IMPROVEMENTS to a vital arterial route linking north and south Cumbria remain top of the government's 'roads priority list', transport secretary Chris Grayling has claimed.

The pledge - for the A595 - came as Mr Grayling launched a national Transort Investment Strategy which will see £1 billion used to help local councils tackle pinch points and traffic hotspots between towns and cities nationwide.

The A595, which begins near Dalton and is the main highway up Cumbria's west coast to Carlisle, has a number of notorious bottle necks, most notably at Dove Ford, that campaigners say require urgent attention.

On Monday, Barrow and Furness MP John Woodcock accused Mr Grayling of snubbing the A595 in the latest round of confirmed major road improvement works.

But Mr Grayling has now refuted this claim.

Responding directly, he writes:

"WHEN I visited Cumbria during the election I made a promise – I promised action on the A595.

Contrary to a report in The Mail yesterday in which claims were made I had forgotten that promise, I can tell the people of Cumbria that the A595 is top of my roads priority list. Not least because Trudy Harrison is holding me to it.

I understand Cumbrian concerns about the road, having seen it in ‘action’. It’s clearly not viable for the future to have a major route that carries HGVs from a port passing through a farmyard.

And that’s why when I launched my national transport investment strategy yesterday (July 5th) I mentioned the road specifically as one that needed upgrading. The strategy will pave the way for far-reaching improvements for the A595 – and others like it in Cumbria and beyond.

I am building a new Major Road Network that will take money from vehicle excise duty and see up to £1bn a year allocated to building bypasses on main roads.

Vehicle excise duty is more commonly known as road tax – and I’m determined to see it live up to its name. For nearly the last 20 years government money has been targeted primarily on the motorway network, and has left the management of important local roads like the A595 to local authorities.

They can – and do – bid successfully for cash to carry out important local projects.

And, indeed, one of them is just about to happen up the road. I can confirm that proposals for the Whitehaven Relief Road will go out for consultation next year. And, subject to that consultation being successful, that upgrade of the road will be delivered.

So I am delivering on my promise to see action for the A595. Not yet on the thorny issue of Grizebeck, but on another bottleneck that slows journeys through Cumbria.

Anyone who needs to travel into Northumberland might also have seen the work carried out to take traffic away from Morpeth. A new bypass opened in April and should create up to 8,000 jobs.

But while local authorities have been successful in winning road upgrades, the problem with the old system is that local authorities find it difficult to plan when they don’t know if there will be cash available. And it means that some of the schemes earmarked for approval aren’t planned centrally as well as they should be.

The new system I am introducing will see up to £1bn a year available for local authorities to carry out projects exactly like improving the A595. Or indeed the A590, which I know also causes concern to Cumbrian residents.

As transport secretary, my focus is firmly on improving transport for people who use it. For Cumbria, that means working to get rid of bottlenecks on main roads like the A595, or looking at ways we can take away the misery of through-traffic from rural towns and villages on busy routes. And it means better and faster rail services, with quicker journey times and more seats. When HS2 is built, it will mean passengers from Cumbria boarding high speed trains at Carlisle, Penrith or Oxenholme and moving from the West Coast Main Line to high speed rails in the north west and on to Birmingham and London.

But another key focus is about spending transport money where it will have the most impact. The government is committed to spreading wealth away from the south east to all parts of the country. That would be crucial at any time, but will be even more important as we deliver the economic benefits of Brexit.

So making the A595 a functional trunk road is not just beneficial for the motorists who use it. It's also important in driving economic growth in Cumbria by better connecting different parts of the county.

My plan to create a new Major Road Network will seek to identify the crucial links across the country where the annual £1bn investment can best be spent. And when that process is complete, I fully expect a compelling case to be made for a bypass at Grizebeck.

My appeal to the people of Cumbria is this - make your voice heard. When the consultation is launched I want you to tell us which roads need our attention. You are the experts. You use the roads every day and know where the bottlenecks are. You run the businesses and know where they could expand if roads were improved. And you know where there are opportunities for Cumbria to grow and flourish with extra investment.

So I've set out what I want to see. And now I need to hear your voices too.