Extinction Rebellion activists from across Shropshire staged a joint protest outside Shropshire Council’s Shirehall headquarters this morning featuring a bespoke road sign, to protest against the council’s plans for Shrewsbury’s North West Relief Road.
The road sign, a mock up of a UK Highways mileage board, highlighted the estimated £17 million cost of the North West Relief Road to Shropshire and the lack of investment in towns like Bishop’s Castle, Ludlow and Oswestry.
“At a time when the people of Shropshire need investment in our communities and local services, the council is spending over £17 million of our money on a road just for Shrewsbury,” said Mike Bastow, a spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion.
“What benefit do the people of Oswestry or Ludlow get from it? Absolutely none. Right now, one in five children in Shropshire are living in food poverty and services are being slashed, but the council insists on pursuing this costly and disastrous project.”
The socially distanced protesters carried signs that highlighted the controversial funding of the North West Relief Road, in particular the fact that Shropshire Council will be responsible for any overspend once work starts on it in Spring 2021.
“The way the funding is structured means that while the Department of Transport pays around £54 million towards the road, Shropshire Council is on the hook for £17 million plus any overspend from its own funds,” said Bastow. “It’s the last bit that’s terrifying. Since when has a project like this ever come in on or under budget? There will be overrun costs and the people of Shropshire will have to pay for them.”
“Shropshire Council is currently facing a shortfall of £18.5 million this financial year due in part to the Covid-19 pandemic. At a time like this, the NWRR is a road to bankruptcy. Studies prove it won’t even relieve congestion in Shrewsbury. If they want to stimulate the local economy they should wake up and realise that this is the twenty first century. Invest in renewable energy projects and bring green jobs to the county instead of layering it with tarmac.”
Other activists, who had come from across Shropshire, held signs explaining how the money could be better spent in their own towns.
“This road is a disgrace,” said Alison Layland from XR Oswestry & Borders. “Oswestry desperately needs a range of improvements to build on what we’ve learned during lockdown and make it more people-friendly. These include changing the layout of the town centre to favour cyclists and pedestrians, reinstating a rail link to Gobowen and the wider rail network, improved bus services in town and the wider area, tree planting and community green spaces.”
“Instead of this, we’re seeing millions going into building a new road. Worse still, the road is an environmental disaster for Shropshire. What’s the point of declaring a climate emergency if you’re going to start building roads through the Severn Valley, destroying natural habitats and wildlife and pumping tonnes of climate-wrecking CO2 into the air?”
“The road is a prime example of Shropshire Council’s total focus on Shrewsbury to the detriment of the rest of us,” said Steve Hale from XR Bishops Castle. “Our town desperately needs investment in better public transport – particularly frequent bus services to our nearest neighbours, Church Stretton and Craven Arms, to link with train services and the main North-South route through Shropshire. Our library and sports centre are continually under threat of closure, due to lack of funding but, yet again, we’re seeing millions going into unwanted and damaging road schemes in and around the county town.”
The next round of the planning application for the road is scheduled to start later this month with construction on the road expected to begin in Spring 2021.
“It’s not too late to stop the council from wasting money on this project,” said Bastow. “Extinction Rebellion asks anyone who wants the £17 million spent on something better to email their councillors with their views. It’s your money that they’re wasting, after all.”