Village 'betrayed' by years of stringing along for road improvements

Wilmington near Honiton

Wilmington near Honiton - Credit: Googole Maps

Before I was elected to the County Council I had only ever driven through Wilmington, the village on the A35 that around 5 million vehicles a year pass through. Once I walked along the road, I realised that people in the village were living with the most horrendous traffic. Huge lorries thundered next to people’s houses. Along much of the road there were no pavements. There wasn't even a safe way of getting from one side of the road to the other.

After decades of neglect, in 2014 the Highways Agency commissioned a consultants’ report which recommended installing two crossings in Wilmington and other safety improvements. However, when I got involved in 2017 the scheme was in disarray. Only determined pressure from the A35 Action Group and Widworthy Parish Council got discussions with the Agency, by now rebranded Highways England (HE), back on track.

There was a problem, however. HE worked out that not enough people had been killed or seriously injured in Wilmington to provide the ‘points’ to justify the cost of the crossings. But people got killed and injured regularly on the A35 on either side of the village, so they proposed that the crossings be wrapped up in a more ambitious scheme to introduce average speed cameras from Honiton to Charmouth. Meetings were repeatedly told this looked likely to be funded, with cameras and crossings installed by 2022 (although this became 2023).

Yet now HE, which has changed its name yet again (to National Highways), has decided there are only enough points to support the speed cameras. The crossings will need a new pot of points after more people have been harmed and are postponed until that happens.

The village still has no timetable for the simple measures which everyone agrees are needed to improve residents’ lives. The cost of the crossings is chicken feed for National Highways, much less I imagine than that of their latest pointless rebranding. It damages faith in our democracy to know that a community can be so easily betrayed by a distant quango that has strung them along for the best part of a decade.

Talking of quangos, I was shocked to see Dr Paul Johnson, head of the Devon NHS Clinical Commissioning Group, having to go on Spotlight to plead with people not to go into hospitals if they have Covid-like symptoms. I haven’t always got on well with the CCG - after all, they closed our community hospital beds - but I always recognised that the government, which gave them inadequate funding as well as incentives to close hospitals, was the fundamental problem.

Currently, the government is leaving NHS managers with the almost impossible task of managing a system that is buckling from years of underfunding and staff shortages, amidst an ongoing pandemic that the government is pretending no longer exists. Boris Johnson’s policy of allowing Covid to circulate endlessly - without protections like masks and air filtration and with no more funding for tests or financial support for isolating - is a total abdication of public health responsibility.

With, predictably, another new variant (BA.2) - which has been called ‘the most infectious disease which currently exists’ - infection rates are soaring in the South West, with 300 Covid patients in Devon’s hospitals. Some people say why all the fuss about Covid, what about cancer patients? Well quite. Half the problem with Covid is the havoc it is causing in the hospital system, which has to take elaborate precautions against infection, meaning that cancer sufferers - and others with life-threatening and painful conditions - are waiting longer and longer for treatment.

Please, for your own sake and everyone’s, support health in our community by wearing a proper, close-fitting mask in indoor spaces, keeping your child off school if they have Covid symptoms, improving ventilation in your home, and telling your MP that you want the government to start taking Covid seriously again.