MP refuses to back homes plan which includes Whitchurch Lane link

March 29 2019
New road could carry 20,000 vehicles a day, bringing pollution and hazards to schoolchildren, says Karin Smyth

SOUTH Bristol’s Labour MP has taken the unusual step of not backing a major housing bid for government funds – because she thinks it could lead to a controversial new link road leading to Whitchurch Lane.

SOUTH Bristol’s Labour MP has taken the unusual step of not backing a major housing bid for government funds – because she thinks it could lead to a controversial new link road leading to Whitchurch Lane.

Karin Smyth says she will tell the housing minister about her concerns over the new road, and her reluctance to back the entire £250 million regional Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF).

Whitchurch residents are heartily opposed to the possibility of the new South Bristol ring road being routed down Whitchurch Lane, which they say is too narrow and will take vehicles too close to children and homes.

Mayor Marvin Rees faced about 300 angry protesters at St Augustine’s church in Whitchurch in January.

He calmed the mood somewhat by saying that residents could suggest alternative routes for the road to council officials.

But Ms Smyth believes the road is still on the cards, and is contained in the draft  HIF bid backed by Bristol city council and managed by Weca (the West of England Combined Authority). 

The MP said: “The draft application suggests this new road could see 20,000 vehicles a day on Whitchurch Lane – driving past homes and a primary school. Thousands of local people have told me they are worried about pollution, road safety and the impact on wildlife and I share these concerns. 

“Almost 1,000 letters of opposition to the new road proposal were delivered to the West of England Combined Authority just last week, as the consultation for the Joint Local Transport Plan closed; it is premature to include such a widely-opposed new road in this bid without taking stock of these views and the wider picture.”

The Voice has asked Weca and Bristol city council for comment, and for sight of the draft HIF bid.

Mayor Marvin Rees responded to the MP’s comments, saying that other routes remained a possibility. But doing nothing was not an option, he said.

Ms Smyth said part of her concern was rooted in fears over air quality in Bristol, with 300 deaths a year linked to emissions. 

“Air pollution has been shown to contribute to a range of health problems, including impaired lung development in babies and young children, asthma and lung cancer with newer research indicating a link to diabetes, heart disease and dementia,” she said.

“We know that the main cause of air pollution in Bristol is traffic. Bristol South already suffers from some of the highest levels of ill-health in the city and this new road, and the thousands of polluting vehicles coming into the area, would exacerbate that. Health and housing are both very important and one should not come at the expense of the other.”

 She pointed out that both Bristol city council and Bath & North East Somerset council recently declared a Climate Emergency. Both councils are looking at introducing Clean Air Zones in the city centres to address poor air quality – though a plan to tackle illegal air quality in Bristol is long overdue.

Ms Smyth said: “I'm pleased to hear that Bristol city council is this week writing to the government about its overdue Air Quality Plan, the full detail of which is yet to be made public. Pressing ahead with this ill-conceived road plan and inviting 20,000 cars into Bristol South is in direct conflict with the city's obligation to improve air quality.  

For these reasons, I will not support plans for this road and cannot support this bid in its current guise. I have spoken to the Minister responsible for Housing and Planning and will be meeting with him next week to discuss this further. I will continue to press for the homes and infrastructure we need here in Bristol South; this new road is not the answer.”

Mr Rees said: “Bristol faced a housing crisis in 2016, so housing was Labour’s number one election issue and I put it at the top of my administration’s agenda. Other parties rolled their eyes when I pledged to get Bristol building 2,000 new homes – including 800 affordable – per year by 2020. Local Labour councillors, who support our HIF bid, and I just rolled up our sleeves and got on with the job: that’s why we are on course to exceed our ambitious targets.

“I have spoken to hundreds of residents out in Whitchurch and Stockwood about the proposed road. These plans went out to consultation and other options remain on the table, including alternative routes. The homes are coming. We can either put our heads in the sand and not build the necessary infrastructure, or we can work with communities to find solutions that work for all of us.

“My administration is working with residents, developers and Government to deliver for Bristol, including through this £250m bid to unlock 17,000 homes, including affordable homes. Improving transport links in the area is essential to the inclusive growth of South Bristol’s economy and to the sustainability of jobs for residents in that area of Bristol.  

“I am sure, that despite her reservations around the road proposals that will be further consulted on, Karin will realise the need to support our key housing infrastructure bid given its importance to south Bristol residents.”