"So, what's next?" It's a question I've been asked a lot recently, now the A21 flows fast and free. The truth is we've only just started.
As I wrote last month, the day before its official opening, the next stage of the A21 campaign is to get the section between the Blue Boys Roundabout and Lamberhurst upgraded. And so I want to take this opportunity to set out where we are.
In January last year, the Hastings MP, Amber Rudd, and I met with the Transport Secretary to remind him that – as delighted as we were with the new road – we didn't see Tonbridge to Pembury as the end of our campaign. We made clear our vision of a modern dual carriageway running from Sevenoaks to Hastings, one which befits the main link between the M25 and South Coast.
Two months later, on a freezing March morning, Amber and I took the Roads Minister for a drive to show him what is needed. We met in Tonbridge before travelling along the A21 to Lamberhurst so he could see for himself the need for the further works – and yes, we were stuck in traffic!
The trip must have left a lasting impression because earlier this year a report by Highways England acknowledged that there are important safety issues, congestion and a restriction in capacity on the route. This report will be considered by the Roads Minister and Transport Secretary as part of the Government's Road Investment Strategy, a plan which informs which main roads will be upgraded between 2020 and 2025.
Since the General Election there's another Roads Minister and just as I did with each of his predecessors I will be meeting him later this month, setting out the case for further investment to make the next section of the A21 a priority.
Again, as before, I will be working with the whole community as well as businesses, councillors and MPs along the whole route. We'll be pushing to make our case. We'll be scrutinising proposals across the country: ensuring our cause is never undersold. There'll be meetings, events, letters and consultations – and I daresay I'll be taking the new Minister for a spin too!
One of the most powerful things in any debate about priorities are the personal stories which illustrate a point and that's where I need your help now. When at the end of the month I meet the Roads Minister, I want to go armed with accounts of the missed opportunities and wasted hours so I can convey the very real need for this work.
Whether you be someone who travels between Blue Boys and Lamberhurst, all the way to Hastings, or somewhere in between, I want to hear from you. Whether you have loved ones or clients put off travelling the other way, I want to hear from you. Or if it has any other impact on your life, I want to hear from you.
The story of the Tonbridge to Pembury dualling is that persistence pays. I'm sure there'll be ups and downs, setbacks as well as advances. But as with the Castle Hill section, I will not rest until I see the bulldozers start work. Together we can drive this through.
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