The Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP Secretary of State for Transport Department for Transport
Greater Minster House
33 Horseferry Road London
Extreme Weather and Connectivity Resilience
We are writing to you jointly as representatives of the South West Peninsula, to set out our concerns at the extreme fragility of our national road and rail transport networks, highlighted by the recent exceptional weather conditions, and to reinforce our strategic case regarding improvements to the connectivity for the South West.
The South West is a fast growing economic area, and whilst it has relatively high employment levels, its wealth creation, in gross value added per head, is below the national average. Tourism is a bedrock of the south west economy and has a significant impact on the population and the demand to travel. The area’s high quality environment can mask the fact that it has pockets of deprivation in places such as Cornwall, Plymouth and Torbay. Studies have shown that low productivity can be a clear consequence of poor connectivity to business markets, particularly London.
￼However, the area is served by a less than resilient road and rail network. This last week has seen both rail routes into the far South West closed as a result of flooding, and they are likely to remain so for a number of days and weeks whilst repairs are undertaken. Similarly, the single main road route into the peninsula, the M5, was reduced to single carriageway running which further affected those travellers forced off the trains and onto buses. This is on top of the delays caused whenever a major traffic accident occurs on the M5 with no viable alternative route.
This is not a new issue. Flooding problems forcing the closure of the railway have occurred at Cowley Bridge and along the Dawlish to Teignmouth sea wall for many years, bringing our key connectivity to a standstill.
The Environment Secretary, Rt Hon Owen Patterson MP visited Exeter on Monday where the railway track bed has again been washed away. The break in the route impacts hardest on all those areas to the West now isolated from the rest of the country, but importantly the disruption extends to all other locations on the entire Great Western rail network as trains are diverted or delayed. This disruption will undoubtedly have had a damaging impact upon the wider economy; consequently, any investment to reduce such occurrences in the future will also create additional economic benefits.
The Government recognise the value to the economy provided by such transport links, citing in relation to developments such as HS2 and more recently the Northern hub and electrification in Manchester and Liverpool; ‘Transport provides the crucial links that allow individuals and communities to prosper and that is why this investment is so important’ and ‘This investment demonstrates that the government is delivering on its commitment not only to improve the transport system but also to use it as an engine to drive economic growth.’
Furthermore, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs published a paper in 2011 titled ‘Climate Resilient Infrastructure: preparing for a Changing Climate’, that recognises the need to ensure our infrastructure is fit for purpose. Interestingly, this document had on its front cover a picture of the railway line at Dawlish, South Devon, known to suffer in periods of high tide and storms.
Yet, despite this, there are not any significant changes or investment to the rail infrastructure in the far South West peninsula. The House of Commons Transport Committee received a report from the DfT on the 20th November 2012; this shows that the South West has received one of the lowest amounts of transport capital per head of population in the country in recent years.
Without a suitable level of investment into our key transport corridors, not only will we see longer journey times than elsewhere in the country, but we will also have less reliable services. This will make the far South West even more peripheral from key markets with subsequent adverse impacts upon our economic well being. It is critical therefore that resilience of existing transport routes is improved.
We understand that solutions to the specific rail problems north of Exeter, at Cowley Bridge, do exist, and we ask that these solutions are put in place at the earliest opportunity.
We request the opportunity to meet with you urgently to discuss these issues in more detail and seek opportunities to deliver solutions.
Councillor Tudor Evans
Leader, Plymouth City Council
Councillor Stuart Hughes
Cabinet Member, Highways and Transportation, Devon
Group Manager Strategic Planning, on behalf of the Leader, Somerset County Council
Mayor, Torbay Council
Councillor James Currie
Leader, Cornwall Council
Chairman, Heart of the South West Local Economic Partnership
Chairman, Cornwall Local Economic Partnership