Concerns have been raised that the pandemic, climate emergency and imminent changes to government transport policy since the outline business case for the road was completed in 2017 have rendered it out-dated.
But Shropshire Council maintains the £87.2 million road, stretching from the Welshpool Road roundabout to the Ellesmere Road roundabout, will benefit the town by reducing traffic and lead to a “net gain” for ecology and biodiversity.
Speaking at a meeting of the council’s place overview committee, Councillor Julian Dean asked: “How far has the outline business case still got credibility?”
Councillor Dean said the scheme had changed substantially since the outline business case (OBC) was completed, with new elements being “shoe-horned in”.
He added that government policy in relation to transport modelling “has shifted”.
Councillor Dean said: “We are now in a world where there is a general acceptance that we can’t simply accept continued growth in traffic and that there are alternatives to doing that.
“We are also waiting for the environmental impact report, and we are told that it is going to be a comparison based on a ‘do minimum’ scenario.
“No one is talking about doing the minimum. We are in a climate emergency, so to be talking about the ‘do minimum’ scenario and using that as some sort of positive outcome feels inappropriate.”
Councillor Dean further challenged claims the road will lead to “better connectivity” between the north and west of Shrewsbury.
He said: “Most of the time, even by car, that connectivity isn’t that bad. By bike, and increasingly by e-bike, that connectivity is actually really good through town.
“The idea that people will cycle out to join the NWRR, to cycle across and then cycle back in, seems to be a bit of a crazy idea, when we could be doing things – which we need to do anyway and we are planning to do anyway – which will improve the connectivity through town for active transport and public transport in a way that is a much more efficient use of road space.
“I’m beginning to feel with the number of things that need to be shoe-horned in or changed from the OBC to the full business case – the fact that we have declared a climate emergency, the behaviour changes in terms of Covid, the national policy shifts – that it is irresponsible to be continuing with an OBC that is increasingly out of date.”
Matt Johnson, strategic projects executive manager, said the parameters of producing an OBC to obtain government funding – which the scheme has secured in the form of a £54.4 million Department for Transport (DfT) grant – were set by a “prescriptive national framework”.
Mr Johnson added that a “full carbon report” would be submitted with the planning application.
Addressing the policy changes, Mr Johnson said: “We are going to take the guidance at the point it is issued.”
Councillor Dean Carroll, portfolio holder for climate change, also defended the project’s environmental aspirations.
Councillor Carroll said: “The route has already been slightly changed to offer greater protection to Hencott Pool site of special scientific interest (SSSI) and there will be additional mitigation measures and protections put in place for that and other SSSIs that are close to the road.
“In terms of biodiversity, there are going to be built in mammal culverts and reptile culverts to allow small mammals and reptiles to pass underneath the road to reduce the risk to them from road collisions.
“The cycle route will be one of the best specialist cycle paths that we have ever been able to deliver in Shropshire and it will cover the full length of the road.
“One of the overriding principles of the NWRR is about moving traffic out of Shrewsbury town centre, and that will have the benefit of improving the air quality and reducing the CO2 impact of journeys between the north and west of Shrewsbury.
“It will reduce the stationary and stop-start times that are currently such an issue for the vehicles passing through the town centre and will enable them to be much more fuel efficient.”
The committee has asked council officers to prepare a report on the expected changes to government guidance, and what this could mean for the NWRR, to be discussed at a future meeting.