Jesse Norman MP has made an objection to the Southern Link Road and in it included this representation from Hereford Transport Alliance, about their concerns over this road project ahead of any sustainable transport measures that will actually tackle the causes of congestion in the South Wye area of Hereford.
Thank you for your time on 29 April and your kind offer to communicate our concerns about the Southern Link Road (SLR) to Herefordshire Council. You asked us to concentrate on the points we raised that illustrate deficiencies in the way the Council is justifying the plans for the SLR and the problems it is causing by failing to consult effectively with directly affected parties.
1. Value for Money – The Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) is mis-stated for the road submitted for planning permission
Herefordshire Council has stated that the project will generate a BCR of 3.55. Our view is that this figure – which as you stated is quite low for a transport scheme – is overstated.
On the cost side, we believe the Council is using a base figure of £27m which is the estimate for building the main part of the road itself, but excludes the cost of the Clehonger Link (Please note that the Outline Business Case quoted a cost of £29.729m). In addition, the costs of mitigating any issues arising from the Agricultural Impact Assessment (see 6) are yet to be assessed and may inflate further the costs associated with this road.
Other costs not included in the Business case include the damage to Heritage assets, the loss of ancient woodland and veteran trees and loss of high grade agricultural land.
On the benefits side, we understand the Council is including a valuation of the benefits expected to accrue from the implementation of ‘sustainable transport measures’ (STMs) within South Wye. However, the scheme being proposed for planning permission does not provide any sustainable transport measures and is purely a plan to build a new road.
The sustainable transport measures were originally costed at £8m and are intended to be the subject of further consideration by Council later this year, but there appear to be no funds allocated to deliver these sustainable measures in the period to 2020.
By including the considerable benefits of STMs without allowing for their cost the BCR is distorted, showing a much higher value than is directly attributable to the road as a stand-alone project.
2. Traffic Congestion Relief / Sustainable Transport Measures
At the start of the consultation on the specific development now being proposed, the Council stated that of various options considered, only the combination of the SLR (the SC2 route) road and ‘sustainable transport max’ would meet its objectives:
“These four options were assessed against six objectives. This established that the only option which fully achieves all six objectives was the ‘SLR + sustainable transport max’ option. Conversely, the sustainable transport measures on their own, or the SLR on its own, are not considered sufficient to address all the objectives. As a result, and in conjunction with the proposals for the SLR, a set of measures to improve travel for pedestrians, cyclists and bus users are currently being considered and identified for locations across South Hereford, including on A465 Belmont Road and Holme Lacy Road. These measures, together with the SLR, comprise the SWTP.”
(Design & Access Statement para 4.1.4, dated April 2015)
The ‘Sustainable Transport Max’ option was described during the 2014 public consultation exercise as aiming to “reduce the use of the private car through improvements to public transport, cycle routes and lanes, pedestrian crossings, traffic management, behavioural change activities and small localised improvements.”
The proposal now being considered for planning permission is for the SLR alone. The Sustainable Transport Measures, which the Council itself has stated are fundamental to the success of the South Wye Transport Package, have not been developed or consulted on.
The Council capital out turn budget no longer appears to have a provision of £8m for these measures for the period up to 2020. It is impossible for Council to guarantee that the provision will be re-instated after 2020.
As a result, there is a strong likelihood that the SLR will be built without the STMs ever being delivered. The scheme being put forward for planning permission is not what was consulted on, and will not deliver the stated objectives.
3. Funding Availability – Confusing Messages
The Council has not been clear in its communications about the availability of funding to build the road. Public statements have led many to believe that the funding from central government /Marches LEP was guaranteed. Or that the funding was time-limited and that the Council had no option but to push ahead with the plans or risk losing it.
The Department for Transport has confirmed that funding is conditional on amongst other things an acceptable full business case, once planning permission is achieved, so it is not guaranteed.
In December 2015, Council admitted “April 2016 was a target date not a deadline [for obtaining funding]. A full business case for the South Wye transport package (which comprises new link road and associated active travel measures) will be submitted to the DfT before any road building”
Those associated active travel measures are to be consulted on ‘later in the year’ , but with no capital allocation in the Council’s Medium Term Financial Strategy to 2020, they are extremely unlikely to be delivered before the road is built, and maybe never.
4. Clehonger Link Section
This part of the current proposed development was added to the original scheme almost as an afterthought – it appears that the required process for cost-benefit analysis has not been followed, and residents directly affected by the section west of the A465 were poorly consulted.
The Amey 2012 assessment of the Southern Link referred only to routes between the A49-A465, and did not mention the Clehonger section. On page 9 it says, “Should the Southern Corridor Link between the A49 and the A465 be delivered in isolation and in advance of a full Western Relief Road, then the scheme will need to be assessed in its own right but also need to consider the continuation of the route north. This assessment process should follow the staged assessment process set out in the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges and fully accorded with the Department for Transport’s Transport Analysis Guidance (WebTAG) to ensure that a transparent and fair assessment is undertaken.”
If the assessment does not comply with the DfT WebTAG then the money should not be released for this road.
The Marches LEP and the Strategic Outline business case for the Southern Link Road were both approved for a road between the A49 and A465 only. The BCR does not allow for the extra cost attached to building the Clehonger Link section. In addition no Benefit Cost Ratio appears to have been done on this extension, and certainly no comparison to show whether the Clehonger section delivers better value for money than the alternative of just improving visibility at “the Lousy Oak”.
In June 2013 a consultation meeting was held for local councillors and residents to discuss the A49-465 Link Road. Clehonger residents were told the meeting was “ only for parishioners affected “(Hereford Times report) – and were turned away.
On 19 May 2014 Herefordshire Council announced its final public consultation on the Core Strategy before the Government submission, saying “Technical work is now underway prior to the submission of a planning application for the first leg of the Hereford Relief Road between the A49 (Ross Road) and the A465 (Belmont/Abergavenny Road).” (http://newsroom.herefordshire.gov.uk/2014/may/final-public-consultation-on-core-strategy-before-government-submission.aspx.) There was no mention of the Clehonger Link. The plan to include the Clehonger Link ‘leaked out’, to local residents and the Parish Council later in 2014. (See Appendix for fuller details).
5. Costs incurred by, and the distress caused, to parties directly affected.
Statement by Mrs Jean Harris of Pykeways, Clehonger.
The whole process of consultation and information has been badly flawed. We have had to employ a professional planning consultant to act for us and the cost to date for this service is well over £3,000.
When we found out at a late stage, by accident on 29th January 2015, that the planned route SC2 would cross our property we were first met with a complete denial of our land ownership.
Herefordshire Council & Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) had no understanding of the impact on our property Pykeways, as I believe they had relied on old plans and maps.
I had to prove to PB that we were the owners of this land. I sent them Land Registry and title deed records and despite numerous reminders they did not get back to me until 24th February. Their letter in response stated that the information I had provided was correct and they had amended their records accordingly. The made no apologies for their incompetence.
With reference to the consultation meeting in July 2014. Plans were available as the SC2 route was the preferred route but the final decision on the selected route had not been determined. The scale of the map was very small and names of properties were not evident. Despite numerous letters and telephone calls to Hereford Council and following my letter to all councillors, I received a reply from Richard Ball and Mairead Lane informing me that the red line boundary had not changed from the July 2014 exhibition. This may have been the case but the properties were not shown on the earlier plans so we were not too alarmed at this stage.
We had a meeting with Richard Ball, Mairead Lane, Cllr Price and Gary Dymond (PB) at Plough Lane, Hereford. They were not prepared to amend the plans in any way and would not agree that they had made a mistake with the red line boundary. I instigated this meeting and also insisted that members of the council and PB visit Pykeways and show us exactly where the proposed route is going.
Our planning consultant met with Mairead Lane, Gary Dymond and Kelly Gibbons and pointed out that an alternative curvature of the road was possible and would avoid the Pykeways garden and the ancient oak trees. He also suggested that minor improvements, at a fraction of the cost, could be made to the junction on the A465.
We retired to this beautiful property with wonderful views and peacefulness and at our time of life we are finding the stress and uncertainty is having an effect on our health and wellbeing.
6. Statutory Bodies Opposition.
Not only have statutory bodies expressed serious objections to the road, they have not been consulted in a timely manner, and their concerns have not apparently been taken account of in revisions to the original SC2 route of SLR.
Natural England – Objection July 2015 to the loss of ancient woodland “ We would remind you that ancient woodland is irreplaceable and damage to ancient/semi natural woodland should be avoided as set out in section 118 of the NPPF and in particular the following paragraph “ planning permission should be refused for development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats, including ancient woodland and the loss of aged or veteran trees found outside ancient woodland, unless the need for, and benefits of, the development in that location clearly outweigh the loss;”
This loss is also opposed by the Forestry Commission; The Woodland Trust, The Tree Council. Herefordshire Council stands by its original proposal to ‘mitigate’ the loss by new planting.
Natural England again in their letter July 2015 refer to the loss of soils, particularly the best grade agricultural land. PB have assessed the impact as slight or moderate, Natural England contest that the sensitivity is “high” and that the permanent loss of 31.2 hectares of best and most versatile land is not “minor” as assessed by PB. They quote para 112 of the NPPF in their objection.
English Heritage – were not consulted during route selection and the report prepared for Council Nov 2014. From their letter of 13.10.2014 – full copy attached
“English Heritage was not consulted on the recent consultation on the four proposed routes for the new Southern Link Road, within the South Wye Transport package. We welcome the opportunity to make comments at this stage so that they can be included within the report that is being presented to Herefordshire Council on 13 November 2014.”
“English Heritage has been involved in some of the discussions/consultation exercises since 2010 and is keen to be engaged within the process, to ensure that the historic environment is fully considered. At the earlier stages we raised the need for the assessment process to be balanced, proportionate and robust. We also set out our key concerns for a number of heritage assets likely to be affected by the proposed routes. Please let me know if you need copies of our earlier correspondence so that they can be considered.”
If Herefordshire Council failed to consult English Heritage (a statutory consultee) though genuine error, it is very regrettable. Due to English Heritage’s critical comments on the original planning application, the Council has had to make adjustments and re-issue it for a second public consultation earlier this year. More public money and time has been wasted.
Highways England (then the Highways Agency) wrote to Herefordshire Council dated 7 August 2014 saying “The Agency notes that that the South Wye Transport Package provided a series of complementary transport measures. This is welcomed in principle as under current guidance the building of new road infrastructure could only be justified in policy terms when other avenues such as travel planning and sustainable travel modes had been developed and shown not to address the transport needs and issues identified.” (emphasis added)
When Herefordshire Transport Alliance (HTA) asked the Council in late 2015 to take account of these views – specifically that policy called for road building to be sanctioned only when other non-road options had been evaluated – the response was that this letter had not been received.
On being provided a copy of this letter, the Council told HTA that Highways England’s comments should be interpreted to mean that travel planning and sustainable travel modes should be assessed (as in a desktop analysis) and that they did not mean the non-road options should be implemented and tested ‘on the ground’.
While it is unfortunate that the Council lost the original Highways England communication, of real concern was their reaction to being provided with a copy.
The Council to date have not provided any evidence to show that they have analysed the effectiveness of non-road measures as they themselves suggest is the thrust of HE’s comment above. Instead, as we have made clear earlier, they have dropped all such measures from the scheme, effectively ignoring HE’s position.
7. Agricultural Impact Assessment (AIA)
The South Wye Transport Package ES Non-Technical Summary (April 2015) states “The most significant adverse effects associated with the Scheme is due to the loss of the approximately 31.2ha of arable farm land, which is considered likely to be classified as Grade 2 – Best and Most Versatile. However, the loss of agricultural land will be balanced by the beneficial impacts on Development Land and Herefordshire Council’s planning policy for growth.” (emphasis added)
Despite acknowledging the seriousness of the loss of quality agricultural land, the Environmental Impact Assessment accompanying the planning application for the SLR does not include any formal assessment of the impact. It does not put forward a view on the magnitude of the impact (e.g. Minor-Adverse, Moderate-Adverse, Major-Adverse), nor does it assess the impact on viability of the agricultural businesses that will lose high grade land. It also completely ignores the loss of the Grade 1 (highest grade) agricultural land between the A465 and the Clehonger Road.
Guidance in The Design Manual for Road Building calls for an AIA where more than 20ha of “best or most versatile land” (Grades 1,2 and 3a) is to be lost. Other road schemes elsewhere have included an AIA – eg Cornwall A30 Temple to Higher Carblake Improvement where only 12ha of lower grade land was to be lost, and Port of Immingham (20ha of land permanently lost).
It is highly unsatisfactory to dismiss the impact, described as ‘Significant Adverse’, in a couple of sentences saying it will be balanced by anticipated beneficial effects elsewhere sometime in the future. These “benefits” are not clearly described anywhere and there is no guarantee that these anticipated benefits would ever be achieved.
8. Ley’s Farm – loss of land and access restriction
The SC2 route will cut through one the fields owned by Leys Farm. Not only will it take out of productive use the land occupied by the road itself, but it isolates a section of the field which will be left without any viable means of access. We understand the owner has been unable to persuade Council to provide an access arrangement from the new road to this piece of land.
This concern would have been identified had a formal Agricultural Impact Assessment been carried out as required by the DfT. It would have also formed part of the “cost” arising from the construction of this road and been included in the BCR calculation.
9. School Transport
The Council is aware that a major factor in traffic congestion in the City is the ‘school run’. Last month a Cabinet member suggested that a primary school in South Wye should not be enlarged to meet local demand, because of access problems. Money being spent on the proposals for the Southern Link Road (we understand in the order of £1m for Parsons Brinkerhof) could have been spent to better effect on measures such as ‘safe routes to schools’ and improved public transport.
If you require any further information or background please do not hesitate to contact us. Once again, many thanks for your time and consideration of these matters.
John Llewellyn- Perkins
APPENDIX – more specifics on Clehonger Link – mostly drawn from Parish Council meetings and communications.
29/5/2014 David Taylor reported the route of link road was not yet fixed and could go either side of Haylease Wood. Clehonger Parish Council minutes.
June – nothing minuted.
19/6/2014 notice of exhibition at Three Counties was circulated to parish councillors by ward councillor.
1/7/2014 details of exhibition for Final public consultation on Core Strategy before Government submission, circulated to PC by ward councillor – this did include the map showing extension to Clehonger Road as now defined. No one in Clehonger would have had forewarning of this alteration unless they had attended Parish Council and this was the day before the exhibition.
1-3 July 2014 Exhibition at Three Counties
31/7 A paper had been received outlining the history of the progress of the concept for the road including background, provisional endorsement of the Southern Link Road, consultations and the information that funding had been obtained. Further information would follow at a later date. (Parish Council minutes)
August – no Parish Council meeting
18/9/2014 Cllr Taylor updated the meeting on the Core Strategy which had been deposited with the Inspector. There was an update on relief road initiatives and possible roundabout sitings and route options Parish Council meeting
23/10/2014 Cllr Taylor explained further details regarding the A49, A465 link road and it was anticipated that a planning application for this would be submitted in December 2014/January 2015. There was still some discussion as to the exact connection point although some ideas had been presented. (Parish Council Minutes)
19/02/2015 Mr & Mrs Harris of Pykeways, attended the Parish Council meeting to inform them that they had discovered the proposed Clehonger Link road was going through their garden. All councilors present including Cllr Taylor appeared very surprised and agreed to write immediately to Hereford Council objecting to these plans.