On Friday 14th June I held a public meeting in Towcester Town Hall to bring together the various parties working to secure the early delivery of the Towcester Relief Road, and to answers questions from residents about the project.
As most people in Towcester will know, under the existing agreement that has been in place for years, Persimmon has to build the relief road end-to-end from the A5 to the A43 and have it opened by the time the 1,016th house on the new development has been built and occupied. This is subject to prevailing house building market conditions, and could be anywhere from the mid-2020s into the early 2030s. My focus, and a top priority for me as your MP, has been to find a way to get the road built as soon as possible, and we are hopeful that we have found a way to bring it forward to the end of 2021.
As well as myself on the panel at the public meeting, chaired by Cllr Lizzy Bowen, we had Cllr Ian Morris representing Northamptonshire County Council, Cllr Roger Clarke for South Northamptonshire District Council, and Simon McDonald and Paul Carvey, Regional Managing Director and Senior Project Manager respectively, from Persimmon Homes. It was exceptionally disappointing that Highways England, despite confirming they would be at the meeting, decided at short notice not to attend. I share people’s frustration at their decision, given that there were a number of technical questions only they could answer, although I understand that Highways England’s view is that they have concerns about various works that remain outstanding before construction of the relief road can commence.
The meeting was well attended, and we took questions from the audience for nearly an hour. These focused around three main themes: a) where is the money coming from to secure the road’s early delivery; b) how will HGVs and non-local traffic be re-routed away from the town centre; and c) whether the road was going to be designed appropriately, and could it be dualled.
It has been calculated that the cost of building the relief road by the end of 2021 is an additional £8.5m on top of the £30m for the road itself. Highways England has pledged £3.897m for the early delivery, based on their estimation of the best value for taxpayers’ money and the wider economic benefits of the road being built sooner, and Persimmon has guaranteed that they will bridge the remaining gap. Simon McDonald has confirmed he will be providing a Letter of Intent to all parties, clearly setting out that Persimmon will be funding the gap in this way and that they are committed to having started major construction works on the road no later than March 2020 so that the road can open no later than the end of 2021.
A robust signage strategy is being developed by Persimmon and Northamptonshire Highways which will point HGVs and other non-local traffic along the relief road should they wish to access the A5, A43 or M1 rather than heading through the centre of town. Speed restrictions are being considered for various stretches of the A5, and the speed limit for the relief road is being reviewed.
South Northants Council have preserved a strip of land along the route of the relief road to future-proof it for dualling, and it remains our shared intention that the A5 along Watling Street should eventually be detrunked with weight restrictions imposed. However, the top priority has to remain getting a road built so that traffic has an alternative to the current route through the centre of town; as I made clear at the meeting, if we were to look to redesign the road or reopen the original planning agreement, we could set the delivery of the road back by another 10-15 years.
I will be holding further public meetings on this in the coming months, and I continue to hold monthly meetings with Persimmon and the County Council to keep them to task on the road’s early delivery. As ever, if anyone has a specific question about the Towcester Relief Road, then please do get in touch with me via firstname.lastname@example.org