The idea of a completing the Bristol ring road by providing the missing links in South & East Bristol has been around a long time. The route across South Bristol has been protected for decades but somehow to date it has never been delivered. Every time it has reared its ugly head environmental campaigners, politicians and local communities have opposed it and the final decision has never been made to implement.
And so it seems we are going round that very same loop all over again. The ring road, or the South Bristol Link as it is now called, is back on the agenda and planning applications have been submitted to Bristol and North Somerset Councils. The environmental lobby and local people are rachetting up their opposition and the LEP and business groups are pulling together their supporters ready for yet another battle.
One of the questions that always springs to my mind when considering this issue, as I have 2-3 times as a local councillor and more recently as a business representative, is what is the problem we are trying to solve with this very expensive solution? The answer invariably is crafted around reducing congestion and opening up access to South Bristol.Two very worthy matters that certainly need addressing, but I would argue that we appear to be stuck on a solution that was developed 20-30 years ago and haven’t spent any reasonable time in open debate about other better, cheaper and more acceptable solutions. Is that right and does it really solve the problem?
The route of the SBL through Highridge and Hartcliffe is challenging to say the least. The route takes us across common land, down residential streets and along green spaces between houses. Is that what improving access is about in a 21st century green city? At the other end of the route there are plans to put in place a roundabout on the A370 dual carriageway close to the Long Ashton Park & Ride, a road already severely congested at peak times. How does that help? With the added complication of linking across green space between the A370 and the A38 (across what is currently contested as a village green) the route seems fraught with all kinds of problems.
Yet the LEP and local councils seem determined to continue against all the opposition that has existed over the years and against what is likely to be even greater opposition this time. So who is right, are the opponents just looking after their own self interest, and acting like typical Nimbys, are the councils wrong and just chasing government funding and will providing a link road through South Bristol really encourage businesses to move there and solve congestion problems?
Only time will tell whether or not such a road will create jobs and encourage business to locate in the area, but all my instincts tell me that providing improved road access to South Bristol is only a very minor part of the problem. Businesses will still not locate there if the office/business space is not attractive, the right skills are not available locally and the local environment doesn’t provide what their staff need.
Isn’t it time our local decision makers started to think about real solutions that local people sign up to and want instead of funding led solutions that meet government agendas but may not actually solve the problems they claim to be trying to solve?