27 March 2024
Investing in Roads

Jesse Norman writes for the Hereford Times.

It is a rare moment when cash and opportunity come together. We now have a colossal potential long term win before us. And we are in danger of missing it, badly.

First, the cash: Herefordshire has been allocated nearly £102 million from the government's new Local Transport Fund, set up after the cancellation of HS2 Phase 2. 

Crucially, this comes in addition to the £106 million announced in December for local roads resurfacing. It means that, possibly for the first time ever, Herefordshire will have a very large pot of capital funding, some £208 million in total over the next 7-10 years, which can be used both on road repairs and on new infrastructure.  

Second, the opportunity. In the words of the late, great Stan Lee of Marvel Comics, with great power comes great responsibility. What new roads, if any, should be built?

Note that this may be the last time that any new road can be built in Herefordshire, because of the impact on carbon emissions. If so, what we decide now is how it will be for decades.

Herefordshire Council has made plain its preference for a southern link road joining the A49 and the A465, and then a western bypass. My own view is that we can and must be more ambitious.

These roads will divert the A49 around Hereford, and allow the two sides of the city to come together. But they will do very little for the eastern half of the city, and that is a huge mistake.

After all, many of the most visited places are on that side:  the hospital, the railway and bus stations, the Sixth Form College, the Tech, the Arts College.

Nor will these roads do much for businesses on the fast-growing Rotherwas Enterprise Zone, who will have to go all the way round to the Roman Road, already choked with traffic. to go east via the bypass to Birmingham and the Midlands.

There is an obvious solution: build an eastern link road from Rotherwas to the Ledbury Road as well. That would free up the Enterprise Zone, open up the eastern side of the city and reduce congestion on the Edgar Street roundabout by up to 30 per cent -- a massive improvement.

Use £60-70 million of the new money to make a start in 2028, and put a single qualified executive in charge, with a small but expert independent board reporting to the Council. The projected costs are wildly overstated in any case.

Now is the moment. Let's be bold, and invest in growth.