region to win over peoples hearts and minds to a reprioritisation process. We would be just as delighted to accept that advice as we were to accept the original advice.
Let me deal with the safety concerns that the hon. Gentleman has alluded to, in particular in respect of the Ilchester and Sparkford section. The level of accidents on that stretch is not significantly higher than the average for trunk roads. The national average is 16 personal injury accidents per 100 million vehicle kilometres and the rate for that section of road is 16.72. However, that is not an argument for not taking other opportunities to improve safety when we can do so sensibly. We thus recently invested £450,000 in safety improvements at the Podimore roundabout. Although it is still only a year since the scheme was introduced, the early indications are encouraging. The number of accidents has dropped from an average of 19.25 a year, as measured over a four-year period, to just six in 2006, which was the first year of the schemes operation.
Let me turn to noise levels. The hon. Gentleman said that he wanted the A303 to be resurfaced. I understand his constituents distress about the problem, but highways are resurfaced to maintain their safety. We do not have the resources to resurface highways simply to reduce noise. When the highway needs to be resurfaced for purposes of maintenance or safety, quieter materials will be used. However, these days we do not resurface in advance of a need for maintenance.
Concern was expressed about the inappropriate use by heavy goods vehicles of the A37, which provides a link between Dorchester and Bristol, and the A350/A36, which provides a link between Poole and Bath. Somerset county council is responsible for those roads. It says that it aims to discourage the use of those unsuitable routes through dialogue and publicity, and, when necessary, by introducing weight restrictions. If the hon. Gentleman does not think that those measures are working, I am afraid that he needs to take up the matter with Somerset county council, rather than with me.
The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning) raised an important point about satellite navigation. I am not in a position to update the information that I gave in the Adjournment debate to which the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome referred. However, we are determined to do something about the inappropriate use of satellite navigation. It is ridiculous that the drivers of lorries and heavy goods vehicles are using car-based satellite navigation systems and ending up with the sort of problems that he identified. We are
analysing the results of our consultation and we will come forward with proposals on how to deal with the situation as soon as we can.
I am sure that I have not given the hon. Gentleman the comfort that he was seeking. However, I hope that he will re-engage with the regional prioritisation process over the next 12 months to find out whether he
can influence the local areas priorities. I will certainly let the House know that we are in a position to say what we will do about satellite navigation and the use of inappropriate roads by heavy goods vehicles as soon as the information is available.