A better way forward?

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Apologies for this, it should have been posted a fortnight ago and it “got lost in the system” – clearly we need a new system!

In general terms I like the agenda of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England. They talk a good talk and champion issues that should be of concern to us all. I was only too happy to accept their invitation to attend what turned out to be a packed AGM meeting of their Somerset branch last month in Taunton.

The theme of the meeting “The End Of The Road” sets out the belief that new roads are not the answer to improving our infrastructure, and to challenge a Government policy of obsessive road building, “which is threatening Somerset’s countryside, the way of life of our rural communities and our air quality.”

The four speakers addressed important and relevant issues around road building and alternatives to road building. And it is hard to deny that the provision of public transport, from bus service cuts to trains that don’t connect with each other, is generally woeful in our county.

Indeed in introducing the meeting, the chair of the Somerset branch Chris Lewis noted that although he would have liked to travel from his home in Frome to the Taunton meeting by train, to do so would have taken around 4 hours. A neat illustration of train services being so poorly co-ordinated.

However, there was something very obviously missing from the CPRE agenda. I have no reason to doubt their research that claims the economic justification for new roads doesn’t hold water. Having seen the laughable efforts of Highways England to force through the A358 at first hand, I don’t need convincing. The negative criticism is fine.

But what about positive solutions? The CPRE currently appears to lack any suggestions for how to build a transport infrastructure that will improve the economy.

OK, that’s not strictly true. There were lots of good ideas for public transport, and that would of course serve the economy well in terms of getting employees to their place of employment. And for service industries, that is pretty much good enough. But what about the shipment of goods, whether exports or imports? Bearing in mind that much of Somerset’s economy is not service-based, but food and agricultural products, how would those be shipped and moved? I am pretty sure from what I’ve seen and heard of the CPRE that they are not about preserving the countryside in 18th century aspic. But without policy that looks to grow the rural economy, and to maintain and support the businesses within it, rural England may be protected, but it will also be moribund.

Wouldn’t it be great if in addition to allowing Mr Lewis a more sensible train journey from Frome to Taunton, we were also able hear some ideas that would solve the issue of moving a consignment of milk or cheese along the same route?