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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Campaigners say Shrewsbury North West Relief Road business case doesn’t add up

Campaigners from Better Shrewsbury Transport (BeST) have reacted with disappointment at Shropshire Chamber of Commerce’s backing for the controversial North West Relief Road in Shrewsbury.

A view of the proposed North West Relief Road viaduct in Shrewsbury
A view of the proposed North West Relief Road in Shrewsbury

A recent survey by the chamber found that more than three quarters of its members support plans for the scheme, despite question marks over its costs and benefits.

Mike Streetly, a spokesperson for BeST, says: “We’re disappointed that the Shropshire Chamber of Commerce can’t see what a terrible deal the North West Relief Road is for the county. The figures in the Outline Business Case released by Shropshire Council simply don’t add up, not least because they are based on 2010 prices. It means that the final bill for the road, after eleven years of post-pandemic price rises and rampaging inflation in construction costs, is likely to be far higher than the £80m estimate.”

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BeST has carried out a detailed comparison of the North West Relief Road with the recently completed Congleton Link Road in Cheshire, which cost £90m despite being 20% shorter than the North West Relief Road and not including a viaduct. Using that road’s cost as a baseline, the group believes that the North West Relief Road’s final price tag could be as high as £120m (after allowing for the recent design changes).

Mike Streetly says: “Any serious business person knows that you can’t rely on costings that are over a decade out of date, especially not in the construction sector. We have real concerns that Shropshire Council, already on the verge of bankruptcy due to the controversial shopping centres purchase, is making a catastrophic financial decision. If the road proves to be £40m more expensive than estimated, will the Shropshire Chamber of Commerce still think it is a sound investment? And if it does go over budget, will the chamber’s members be happy to see it funded by increased business rates?”

Campaigners have also raised questions over claims by Councillor Dean Carroll, Portfolio Holder for Physical Infrastructure, that the economic benefit of the road to the county will be £327m during a radio debate about the road on BBC Shropshire earlier this week.

Mr Streetly adds: “Councillor Carroll is repeating the flawed analysis in the business case for the road.  He has only mentioned the benefits and not the costs. If you look behind the headline figures you can see that they are built on smoke and mirrors: half of the benefits are not for business or commuters but rather for a category labelled ‘other’ – this means people driving around town for shopping and school drop offs etc.  These are exactly the kind of journeys that we expect to see reduce as we move towards the government’s target of half of all urban journeys being walked or cycled.  In addition, the overall level of economic benefit is very dependent on there being continued growth in traffic.  Unless the council plans to ignore the government’s targets and its own declaration of a climate emergency, there is no way that these ‘benefits’ will accrue. 

“The council is supposed to be providing an updated business case in the autumn which needs to include updated costs and assessed levels of traffic growth.  This should also re-evaluate the potential for alternatives such as active travel and improved bus services to address the issues.  Government research shows that such measures offer much better value for money than the road and this is what our neighbours in Hereford have found.  Until the council looks properly at the numbers we remain convinced that building this road runs a real risk of bankrupting the county without solving any of our traffic issues. We do not think that this is a good deal for residents, businesses or the county of Shropshire.”

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