Air Balloon upgrade at risk?


There are fears that work on the A417 ‘Missing Link’ could be delayed as ministers face a £1billion funding gap in their road investment plans.

Concerns have been raised over whether construction on the notorious Air Balloon by pass will now take place in 2021 as planned. 

A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) reveals planning for the Government’s £11billion road building project was rushed through in order to be ready for the 2015 General Election. 

According to a report released last year, ministers face an £841million hole in funding, meaning 16 upgrades to motorways or A-roads could be shelved or face significant redesign.

Now in a newly released report, the NAO has said: “[The Department for Transport] did not integrate plans for enhancement, renewal and maintenance work, which could have saved money and reduced disruption for road users”.

The project was set to cover 112 upgrades in five years from April 2015. The NAO added that 19 projects could be delayed to after 2020.

They concluded: “If the Department and Highways England [the body tasked with delivering the project], do not take decisive action before Highways England publishes the next iteration of its delivery plan in summer 2017, there is a risk that the first Road Investment Strategy will not deliver optimal value, and that current challenges are carried forward into future road investment periods.” 

Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Gloucestershire County Council, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton & Northleach) has campaigned for years to fix the ‘Missing Link’. He represents some of the area currently gridlocked by holdups on the A417:

“The ‘Missing Link’ has been a problem for Gloucestershire for more than 20 years. It is often very heavily congested seeing up to 45,000 vehicles a day and there are frequent tragic accidents with more than 340 casualties in the past 15 years.

“In July last year, I wrote a letter to the Transport Secretary asking him to reconfirm the funding commitment in solving the ‘Missing Link’ problem. I welcomed the positive response, but this newly released report is damning.

“The National Audit Office is also stating that 19 projects could be delayed until after 2020 - this may include the A417 ‘Missing Link’ or mean it goes further down the queue of projects. It is extremely worrying and once again throws up lots of uncertainty as to whether this stretch of road will ever be fixed.” 

Cllr Nigel Robbins (Cirencester Beeches) who represents another part of the A417 added:

“Local residents, campaigners and elected representatives have for decades been lobbying both local and national government to find a solution. It is well known for being a significant bottleneck and has the worst average vehicle delay of all strategic routes in the South West.

“More than 6,600 people pledged their support to a petition in January 2014 when it seemed we had finally turned a corner in delivering a solution. 

“We are now once again left with a lot of doubt over whether or not the scheme will go ahead and reach completion. It is very disappointing.” 

“We will ensure the Conservative Government keeps to its commitment of solving this problem and we will continue to campaign to get it fixed.”

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