February 2020 - our view of Herefordshire's pending transport decisions
Members of HCPRE and the general public may be wondering what is actually happening. There has been a lot of misleading coverage and comment in the press and social media.
It is unlikely that there will be any decision on either the Southern Link Road (SLR) or the Western Bypass (Bypass) before the early autumn. Here is the timeline:
- The new Herefordshire Council was elected in May 2019.
- In October 2019 the Cabinet Member for Infrastructure and Transport (Councillor John Harrington) decided to pause and review both of the major road schemes - SLR and Bypass.
- Since then work has been underway to work out what the review would cover (its scope).
- In January Councillor Harrington announced that the scope of the review had been widened. It will now take six months and report on 31 July 2020.
It was originally thought that the review would be limited to an independent peer assessment of both the major road schemes: i.e their justification, objectives, the predicted benefits against the likely costs and delivery timescales. However it has now been extended to include:
- looking at existing and future road conditions locally.
- an assessment of the existing transport strategy and alternative transport options including an eastern link road and river crossing, removal of traffic lights on key routes, emergency removal of breakdowns on the A49 (i.e. particularly the Greyfriars Bridge), electric buses, safer routes to schools etc. These might be implemented quicker than the proposed road schemes.
- changes to the national policy context, in particular the declared climate emergency.
The review will cost £451,000 in total.
While the review is underway over the next 6 months, Herefordshire will continue to deliver agreed improvements to encourage walking and cycling (encouraging modal shift from the car for short journeys) and reduce congestion subject to funding. Given this financial caveat, we are not clear what these might include but the 'hub' at the railway station is probably one of them. This was supposed to be part of the now completed City Link Road scheme but has yet to be started.
Because the two road schemes are unlikely to go ahead by March 2021 the Marches Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has reportedly removed the approximately £27m funding it had allocated to the SLR/South Wye Transportation Package (SWTP - the package included more than the road). It is important to understand that the 'business case' for the SLR/SWTP has not been finished so that statements about 'losing' the money are not quite correct. The money had not been awarded to Herefordshire because the previous council had not been able to justify it. However, the current council has continued the work on this business case to inform its review.
There is a further question mark about some £3m from the LEP that has already been spent on preparing for the SLR which is either a grant or a loan (which might need to be repaid) depending on what report you read. The SLR continues to have a valid planning permission however there are doubts being raised in the press recently about the way in which both contracts and planning permission for this road were awarded.
In contrast to the SLR/SWTP the proposed Bypass has not yet been designed, there is no business case, the route has not been confirmed, it does not have planning permission, land has not been purchased (compulsory or voluntarily) and no money has been allocated or awarded. Numbers approaching £200m in the press are pure guess work or show an inside knowledge of the Department for Transport that has not been shared with Herefordshire Council.
A stakeholder reference group is being set up for the review and CPRE would be happy to join this. There is also going to be a member reference group including parish councillors who may be CPRE members. There will also be public consultations as the review proceeds into which CPRE members can feed their views (please see page below on the February 2020 public consultation).
(Photo by Matt Seymour)