Levelling Up funding could make a real difference in Devon

DCC's County Hall HQ

DCC's County Hall HQ - Credit: Submitted

John Hart leader of Devon County Council writes for the Herald.

John Hart

Council leader John Hart said the budget had been one of the toughest to set - Credit: Daniel Clark

Those of us who know and love Devon are well aware that the chocolate box cottages and cream tea image of the county is but one aspect of life here.

A few weeks ago I was a guest at the launch of Exeter University's report on deprivation which calls on the Government to prioritise the South West in its levelling-up efforts.

The report highlighted statistics with which I am all too familiar - four of our eight district council areas are among the UK's worst 25 low-wage 'hotspots' and too many of our youngsters don't go on to university or vocational training to enable them to get the better-paid jobs.

So I was delighted that Devon County Council's Cabinet last week backed plans to bid for around £75 million of Government levelling-up funding and contribute £6 million of county cash towards five schemes that will make a real difference. Individual district councils will also contribute to the schemes in their patch and submit their own bids for other specific projects. We're responsible for these five as the authority which oversees transport.

I've written here before about our partnership as a county council with the eight district councils in Team Devon. This has been most successful in our combined efforts to support the most vulnerable people in our communities throughout the pandemic. We're now doing all we can to support economic recovery and growth and we have an ambitious Team Devon devolution proposal which would enable us to tackle some of our continuing structural problems.

But in the shorter term we've been working with the districts and our MPs on this latest levelling-up bid which would be a real start in helping us to boost our economic growth and fight climate change by providing real alternatives to our reliance on cars.

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In the eastern part of the county we have two bids.

In Exmouth we've been working with East Devon District Council on a £20 million scheme which includes the completion of the Dinan Way ring road link to the A376 main road to Exeter. Currently traffic from Dinan Way has to use unsuitable residential roads to access the A376.

The bid includes improved pedestrian and cycle connections to the Exe Estuary multi-use trail and has the potential to improve bus journey times to Exeter. The wider bid includes other walking and cycling improvements focusing on the regeneration of the town centre.

In Cullompton we're supporting the £25 million town centre relief road, for which Mid Devon District Council has already secured £10 million from the Government’s Housing Infrastructure Fund.

The road will remove traffic from the High Street and cut congestion, improving air quality and enabling further regeneration of the town’s historic centre.

The most significant scheme for the north and west of Devon is the plan to create a £17 million transport hub and a second railway station at Okehampton.

I think we've all been delighted with the initial passenger numbers on the re-opened Okehampton to Exeter railway line and services are already being improved. Currently in parts of northern Devon such as Holsworthy and Hatherleigh and across into north Cornwall the connections to the national rail network are really poor.

The aim is to provide an interchange for the west and north of the county with facilities for bus connections, cycle links and electric vehicle charging.

These bids are for money from the second round of levelling-up support. We didn't do too well in the first round of bidding but we have refined our schemes and we are now lobbying hard to get a better deal this time.