Away from Brexit to the real world of the Gloucestershire economy, the decision by Highways England for its preferred route for the A417 “Missing Link” is brilliant news for business in the county.
I think we must breathe a sigh of communal relief because it seemed as though this decision, and hopefully the resultant funding for this major piece of road re-construction often never looked like becoming a reality.
I echo the thoughts of David Owen, chief executive of our local enterprise partnership, GFirstLEP when he told me:
“The announcement marks a significant step forward in reaching a solution to the ‘Missing Link’. It’s very pleasing to reach this latest milestone given the commitment made by local authorities, our Gloucestershire MPs, and through GFirstLEP, the business community of Gloucestershire who have lobbied tirelessly to push for a solution to the infamous Air Balloon problem.
“The business community now want to see a quick and robust conclusion and for the work to start on upgrading this piece of critical infrastructure as soon as possible.”
I agree with David. Business now wants to see a quick start to the work, which is now due to start in 2021 with a finish between 2024 and 2025.
It has never been calculated in detail, but the cost to business of the delays around the three miles stretch at Crickley Hill can run into thousands of pounds a day. The road, which carries around 34,000 vehicles a day around the Air Balloon and Nettleton Bottom, is often gridlocked - a good example is the Cheltenham Races this week.
I have edited newspapers in Gloucestershire for over 15 years and during that time consistently campaigned (with councils) to persuade the government to make the investment to sort the Missing link once and for all.
It is to the great credit of Highways England that they have not dropped the baton in the battle. The A417 is now firmly in the government’s strategic road plan. I think the detailed consultations they have carried out with local communities have been excellent, which has led them to now recommend Option 30 in their planning as the preferred route.
It will improve safety, landscape and community connectivity. And it will reduce rat-running in nearby communities and make journey times more predictable.
I have to say that earlier this year, I was worried that the long-awaited decision might well be delayed or blunted by the Treasury because costs for the A417 work were being questioned in Whitehall as those costs had approached £500 million.
So, there is a sigh of relief from Gloucestershire business particularly who have recently lobbied the Transport Minister, Chris Grayling, to ensure the A417 remained a key priority. However, it is important that business keeps a close eye on this huge project because any delays will have an impact on growth and investment in Gloucestershire.