We need to tackle Bradford on Avon’s Congestion problem now

My latest column in the Wiltshire Times about tackling Bradford on Avon’s congestion problem.
Michelle Donelan's column in the Wiltshire Times 18 Dec 15 Bradford on AvonWhenever I speak with businesses, residents or visitors to Bradford on Avon the number one issue that is raised with me is, almost always, traffic. The unique nature of the geography, topology and antiquated infrastructure in the beautiful historic town combine to produce a potent mix of congestion, poor air quality and delays.

As someone who believes passionately in community and thriving town centres we must do all we can to support the fantastic independent shops that enhance the town. Shopkeepers, publicans, traders and residents all tell me how serious this problem is – and we must listen and take action.
This problem does not just affect Bradford on Avon. The congestion through the town has an impact on Staverton, Hilperton, Holt and wider afield in Melksham and Trowbridge as journey times to and from those areas are increased. It’s a bottleneck that has far reaching implications.

So what can be done? Some believe that an Historic Core Zone was a solution, but that was rejected by the town in a poll, others champion a one-way system, whilst others strongly oppose even a trial of that scheme. As local people will know, the main pinch point is the town’s bridge and mini-roundabout where the road is narrow and the pavements are tight in places and non-existent in others. A new river crossing is almost certainly needed to remove some of the through traffic from the town, which is likely to require a relief road. Relief roads with associated bridges for river and rail, potentially tunnels and other infrastructure are expensive beasts, way beyond the pockets of our local councils. A grander plan is needed, but very often grand plans are time consuming and potentially politically challenging.

Earlier this year I brought the Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, to see the problem for himself. He was able to see the chaos that occurs when there is gridlock and acknowledged that there is a significant problem. Last week, in Parliament, I asked him what steps we should take to begin the process of finding a solution. He confirmed that we need to produce a comprehensive, costed, supported plan locally and present that to Department of Transport for consideration. I am now arranging a delegation from the town to meet with Wiltshire Council to begin these talks.

There are certainly no cheap simple solutions to the problem. If there were, it would have been done years ago. The problem has been building for years and is only likely to get worse until a solution is reached. What is absolutely clear is that something does need to be done, but there will not be a quick fix.

I am not an infrastructure expert and do not have all the answers, however, there needs to be a wide discussion, and we must grasp the nettle sooner rather than later before the town is strangled by congestion.