Journey begins towards improved road and rail links

train track

Councillors in Devon and Somerset have backed proposals for a streamlined transport panel for the South West to campaign for better road and rail links.

The panel would cover Somerset, Devon, Plymouth and Torbay as well as Cornwall and potentially Dorset.

The Government initiative received backing from the Heart of the South West Joint Committee today but will need to be agreed by each of its 23 constituent organisations as well as Cornwall and Dorset.

The Government wants more cross-boundary collaboration on transport issues and would expect the South West panel to work with authorities along the M4 corridor to make the most of strategic road and rail investment in the region.

It is hoped a shadow panel could be set up in September if all the county, unitary and district councils that make up the Heart of the South West agree.

The Joint Committee also received an update on its ambitious Productivity Strategy that aims to double productivity over the next 20 years.

Somerset County Council leader, David Fothergill, was re-elected to chair the Joint Committee with the leader of South Hams District Council, John Tucker, as vice chair. Both men were returned unopposed.

Councillor Fothergill said: “The Joint Committee is about working across boundaries to improve productivity and deliver real benefits to residents.

“We are already delivering growth and increased productivity but we can do more and, to achieve that, we need much improved road and rail links.

“That’s why it was important for us to take the first steps towards a transport panel for the entire South West peninsula. We’re all inter-connected by the transport infrastructure here in the South West and it makes sense for us to be lobbying with one voice.”

Mr Tucker thanked the meeting for electing him and said he was looking forward to supporting Mr Fothergill.

He said: “This is all about delivering productivity and looking after the residents of Devon and Somerset.

“We must not lose sight of that or get bogged down in bureaucracy.”

The Joint Committee met for the first time in March. It is made up of council leaders and other lead representatives of county, unitary and district councils across Devon and Somerset along with Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks, the Local Enterprise Partnership and local Clinical Commissioning Groups.

It is a means through which the authorities and organisations can work together to improve productivity and continue to work with Government on policy agendas including devolution. In some areas, the work of the Leaders will go wider than just the HotSW area where it makes sense to work across boundaries with partners with common interests. The transport proposal is one example of this wider working.

Somerset County Council is acting as the host of the HotSW Joint Committee and meeting agendas and further information including the full Productivity Strategy can be found here.

The Joint Committee’s meetings are open to the public.