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‘We will build a future of optimism’: PM’s transport guarantees examined

Simon Calder, often known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about journey for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a key journey challenge – and what it means for you.

The finest solution to get round Britain, the prime minister has demonstrated, is by enterprise jet supplemented by chauffeur-drive limousine – although you must be careful for these pesky seat-belt guidelines.

Rishi Sunak made a high-speed tour of the North of England on Thursday, which concerned flying from Blackpool to Teesside and filming belt-free promotional movies. The goal: to publicise the largesse represented by the federal government’s “flagship Levelling Up Fund”. More than 100 tasks across the UK have been awarded a mean of £19m every.

“We will build a future of optimism,” the PM promised. Well, I’ve studied all of them so that you don’t should. Three big-ticket transport tasks – all £50m or so – caught my eye.

Transport unlocks every thing and enhances lives. So I’m predisposed to approve of infrastructure enhancements. But every of those raised my eyebrows and lowered my spirits.

Let’s begin in Kent: “£45 million for Dover to improve the flow of traffic from the UK to the EU, with more border control points and a new exit route to help the port operate more efficiently and reduce congestion on local roads.”

The individuals who labored passionately to hunt a slice of the Levelling Up Fund for his or her native tasks, solely to be turned down, should be appalled.

This £45m ought to come straight from the Making Good Adverse Consequences of Brexit Fund. The solely cause Dover wants tens of thousands and thousands of kilos to attempt to cram extra site visitors in is as a result of the federal government negotiated to make sure a tough border with the European Union was created beneath a cliff in east Kent.

Surely arch-Brexiteer Sunak recognised the site visitors chaos the choice would trigger and made monetary provision for relieving the gridlock whereas chancellor?

Next: “£48m to build a new entrance and footbridge for Peterborough train station, creating a new gateway to unlock the vibrant city centre for local people, commuters and visitors.”

The Conservative council chief and native Conservative MP took the chance to pose outdoors the ugly Seventies station entrance to the East Coast Main Line station with a kind of foolish big cheques made out for £48m and emblazoned “Conservatives”. Let’s assign that to the Assigning Taxpayers’ Money for Party Political Purposes Fund.

In the far South West, in the meantime, who may criticise a Mid-Cornwall Metro? The authorities guarantees “Nearly £50m to create a direct train service linking Newquay, St Austell, Truro, and Falmouth”.

As it seems, many individuals – together with my colleague, Alastair Jamieson, who makes use of rail in mid-Cornwall however nonetheless sees the plan as pointless. He describes it as: “An absurdly slow S-shaped service between Falmouth and Newquay on existing track that will mostly be travelling in the wrong direction, reversing at Par.

Alastair tells me: “It is one of those things that ticks all the boxes on paper – through service with fewer changes, linking towns, clock-face timetable – but is bonkers on the ground.

“Falmouth-Newquay is already served by high-frequency buses that are cheaper, quicker and go from town centres. Meanwhile, Falmouth has a crumbling pier and a closed leisure centre.”

In search of somebody signed up for the “future of optimism”, I then contacted Andy Bowes-Roden, the Cornwall-based deputy editor of Modern Railways. He ran the marketing campaign that saved the Night Riviera sleeper between London Paddington and Penzance, and is now making the case for a further route from Exeter to Plymouth through Okehampton.

Surely something that helps his county’s underpowered rail community must be a superb factor?

“Right now it’s probably the only game in the Duchy that can be delivered reasonably so in that context, probably it is,” he says. “However, If you had £50m to spend on rail in Cornwall, perhaps not. I’d be seriously tempted to take a very close look at how you might return passenger services to Fowey.”

The prettiest Cornish city has a dreadful drawback with highway entry and parking – but freight trains run often alongside a department from the primary line at Lostwithiel to the outskirts of Fowey.

“It would have a huge benefit,” Andy says. “Imagine St Ives without its branch line these days.”

One for the Making Good Twentieth-Century Railway Cuts Fund. Transport is simply too vital to be relegated to what quantities to a nationwide lottery of fine works.

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