Living on the edge

Ian Bell
Executive Director of Bath Chamber of Commerce and Initiative | Business West
8th February 2017

We all like to think that Bath is the centre of the Universe, but it turns out that’s not the case. In fact, in many ways we are operating at the edge. That’s certainly the case when it comes to the West of England, so it’s important that we make our voice heard when sub-regional decisions are made.

In the run up to the election in May of a Mayor to oversee activity in Bath and North East Somerset, South Gloucestershire and Bristol, there will be discussions on a number of issues. Arguably none is more important than the improvement of our transport infrastructure. There will be huge demand for limited resources from right across the area and I think we should be making a loud noise that improvements to the A4 link between Bath and Bristol should be high on the list of priorities.

It would be all too easy for the item to be put on the shopping list, but to find it slips towards the bottom. Bear in mind the whole plan could take 20 years to complete. What we need to ensure is that the project is close to the top of the list.

Over the next few weeks we should press the candidates to indicate their priorities. There will doubtless be huge pressure for new junctions on the M4, and our members are not against those projects. However, the key question is, how long might it take for improvements to the A4 to be seen if the bulk of funding is spent on the fringe to the north of Bristol? I fear the answer might be: “A long time.”

There is no argument that Bristol is the main economic engine in the West of England, but Bath brings tremendous value and by improving transport links we can work together to produce economic growth. Without early improvements to the A4 we risk being marginalised.

Look at the decision to end electrification of the railway before it reaches Bath and Bristol. There seemed to be an implication that the extra costs of conforming to the needs of a World Heritage city had played a part in the decision. That was totally unfair because Bath Preservation Trust had raised concerns years ago, I heard Network Rail people boast of how careful and creative they were being with the iron work. To turn round in the end and suggest those elements had contributed to the decision to cancel the new facility will convince no one.

The key point is that we need good transport links with Bristol, be they rail or road. Without them, we won’t be living on the edge, we’ll find we’ve slipped over it.

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