Herefordshire Council bypass decision

Report from Toni Fagan

Herefordshire Council has voted for new plans to transform transport provision in the county and reduce congestion in Hereford.

Campaigners across the county celebrated as it was announced that investment in the controversial Western Relief Road and Southern Link Road will now stop, and the focus will be on buses, cycling and walking and an Eastern river crossing.

Following a peer assessed pause and review which was presented to the county’s scrutiny committee and cabinet, Herefordshire leaders decided this week that the alternatives would be achievable at far less cost than previous infrastructure projects like the proposed new roads – which they believe were not deliverable projects. Now, modal shift, getting people onto buses and city residents doing more walking and cycling are proposed as the quickest way to deliver improvements. Funding is also provided for in the 2021 budget to progress proposed bus initiatives.

Infrastructure lead, Cllr John Harrington, said that the decision is in line with the Conservative government’s requirement for councils to decarbonise, and make modal shift and public transport a priority:

‘In the changed new post-COVID-19 world of Zoom commuting habits are going to change for good. We must use our financial resources very carefully, and it makes sense to start with the quickest and easiest changes to our networks.’

Finance cabinet member, Liz Harvey explained that the Western Relief Road was not value for money:

‘The data in the Transport Review shows that implementing the walking and cycling measures on their own will deliver a 14% reduction in delay and city traffic whereas the western bypass alone only delivers a further 1% less congestion while costing 4x as much. The modelling data also shows that the bypass alone delivers less effect on reducing journey times than the walking and cycling measures. This is before any consideration is given to the impact of this road scheme on the environment and on the county’s carbon footprint.’

Leader of the council, David Hitchiner said the council has held off improving public transport, walking, and cycling in the city for too long:

‘We all agree on the problems with travel in the city. A Western bypass would have been ten years away and cost over a quarter of a billion pounds. We can now finally deliver the improvements which can be quickly put in place to get people moving – in healthier, less polluting and more sustainable ways. We are keen to progress work to deliver an eastern city bridge, which will increase movement choice and deliver resilience if the A49 bridge is out of action’.

Celebrating the move, campaign group Wye Ruin It? said:

‘We urgently need an INTEGRATED transport plan for the whole County, not just bits and pieces of expensive concrete and tarmac. That means a plan for school transport to reduce car trips, plans for key business workers transport. A scheme to address the declining mobility of our younger generation. Improved public transport in the form of clean modern buses. We look forward to the reopening of train stations, like Pontrilas, to improve County transport links for growing satellite towns.’

The decision coincided with publication of a review of economics and biodiversity, commissioned by the UK Treasury which states that biodiversity is declining faster than at any time in human history, and that transformative change is necessary and achievable:

‘‘Our economies, livelihoods and wellbeing all depend on our most precious asset: nature. We are part of nature, not separate from it,” said the report, which concludes:  “To detach nature from economic reasoning is to imply that we consider ourselves to be external to nature. The fault is not in economics; it lies in the way we have chosen to practise it. Transformative change is possible – we and our descendants deserve nothing less.”