Pandemic has not torpedoed A417 Missing Link project
Perhaps the hardest-won major infrastructure project predicted to widelybenefit the economy of Gloucestershire will still go ahead, despite the impact of covid-19 on Government coffers.
One of the first meeting of powers-that-be for Gloucestershire which took place in the midst of the lockdown as the potential fall-out of the pandemic was becoming apparent saw the A417 Missing Link project high on the agenda.
Leader of Gloucestershire County Council, Mark Hawthorne, the independent business powerhouse that is GFirst LEP and all of the county’s MPS gathered online and were in agreement - Downing Street must not shelve the initiative.
Convincing London and Highways England agree to the £435million scheme to provide dual-carriageway from through Nettleton Bottom on the A417 to the hill into Gloucester off Birdlipand the M5 junction was a long battle won.
News has now reached the county that project will indeed still be going ahead. It has been hailed by the likes of the local enterprise partnership and county council as vital to removing an economically damaging bottleneck on one of the county’s major arterial roads.
The stretch of road has also become an accident blackspot, not least a number of fatal accidents.
Some have chosen to focus on the delay to the complex project – of a year - apparently due to Highways England needing more time to submit its Development Consent Order (DCO) application.
There were concerns raised in some quarters about the ambitious bridge across the road from Crickley Hill to Birdlip side and there is an acknowledgment now that further design and development work is needed.
However, it looks like none of those concerns will torpedo the project below the waterline, with the application now expected to be submitted in 2021 – just a year later than its earliest possible date. And if that deadline is met the road could be completed as early as 2024.
Cllr Mark Hawthorne, Leader of Gloucestershire County Council, said: “We’ve been working to get the A417 Missing Link fixed for decades so any delay is really frustrating, particularly after the Chancellor confirmed our £435m funding earlier in the year.
"The project is moving forward and it looks like Highways England will be tweaking the plans to address some of the concerns that have come up.
"The county council is continuing to work with our local MPs to keep the forward motion going. This is a key scheme to address safety, congestion and pollution, and it needs to be delivered.”
Richard Graham, the MP for Gloucester, said the project had been delayed, but the good news was the environmental campaigners were not trying to "scupper the whole thing", rather get their views taken on board.
"All MPs are now committed, so we have achieved local political, givernment and environmental agreement so far," said Mr Graham, adding this in itself was not insignificant.
But he stressed there was now a strong general consensus only by working together from here on in would the county clear the final hurdle.
When complete the new road will see an extra 3.6 miles of dual-carriageway built to connect the A417 Brockworth bypass with the A417 south of Cowley.
There would be a new junction at Shab Hill to provide a connection from the A417 to the A436 which would see the Air Balloonroundabout and Cowley roundabouts removed.