I hardly need mention that the Towcester Relief Road is one of my biggest campaigns locally, and I am wholly aware of the strength of feeling in and around the town that this road needed to be built decades ago.
We are all in complete agreement on this point, and that the through traffic through Towcester causes regular unbearable delays as well as creating an atmosphere that has been designated an Air Quality Management Area. Many of you who have heard me speak about the need for the TRR will have heard my story from when my son was much younger and about to chase a ball out onto Watling Street by the Town Hall; luckily I grabbed him by the scruff of his neck just before a juggernaut flew past.
I am as deeply frustrated as many of you that we are still debating the hows and whys of the relief road, but this has not dampened my absolute determination that we will achieve our goals.
First, that the road opens as soon as possible. My aim, shared with the local councils, is that this is no later than the end of 2020. I think there is genuine optimism and agreement that we can achieve this with a bit of hard work.
Second, that the relief road will be built as originally planned; to provide a new route for through traffic and non-local HGVs whilst also vastly improving the environment of the town centre. This has become a sticking point; Highways England do not currently agree that the A5 can be detrunked without further statutory procedures and Traffic Regulation Orders, and they have concerns that the proposed depth of the relief road may not suit their design standards, despite the existing road being obviously not up to scratch.
I have written to Jesse Norman, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport with responsibility for roads, on this point, as my understanding of the Towcester Southern SUE planning history is that it was always the intention that the TRR would allow Watling Street to be detrunked and the removal of HGVs from the town centre. Indeed, the Case Officer for the planning application notes that the design and route of the relief road is deemed suitable and appropriate by both the Highways Agency and the local highway authority, without the need for extension and/or material amendment. You can read a copy of my letter here.
In addition, I have formally responded to the Department for Transport’s consultation on the future of the Strategic Road Network across the UK; the A5 through Towcester is currently designated as an All Purpose Trunk Road. I have asked them to take my letter to Jesse as my consultation response, and to consider it in the context of detrunking either the stretch of the A5 through Towcester or detrunking its entire length and removing its status as an APTR.
The TRR Delivery Group that I convene will be meeting again on the 2nd March and I will have a further update on a number of points, but as ever please do not hesitate to contact me on this important matter.