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Saturday, April 20, 2024
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Campaigners call for public inquiry into Shrewsbury’s controversial North West Relief Road

Campaigners against the North West Relief Road (NWRR) in Shrewsbury have today sent a letter to the Secretary of State, Michael Gove MP asking him to call the planning application in for a public inquiry.

Campaigners against the road gathered outside Shirehall ahead of the meeting on Halloween. Photo: XR Shrewsbury
Campaigners against the road gathered outside Shirehall ahead of the meeting on Halloween. Photo: XR Shrewsbury

Speaking on behalf of Better Shrewsbury Transport (BeST) Mike Streetly, a retired hydrogeologist with 30 years’ experience, says:

“Better Shrewsbury Transport has campaigned against this devastating and disastrous road for many years. We hoped that sanity would prevail at the planning committee meeting on 31 October. Instead, we saw a partisan vote along party lines and a total rejection of the evidence that this road risks the security of the drinking water borehole that supplies 100,000 people in Shrewsbury and western Shropshire.

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“We are flabbergasted that the planning application could have been nodded through in its current state and with a whopping 36 planning conditions attached. We are calling on the Secretary of State to launch a public inquiry to ensure that UK taxpayers’ money isn’t being spent on a scheme that could have catastrophic risk attached to it.”

Funded by cash diverted from HS2

The NWRR is the first UK road to receive planning approval that is being funded by cash diverted from HS2.

Better Shrewsbury Transport (BeST), a local campaign group that has fought against the road since 2019, has asked the government to launch a public inquiry into the scheme after it was granted planning permission by Shropshire Council’s Northern Planning Committee on 31 October.

At a fractious meeting on Halloween, the road was voted through planning by six Conservative councillors versus five opposition councillors (Labour, Liberal Democrat, Greens) against it. Highly unusually, the approval was subject to an incredible 36 planning conditions, relating to outstanding concerns about the scheme.

Official advice from the council’s in-house legal team is that no decision letter can be issued until these are agreed.

Outstanding concerns

Among the outstanding concerns is an objection by the Environment Agency (EA), a statutory consultee, which has repeatedly raised the alarm over the risk of significant and ‘irreversible’ contamination to the borehole that supplies 100,000 people in Shrewsbury and a large part of Shropshire with clean drinking water. Indeed the council has admitted that contamination of the borehole would be catastrophic. Alarmingly, the Shropshire Council Planning Officer’s Report to the planning committee advised councillors that they could proceed despite the EA’s objection.

The NWRR is a four mile stretch of single carriageway that will link the north and west parts of Shrewsbury, turning the existing bypass to the south of the town into a ring road.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper has said in an interview with the BBC that the Department for Transport (DfT) will ‘fully fund’ the road using monies from the cancellation of the northern leg of HS2. However, it is not clear exactly what the phrase ‘fully fund’ actually means and no written confirmation of the offer has been received. The scheme is widely expected to cost around £230m (over £50m/mile) and will need a Full Business Case to be developed.

The planning decision has already made national headlines over the threat to destroy nine ‘irreplaceable’ veteran trees, including the iconic 550 year old Darwin Oak. A petition to save the Darwin Oak has over 17,000 signatures.

BeST’s detailed 58 page letter highlights a series of reasons why the scheme deserves to be called in, including:

The drinking water risk: the NWRR will involve construction of a roundabout within the inner Source Protection Zone (SPZ1) of Severn Trent Water’s public water supply borehole for Shrewsbury and large parts of Shropshire. This contravenes Environment Agency guidance and also Shropshire Council’s draft Local Plan DP19 3 which states “Proposals in Source Protection Zone 1 are not encouraged”.

The council’s claim that the road will reduce greenhouse gas emissions: official figures about the scheme show it will actually create 48,000t/CO2e for an annual operational saving of just 359t/CO2e. This means it won’t be ‘net zero’ for 130 years.

Exceptional levels of opposition: this includes over 5,300 objection comments (versus 230 in support) and objections from key consultees including Shrewsbury Town Council, Natural England, the Woodland Trust, Cycling UK, the Ramblers UK, and the Environment Agency. The council has dismissed the large number of objections as only representing a small percentage of the county’s population, failing to note that by this measure those supporting are an even smaller percentage.

Potential conflicts of interest within Shropshire Council: the Executive Director for Place at Shropshire Council has executive responsibility for delivery of the NWRR but is also responsible for the planning function that will decide the fate of the road. Shropshire Council itself is a major landowner and stands to benefit from the scheme financially. The scheme could potentially open up land in north west Shrewsbury for house building which would generate significant amounts of council tax. However, this is not discussed in the planning application, traffic modelling or impact assessment.

The risk of a judicial review: Local business Morris Leisure, owner of the Oxon Caravan Park that will be negatively impacted by the road, has issued a pre-action protocol letter to Shropshire County Council indicating its intention to seek permission for a judicial review of any decision to grant planning permission that does not address their outstanding concerns.

The scheme’s regional/national importance: according to Shropshire Council, the proposed NWRR will impact the A5, which is part of the Strategic Road Network and an internationally significant route.

Concerns over environmental protections: the destruction of 9 veteran trees and damage to a further 42 runs counter to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPFF, para 180 c) which states that veteran trees are ‘irreplaceable’ and schemes should only progress if a ‘wholly exceptional’ reason has been made and a ‘suitable compensation strategy’ exists. Shropshire Council has made no effort to demonstrate that the need for the scheme is ‘wholly exceptional’.

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