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The MP for Shrewsbury has asked Theresa May for her “intervention and support” over funding for the proposed North West Relief Road.
Daniel Kawczynski wrote to the PM asking that she ensures that feedback on the business case is received and the £54 million bid is secured so that construction on the scheme can start.
Mr Kawczynski says in his letter: “So far all the feedback I have received is that this is one of many schemes and that no definitive response is forthcoming”
Shropshire Council had requested £54 million from the Department for Transport’s Large Local Major Schemes Fund. The council will contribute £17 million and cover any costs going over the £70 million plan.
The Shrewsbury North West Relief Road (NWRR) will provide a new single carriageway road linking the north and western parts of Shrewsbury.
Plans include a new bridge over the River Severn and its floodplain, and a new bridge over the Shrewsbury-Chester railway line. Existing roads will be connected with new roundabouts and the endpoints have been determined by the existing Battlefield Link road in the north, and the planned Oxon Link Road in the west.
“Significant Increase” In Level of House Building
The letter highlighted that there has been a “significant increase” in the level of house building in Shrewsbury in the last 2-3 years and this is expected to continue in the foreseeable future.
Mr Kawczynski wrote that between 2007 and 2017 3,361 new homes were built in Shrewsbury and consent has been granted for a further 2,848.
He added that Shropshire Council has allocated land in the current Local Plan with capacity for a further 1398 homes with proposals suggesting that a further 3,464 homes will be needed.
Mr Kawczynski pointed out that there had been a similar pattern of growth in nearby settlements which had also generated a lot of traffic.
“For a small town, it can already take almost an hour to cross the town due to the heavy congestion. This is a clear impediment to the economic development of our town and a vital relief road is essential for Shrewsbury’s prosperity.”
“This is one of the reasons our Local Enterprise Partnership has put this scheme at the very top of its priorities. They understand the huge economic impact this road would have not just for Shrewsbury but for the whole of the county of Shropshire.”
“This is the single most important issue to me as the local representative and I am appealing to you directly to ask for your intervention and support in ensuring we receive feedback on the business case and secure the funding to start construction.”
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Bid for the Road May Be Withdrawn
The letter to the prime minister comes after Councillors Peter Nutting and Nic Laurens wrote to Chris Grayling warning that plans for the Shrewsbury North Relief Road may be pulled if funding was not agreed soon.
It stated how it was ‘extremely disappointing’ that no decision has yet been made over the request for funding, despite hopes that a response would have been received by 1st April.
The letter says that seasonal work needs to take place before the road scheme can go ahead and there could be a 12-month delay if these aren’t delivered as planned. In December 2017, the council’s cabinet agreed to spend £190,000 on the preparatory work with the expectation that ministers would make a funding announcement in April 2018.
But the delay of the announcement beyond this date may result in complete withdrawal.
The councillors add “Given the local and strategic significance of this strategic piece of infrastructure, and the overwhelming support that the proposal has amongst the local business community, Local MP, Shropshire Council Members, Shrewsbury Town Council, The Marches LEP, and the local population, this is clearly not something that Shropshire Council would consider lightly, however it may be an unfortunate necessity.”
“There is currently a chance to deliver a transformational piece of infrastructure at a cost that is at an historic all-time low and In line with the planned growth ambitions for Shrewsbury.”
Local Campaigners Criticise Relief Road Scheme
The planned scheme has attracted criticism from local campaigners who say that the relief road is not necessary for the development of the town.
Frank Oldaker of Shrewsbury Friends of the Earth spoke to JT Hughes saying:
“Battlefield Industrial area has been expanding rapidly and is thriving. Other business areas existing or proposed are close to the A5 and the NWRR is irrelevant. The two major urban extensions are adjacent to the A5 so again have a convenient road link.”
“It is interesting to note that although Shropshire Council keep saying the NWRR is necessary, all their approvals for development and all their proposals for future expansion have been agreed without any caveat that the road must be built before development can proceed.”
“It is not needed. The only new land that the road would open up for development is a small area at the north end.”
Will It Solve Traffic Problems?
The business case highlighted that the relief road would help ease traffic congestion in Shrewsbury, however, Mr Oldaker said that this is misleading.
“The only road that would see some relief is Smithfield Road and the real town centre - Wyle Cop, High St, Shoplatch, Castle Hill, Dogpole would be as bad as before.”
“Also it is now a known fact that a road that is relieved and so becomes a more attractive option soon becomes congested again.”
“This can only be prevented by measures to make it "inconvenient" that are implemented at the same time the new "bypass" is opened. There are no proposals to do this in Shrewsbury.”
A survey was done to check traffic “rat running” through villages to the north west of Shrewsbury and found that only 10% was “through” traffic and the rest had good reason to be in the area.
“If this is deemed a real problem then restricting HGV's and monitoring to impose the rules is perfectly possible. The NWRR isn't needed for a solution.”
The letter to Chris Grayling states that the NWRR would help reduce accidents and carbon emissions and improve air quality in areas where people shop, work and live.
However, Mr Oldaker is concerned that going ahead with the scheme would mean sacrificing some of the tranquil landscape that defines the area and would undermine the character of the Ramsar site at Hencott Pool.
“The route is through an attractive peaceful landscape which would be lost. In particular, there would be a bridge high over the river - very intrusive and noisy.”
“The old river bed is affected and the road would run close to Hencott Pool which is designated as of international importance (a Ramsar site). Having such a green area coming almost to the centre of the town is one of the features that make Shrewsbury "the unique one-off" and having a high-level road across it is to spoil its character.”
“This is also true of the rest of the route and the green space to the NW of Ellesmere Rd is appreciated by people who frequent it.”
What Are The Alternatives to a Relief Road?
Mr Oldaker said that the traffic in the town centre can be tackled in several ways.
He suggests that through traffic could be discouraged by charging and using Number Recognition cameras to monitor.
Cycleways network could be extended and made safer, resulting in more people cycling. Park and Ride could be cheaper and more frequent and the bus services overall could be made the first choice if services were more frequent and fares were lower.
“These approaches are not new but the objective has to be to encourage the use of other means of getting into town than the car. Car park charges in the town are proposed to increase which is a deterrent to drive in but there is no effort going into making alternatives attractive.”
“£70+ million would be better spent on these sorts of measures.”
So why has there been a constant cry to build the North West Ring Road? Mr Oldaker says:
“Since the A5 Bypass was constructed it has always looked on a map that the lack of a complete ring road is odd. Many efforts have been made to get it done and it now seems to have turned into a vanity project - no real detailed justification needed because "we just want it".”
Find out the latest of the North West Relief Road Scheme and view consultation material.