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Sunday, April 14, 2024
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Shrewsbury campaigners to challenge controversial North West Relief Road

Better Shrewsbury Transport (BeST) has announced that it is working with high profile law firm Good Law Practice to launch a legal challenge to the controversial North West Relief Road (NWRR) in Shrewsbury.

Protesters line the road route at Shelton Rough in Shrewsbury, the site of the water borehole and the Darwin Oak.
Protesters line the road route at Shelton Rough in Shrewsbury, the site of the water borehole and the Darwin Oak.

Good Law Practice was set up by the national legal campaigning organisation Good Law Project.

The announcement comes after Shropshire Council’s Northern Planning Committee signed off 62 planning conditions on the scheme, despite the fact that the Environment Agency has warned that the road potentially puts the drinking water borehole that supplies Shrewsbury at risk of permanent contamination during its construction and operation.

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Mike Streetly, spokesperson for Better Shrewsbury Transport, says:

“We’re excited to be working with Good Law Practice on the legal challenge against the North West Relief Road. The team has a brilliant track record of using the law to make the world a better and fairer place. They are the ideal partners to help us hold Shropshire Council to account for its terrible decision making.

“You don’t need to be a lawyer to see what a mess this application is. The council has ignored the advice of the Environment Agency, a statutory consultee, and is proceeding with an Environmental Impact Assessment that the EA says is inadequate and incomplete, putting Shrewsbury’s water supply at risk of permanent contamination. The council has walked straight into this legal challenge by ignoring the advice of experts over several years.”

The planning committee’s decision to proceed with the road last week came just hours after Conservative council leader Lezley Picton announced that the council would need to make huge cuts to public services with ‘significant impact’ to residents in order to avoid bankruptcy.

Says Mike Streetly:

“You have to wonder what planet the council administration is living on. They’re asking the government to pay £200m for four miles of overpriced road in Shrewsbury, while people across Shropshire watch their local services collapse right in front of their eyes. The NHS is crumbling, schools are falling down, potholed roads are destroying people’s vehicles, and libraries are shutting their doors.

“What’s worse, the road project has revealed the council’s spectacular incompetence. They have failed to complete the necessary due diligence required to route this road through a vital SPZ1 groundwater resource. When council leaders go off the rails like this, we need the courts to step in and redress the balance. That’s why this legal challenge matters so much and it’s why so many people across Shropshire have helped us crowdfund it.”

Lochlinn Parker, Managing Director of Good Law Practice says:

“We’re proud to work with local groups who are striving to protect Shrewsbury’s water supply and the natural habitats in one of its vital green corridors. With the council now running roughshod over the concerns of local people and pushing ahead with the relief road, in the midst of a climate emergency – we’ll be advising Better Transport Shrewsbury on all possible legal challenges as a powerful last line of defence.”

The road has proved highly controversial since the planning application was submitted in 2019 with a record-breaking 5,300 objections (to 227 in support) on the council’s planning portal. It was granted planning permission at a fractious meeting on 31 October 2023, where the six-member committee split along party lines and around 150 protesters gathered outside.

In addition to the risk to the drinking water borehole, campaigners have highlighted its spiralling cost (now around £200m, up from an Original Business Case estimate of £81m), as well as claims from a local business that the traffic modelling is incomplete.

Shrewsbury’s Labour-led town council has previously rejected the road, saying that it won’t solve the town’s traffic congestion and is contrary to Shropshire Council’s climate emergency declaration of 2019.

Concerns have been raised about the road’s environmental impact, in particular the fact that it will take over 100 years to be ‘net zero’ due to its high carbon footprint (48,000t/CO2e in embedded emissions for an annual operational saving of 356t/CO2e).

The road will also cause the loss of 1,000 trees, including nine veterans and see 4km of hedgerows ripped out. Among the veteran trees to be axed is the 550 year old Darwin Oak. It is named after Shrewsbury’s most famous son, who carried out geological surveys beneath its boughs. Over 100,000 people have signed a petition to save the tree after support from celebrities including Chris Packham and Bianca Jagger.

BeST expects to submit an application for a judicial review into the council’s decision making as soon as the formal planning decision is issued. In the meantime, donations for the legal challenge can be made to the group’s crowdfunder at https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/nwrr.

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