CA-WN's transport specialist uses a current local example to illustrate why public service development needs to keep in step with housing development.
I came across this article in the Chronicle & Echo recently:
Angry residents highlighting that the Sandy Lane Relief Road near Harpole has not provided any kind of relief now for over 10 years. This is because the housing project it relied upon fell through; it has been dubbed the 'road to nowhere'. I predict (and I stress this is only my personal prediction) it may soon not be alone in deserving this epithet.
Housing has been proposed for the area known as Dallington Grange, located on the north western outskirts of Northampton town, for some time and in recent years developments have started. Those of us who travel regularly down the Welford road (A5199) will have noticed the new road layouts and the new roundabout on the Brampton Lane junction. The new road, known as the North West Relief Road, necessary for opening the land up to housing, has not been without its challenges.
The council applied for funding1 from the levelling up fund back in 2021 but were rejected and, at least as far as I can see, we never found out why. A request was made for feedback at the Cabinet meeting held in December 20212 but following this the trail runs cold. It doesn't matter though because an emergency £20 million loan was agreed. Following a Freedom of Information request relating to this funding the following information was given:
'A decision was made in December 2021 by West Northants Council to proceed with the NNWR and borrow additional funding to complete the scheme ahead of developer funding being received to enable the Council scheme to be completed as planned.'
There were concerns raised about the manner in which this loan was agreed at the time, particularly as full council was bypassed despite the fact there appeared to have been the opportunity. This is also expressed in the December 2021 cabinet minutes2:
'It was noted that the report could have been presented at the December 2021 Council meeting.'
Equally, we never hear too much relating to the interest on the loan:
5.1.7. The potential revenue impact would be as follows if borrowing was taken out over a 20 year period would be as follows (sic):
· 2022-23 £0.4m
· 2023-23 £1.2m (recurring for the duration of the loan)
The report1 also informed Cabinet that part of the road will be constructed by the developers at Dallington Grange (and here we chime with Sandy Lane).
4.2. Phase one of the scheme is the section from the A428 to a roundabout near Grange Farm, just south of the railway line and will be constructed by the developers of Dallington Grange. The first section of phase 1 has already been constructed as part of the Harlestone Gate development
This is backed up by the Cabinet minutes2, the Executive Director of Place and Economy stating:
· It was advised that part of the road would also be built by the developers.
And Councillor Phil Larratt noting:
· The contingency worries were understood.
And then this from the report1:
It seems pretty clear to me that if the Dallington Grange developers don't start work on their side, regardless of the council being able to complete their section of the road, the North West Relief road will not be providing any relief, it will not connect the A1599 to the A428. I asked the question directly in my FOI, is completion of the North West Relief road contingent on the progress of this development? The response was as follows:
The delivery of the Northampton North West Relief Road scheme by West Northants is not contingent on the progress of the Dallington Grange SUE development and will be completed in Summer 2024. The NNWR WNC scheme will link into the Dallington Grange infrastructure that will form part of the strategic link across from A508/A43 to A4500 and work on this will commence in 2024 by Persimmon. This will be progressed in parallel with the residential development and once completed to the Council’s satisfaction, after a two year maintenance period, this will become adopted formally as Public Highway.
There is a coyness within the wording but I take this to demonstrate that the full connection between the A5199 and the A428 will likely not be available in summer 2024 noting that it states work on Persimmon’s side of the road will commence in 2024. Perhaps they have a right to be coy given the story below, note who the developer was in this case too:
We know the council have made significant progress on their end having even negotiated the railway bridge3.
However, drone footage uploaded to YouTube4 by a local resident seems to show that progress ends at this point. This is concerning as the part of the road beyond the railway bridge falls within the remit of Persimmon.
Suffice to say, I'm not holding out for Summer 2024.
Of course, regardless of whether the two main roads are connected or not by the Summer of this year (and I am happy to be proven wrong in this case), ‘relief road’ is still a misleading title. The road will provide access to a new housing estate full of people and their cars. In truth, there is a housing crisis in this country, we do need new houses and the location of this development is as reasonable as any (though it is noteworthy that only a small percentage of the housing in this particular development is going to be 'affordable'5).
However, we also need to dramatically reimagine how people are going to travel and, unfortunately, active travel does not seem to have been factored into these new developments. I can't see cycle lanes in any of the streets of Buckton Fields, an already built development nearby, for example. Indeed, public services in general seem to be an afterthought when it comes to housing development in this area - look at this article6 on the Buckton Fields Primary School debacle. In no way is having to rebuild a school the outcome of sustainable practices.
There is also a tacit recognition that the road in its original form won’t be sufficient to cater for the needs of the housing estate and surrounding population. It is noted within the council report mentioned above that space is being allowed for the possibility of dualling. This isn’t surprising given the induced demand effect of roads, an effect that is taken seriously enough that reviews on the effect have been completed for the Department for Transport7.
It is important that we get our arguments right within the environmental movement. We should be careful not to fall into the trap of nimbyism. Not every new housing development is bad, in fact not every new road is bad (I know, I just said that!) but they must be well thought out. In the case of roads, we should view them as supplementary to preferable travel options: train, bus, bike, foot. We have a duty to protect the natural world and the health of future generations; encompassed within this is the duty to call out unsustainable finance and lack of transparency. Also, to call out when housing development doesn't keep in step with public service development. Sustainability needs to permeate all of our actions, particularly the actions of our local councils and our governments.