Campaigners are calling on Shropshire Council to clarify its position on the 4,436 objections submitted against the Shrewsbury North West Relief Road, after the council issued a revised application.
Shropshire Council last week revealed plans that would cut the carbon impact from construction by 31% (equivalent to 22,200 tonnes of carbon), and slash its current estimated cost by £7 million.
Among the key changes made to the planning application are a simplification of the scheme’s River Severn viaduct, significantly reducing the need for construction materials, which accounts for the bulk of the carbon reduction.
Better Shrewsbury Transport (BeST) says having examined the revised application it has concluded that there are ‘no significant amendments’ and that the record number of objections must stand.
Frank Oldaker, a spokesperson for BeST, said: “We have reviewed the council’s revised plans in detail and it’s clear there has been little significant change beyond the removal of the crawler lane and the introduction of a short embankment, with the slightly amended Environmental Impact Assessment reporting the knock-on effects of these changes but not addressing key criticisms. We are hugely disappointed by this, especially since the council explicitly said it would listen to people’s views and recent announcements had led us to expect more substantial changes.
“These revisions are nothing more than rearranging the deckchairs. The council said that the chief motivation for making the changes was to reduce the road’s cost. None of the changes address the key concerns objectors have raised, namely: the road being incompatible with the council’s climate emergency; the need to invest in alternative transport measures to meet the government’s net zero target; protection of veteran trees and the road’s impact on the town’s drinking water supply and the “Green Wedge”.
“Even after the revisions, building the road will still create 48,000 tonnes of carbon, for an operational saving of only 350 tonnes of carbon per year. That means it will take over 130 years for the road to be anywhere near carbon neutral. This is incompatible with the council’s climate emergency declaration and national targets to reach net zero by 2050.
“In addition, the site investigation to assess the risk to Shrewsbury’s water supply, the basis of objections from the Environment Agency and stated concerns from Severn Trent Water has still not been completed. In his earlier radio comments Highways portfolio holder Steve Charmley said that protection to Hencott Pool, a wetland with an international level of legal protection would be enhanced by the scheme, but the lack of proper assessment of impacts on the pool has still not been addressed. Likewise, the council still proposes to fell many ‘irreplaceable’ veteran oak trees to make way for the road.”
Councillor Alex Wagner said: “There is an enormous democratic deficit at Shirehall, and people often don’t feel listened to by their local leaders. Wiping away 4,400 objections overnight to try and plough the project through is a damning indictment of the attitude that this Council has to ordinary Shrewsbury residents. We need strong local environmental leadership that invests in future-proof planning, not in schemes that are 30 years out of date. I work closely with Net Zero projects in my day job, I know as well as anyone the challenges we face to meet our commitments to getting emissions down – this project would put Shropshire years behind the rest of the country and cause irreparable damage to our green wedge.”
Shrewsbury Mayor Julian Dean said: “The desperate need to decarbonise transport is getting clearer everyday. The planned road continues to take us in the opposite direction to what is needed and these minor changes don’t change this fundamental problem.”
BeST says there is also confusion over the objection process, especially about whether or not the record number of objections received to date will be retained against the planning application following the revisions.
Mr Oldaker added: “Shropshire Council seems to be deliberately muddying the waters with this revised proposal. We have been told that none of the objectors have been alerted to the revised plans, despite the fact that the council has a database of over 4,400 names and contact details. A cynical person might wonder if the council was trying to wipe the slate and restart the objection process after the huge public backlash that we saw earlier this year.
“Given that the revised plans haven’t addressed the key issues with the road, we are calling on the council to confirm that all 4,436 objections will remain valid and will be recorded in the planning officer’s report. Any attempt to do otherwise would have to be seen an underhand attempt by an arrogant council to silence public opinion.”