The primary role of an MP is to vote on legislation in the House of Commons. But another, just as important (if less formal) role, is that of community campaigner. Campaigning for changes to your local area can often be a slog. Not the photo opportunities or press releases of a campaign, but the behind the scenes lobbying and constant efforts to keep whatever it is you are trying to achieve in the minds of the decision makers.
Once such campaign for me has been local road infrastructure improvements – in particular, the A69 and A595. The A595 will undoubtedly be of greater prominence once the new Cumberland Council is in operation, as the road is effectively the spine of the new council area. It is important that it becomes a priority for the council and I will certainly give any support to any improvements to reduce the travelling time between Whitehaven, Workington and Carlisle – as well as improving the road itself from a safety perspective.
The other road in need of upgrading is the A69. Ever since I was first elected, I, along with my Parliamentary colleagues Guy Opperman, Rory Stewart and now Neil Hudson, have pushed for improvements. We have led local petitions, met with Highways England, spoke with Ministers – indeed, taking the Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, to Warwick Bridge to show him some of the issues first-hand. There has been some success, such as the removal of the Hexham roundabout, to improve travel times to Newcastle. However, because of the cost and disruption it is likely that it will take a while before the A69 can be fully duelled.
But there are other options to improve the road in the shorter term. I, and many others, have long argued that we should “de-trunk” the A69 from the Brampton roundabout to the M6 – while potentially “trunking” the A689 from the Brampton roundabout to the M6 at Junction 44. A “trunked” road is basically a strategic route for freight, so it is the road that gets used by lorries and other heavy goods vehicles. This would free up the section of the A69 between Brampton and the M6 – and help reduce the load on Warwick Road coming into Carlisle (would it?).
After much behind the scenes campaigning and lobbying, there is now the real possibility that this move will be reviewed seriously. There are complications because of the public finance initiatives relating to the road, but nevertheless, the next stage of the Government’s Road Investment Strategy is about looking at particular issues just like this one. No final decisions have been made at this stage, but at long last there is serious consideration now being given to the possibilities of de-trunking part of the A69.
The implications and benefits of de-trunking that section of the road for the villages alongside would be huge and enormously welcome. It would improve quality of life and road safety – whilst at the same time the trunking of the A689 to Carlisle has the potential to increase development in the area, particularly around the airport site.
Not glamorous, perhaps – but it does demonstrate that sometimes persistence can pay off!