OPINION: How did the North Devon Link Road change our area?

The North Devon Link Road at Bishmill Gate.

The North Devon Link Road at Bishmill Gate. - Credit: Archant

How do you feel about the snaking, slithering shadow that undulates across the rolling green countryside of North Devon, its tail wrapped around the M5 east of Tiverton and its jaws clamped to the Barnstaple roundabout at the start of the A39? 

I refer of course, not to some Beowulf style dragon of myth that stretches it’s scaley way across the region but to that even more legendary entity, the North Devon Link Road, aka the A361. 

This notorious stretch of tarmac has arguably done more to change North Devon as a place to live and a place to work than anything else in the past few decades, opening up a connection (or ‘link’, hence the name) between what had long been a relatively isolated peninsula and the rest of the country. 

Before we delve further, in the spirit of transparency I must declare that I never knew North Devon personally in its pre link road days, but anecdotal evidence paints a picture of a very different place from the one we now inhabit. 

A client who grew up in a house that fronted the main road through South Molton in the days when the road to North Devon bought traffic snaking through the town centre tells of Saturday afternoons in the summer when the chief source of entertainment was to settle one's self by an upstairs window with a sandwich and can of fizzy pop and watch as the caravans and coaches negotiated the tight turnings through the town until the inevitable collision, accompanied by the tinkling of broken glass, the hiss of steam escaping from buckled radiators and the colourful language of the drivers concerned. 

I have also heard tales from long serving colleagues of house hunters from other parts of the country booking viewings on a property in North Devon on a Saturday and calling (from a roadside call box in those pre mobile phone days) to cancel their appointment, saying that as it was easier to reach the source of the Nile than it was to reach Westward Ho!, they would rethink their plans. 

So does the above mean that the link road was a good thing? Or a bad thing? I think that, for many, the jury is out. 

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The road certainly made North Devon a far more accessible place and that in turn has bought economic benefits but there is an opposing view that the more North Devon evolves to resemble the rest of the country, the more there is a subtle chipping away of the very characteristics that made it so special in the first place. 

A Torridge landowner whose property has been in his family for some time recently told me he that he felt his property ought to be reclassified from a rural farm to an urban one, such is the amount of development in the immediate vicinity, with the subsequent increases in traffic volumes. 

As anyone who has travelled recently from South Molton to Barnstaple knows, this question has become especially pertinent at the moment as work is already well underway on the expansion of the link road, with promises of improved safety along what can be a very dangerous road as well as increased capacity. 

Does this mean we stand on the brink of a period of unprecedented economic growth for our region, or is it the beginning of the end for the unique character of North Devon? Only time will tell, but either way I’m sure that the changes will ultimately be felt by all of us.

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