Controversial Shrewsbury North West Relief Road approved despite huge number of objections
Shrewsbury's controversial North West Relief Road has been granted planning permission – two and a half years after proposals were first submitted.
The Shropshire Council scheme, which would effectively complete the 'ring-road' around Shrewsbury, was approved following a marathon four-hour meeting of Shropshire Council's Northern Planning Committee.
Ultimately the plans squeaked through by the narrowest of margins, with the 11-member committee voting by six members to five to grant approval, with the numbers split along party lines.
All six of the ruling administration's Conservative members voted to approve the proposal, with the Lib Dem, Labour and Green Party opposition members voting against, after earlier failing 6-5 with a motion to defer the proposal.
The meeting, which took place in the council chamber at Shirehall, had been preceded by a protest from campaigners.
It came after more than 5,000 people had submitted objections to the plans.
Around 100 people turned out with placards to make their opposition clear, although only a selection were allowed inside the actual meeting due to restrictions on space.
In surroundings which showed the council was prepared for disruption, a number of security guards were in place, while those present in the chamber were warned by planning committee chairman Paul Wynn that disruption would not be tolerated, and that it was a 'meeting in public, and not a public meeting'.
There was one early casualty with a woman asked to leave the meeting for clapping following speeches from objectors.
The meeting heard from a number of objectors and supporters – with concerns about the impact on the environment through the carbon the road will create, the impact on trees and habitats lost to the construction, but most importantly the Environment Agency's worries about the potential for contamination of the source of Shrewsbury's drinking water.
The EA's concern is that construction work for a bridge, and the creation of a roundabout at Shelton Rough, both have the potential to risk contamination of the boreholes that provide the town's water.
Severn Trent had lifted its objection over the issue, saying it was happy for the council to deal with it by imposing conditions that mean the work must not damage the source of the water – but the Environment Agency has not been prepared to support the plan.
Scott Bracken spoke on behalf of Morris Leisure, which objects to the plans over their potential impact on the Oxon Hall caravan park.
He raised concerns that traffic modelling used to justify the road "does not reflect the reality".
He added: “It would be quite wrong to grant planning permission in the face of the Environment Agency’s response.”
Tina Teearu, spoke of concern at the plans to cut down nine 'veteran' trees, including one 500-year-old Oak, branded 'Darwin's Oak', for its location near to the naturalist's Shrewsbury-home.
She said: "Can you imagine doing that to a 500 year old building? The suggestion you could demolish St Chad's and re-build it elsewhere is ludicrous."
Frank Oldacre criticised the efforts to show people what the project would look like when built, saying the council had shown people "just three drawings".
He added: "I am sure this committee has seen applications for minor house extensions where more effort has been provided to show what it will look like."
Several members of the public spoke in support of the plan, with John Gittins, a resident of Ruyton XI Towns, saying it is vital to cut down on traffic rat-running through the village.
He said: "In Ruyton you can not only hear the traffic, but you can smell the fumes, feel the vibrations and quite often have to dodge out of its way.”
He added: "I haven't heard from anyone this afternoon what the plan is if the road is not built for these rural villages."
Shrewsbury & Atcham Conservative MP, Daniel Kawczynski, a long-time advocate of the road, told the committee: “We need to build for future generations. We need to think like Victorians.”
There was criticism over the impact of the plans on traffic, with some suggesting there were no details to show how it would benefit Shrewsbury's surrounding villages, while also arguing it would only reduce a fraction of traffic on the town's main roads.
David Green from Better Transport Shrewsbury said traffic models showed ‘no evidence’ for removing traffic from villages like Ruyton XI Towns – a fact confirmed by council officers who revealed Ruyton and Baschurch were not included in modelling.
Liberal Democrat Councillor Rob Wilson, who represents Copthorne, said the reductions in traffic levels predicted are small in many cases – he said 80 per cent of traffic will remain on the Mount, as would three quarters of traffic on Smithfield Road.
He added that Shelton Road would actually see an increase of 150 per cent.
Bagley Conservative Councillor, Gary Burchett, however said the road was needed to held reduce pollution in the town centre – arguing it would help to boost the town's economy,
He said: "Visitors do not want to come to a town that is constantly gridlocked.
“They want to be able to explore our beautiful town without breathing in heavy traffic fumes.”
Matt Johnson, who was speaking for Shropshire Council on behalf of the project, said he accepted it was divisive, but that the objections only amounted to less than two per cent of the county's population.
He said trees would be planted at a ratio of six to one to replace those lost.
Committee members pressed officers over their concerns about the Environment Agency's position.
Labour's Ted Clarke said: "I cannot support this recommendation as long as the words are still in it from the EA saying significant risk is still possible to Shrewsbury’s water supply.”
He added: “It is a very significant statement and appears to be overlooked by much of the discussion."
Responding the committee was told that the council had brought in consultants to review their work, and that Severn Trent no longer objected.
Planning officer Mike Davies said the approval would bring the Environment Agency "back to the table" for discussions on the conditions required.
Tracy Darke, the council’s assistant director for economy and place, said: “The EA have been clear to us, they do not object, they do not support, they are not neutral, their exact words to us.”
She added: "So how do we move forward from that position? It is very difficult.
“What they have confirmed is if the local planning authority approves the application they will work towards what those conditions are.”
Committee member Councillor Councillor Roy Aldcroft warned it could be years for the application to return if the members did not approve it.
He said: "This question of avoidance, that would mean reviewing things like speed limits and so forth, which would mean we have to look at all the work done so far – review it and reconsider it.
"How long did it take to get to the point we are at? Three and a half years? So I am not particularly keen on seeing that happen.
The application was approved, but on the agreement that conditions required to satisfy the Environment Agency, and other organisations, are brought back to the committee for approval at a later date.