Ludlow Town Council votes to oppose spending on North West Relief Road and Civic Centre

Ludlow Town Council votes to oppose spending on North West Relief Road and Civic Centre

The North West Relief Road (NWRR) is possibly this county’s most controversial project. Conceived 40 years ago, the four mile road skirting around the edges of Shrewsbury is the sort of road that might have been build 40 years ago. It will bulldoze through precious biodiverse landscapes and confirm the commitment of Shropshire Council to the fossil fuelled era.

Although the plans for the road are not within the remit of Ludlow Town Council, it was asked to comment on Shropshire Council’s budget for 2022/23. Shropshire Council is having to raid its reserves to balance books, while facing a liability of at least £30 million to top up the budget for the road which will cost at least £100 million. At the same time, Shropshire Council is proposing a new civic centre in Shrewsbury at a cost of around £37 million.

Ludlow Town Council on Monday agreed to object to so much capital funding going into Shrewsbury at the expense of other areas of the county. It has called a community investment fund to support communities across the county, including by creating jobs that protect our county’s environment and its economy.

Motion to Ludlow Town Council 24 January: Agenda 11 – Shropshire Council Budget 2022/23

Proposed Councillor Denise Thompson. Seconded Councillor Andy Boddington.

Ludlow Town Council thanks Shropshire Council for the opportunity to comment on its proposed budget. Rather than comment in detail on the specific questions, the council believes it is most appropriate to focus its comments on the main issues.

Under the proposed budget capital investment is overly concentrated in Shrewsbury centred projects. This brings little benefit the most rural areas of the county.

Shropshire Council should urgently consider disinvesting from the environmentally destructive North West Relief Road which is currently predicted to cost the council more than £30 million from its own budget. The scheme is undemocratic in view of the huge weight of public and professional opposition, runs counter to all the COP26 proposals, is based on historic, now incorrect, assumptions about the growth in car numbers and will make us one of the most fossil fuel polluting counties in the UK. The council should urgently reconsider its plans to spend around £37 million creating a new civic centre in the town centre.

Using the money freed up at this time of financial constraint, Shropshire Council should establish a community investment fund to support communities across the county, including by creating jobs that protect our county’s environment and its economy.

Note to support the motion from Denise Thompson

Council Agenda item 11 (2022/23 Council Tax Precept) sets out the major shortfalls in Shropshire Council’s revenue budget. It explains:

“The main pressure on council budgets is within the revenue budget, so we’re trying to think how we can use the capital budget to develop some large-scale schemes that will deliver added income or reduced costs for us. This approach enables us to spend capital money, or even borrow money, to deliver defined schemes that will reduce our running costs or generate income. This should then relieve the pressure on delivering further savings in service areas.”

It goes on to say: “We’d like your views on proposals being taken forward for the 2022/23 financial year so that we can take account of the taxpayers’ views on these proposals.”

I would like to suggest that we ask Shropshire Council to immediately stop all work on the proposed North West Relief Road (NWRR) and consider how these funds could be used for other, more relevant and important projects throughout the county.

The NWRR is a 40-year old project which will cost Shropshire Council £29M plus a recently admitted overspend of at least £8.5M. Local groups believe the total cost will be nearer £130m in today’s prices. There have been objections to the development of this road from Shrewsbury Town Council, Shrewsbury Civic Society, Shropshire Climate Action Partnership, Environmental Agency, Woodland Trust, Cycle UK, Severn Trent Water, Friends of the Earth, Better Shrewsbury Transport and over 4,000 members of the public (this being the largest ever number of objections to a public consultation in the county – only 178 people were in favour).

The project will increase our carbon emissions, devastate the greenfield areas north of Shrewsbury (containing many SSIs), increase the risk of flooding and is totally inconsistent with the need to reduce carbon emissions. Substantial harm to biodiversity is likely to be caused. The proposal for the offsetting of the 70,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent embodied in the construction phase will not work because there are insufficient offsetting opportunities beyond those required for food, housing and other more essential activities.

The proposed highway would therefore contribute to a worsening of the climate and ecological crisis and will result in increased traffic (all new roads increase traffic). Shropshire traffic is already amongst the highest cause of carbon emissions at 37% – the country average is 27%.

I think that Shropshire Council is using 20th century solutions to a 21st century problem and are going about it in absolutely the wrong way. The government has recognised that there must be a shift from the car to more efficient forms of transport such as buses and trains but Shropshire Council continues to reduce bus routes and frequencies. The business case for the proposed new road in Shrewsbury relies on outdated projections that car mileage will continue to increase inexorably when, of course, they must not. Other councils, including Herefordshire, have already recognised the shift that has happened and cancelled their major road expansion projects. The Welsh Government has worked out that it will be cheaper and more effective to invest in other measures to reduce congestion around Newport than to build a hugely expensive extension to the M4. We need to ask Shropshire Council to recognise that the plans for the NWRR are no longer fit for purpose.

Shropshire Council has already lost a great deal of money on its previous large capital project (buying the three Shrewsbury shopping malls for £51M whose value has dropped by £33.5M). The cost of the NWRR will almost bankrupt our county for years to come. Do we really want to pay tens of millions of pounds for four miles of road in Shrewsbury that even Shrewsbury Town Council doesn’t want? At the same time, we are asked to accept the closure of libraries, the cutting of welfare services and an inadequate level of funding for rural buses (which, by the way, cost less than £2m per year to run) because our council tells us they need to cut costs.

We must, surely, object to being asked to spend our residents’ money to support a totally irresponsible and harmful project?

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