In 1933, with America in the icy grip of the Great Depression which had wreaked havoc on the economy, US President Franklin D Roosevelt announced a “New Deal” to the American people.
It centred on a series of public works programmes, gigantic infrastructure projects such as the Hoover Dam and the Lincoln Tunnel, which employed thousands and injected vast sums into the economy. As well as having a financial impact, they spurred a gloomy and shell-shocked nation back to life. “The only thing we have to fear…is fear itself” said FDR in his rallying inaugural address.
Here in Cheltenham, it’s not too grandiose to claim we have our own New Deal. It doesn’t involve dams or tunnels, but it does involve the thick end of nearly a billion pounds of investment into our local economy. That will help us bounce back again strongly when this virus has passed.
That’s because at the last Budget the Chancellor Rishi Sunak confirmed that the £400m Air Balloon roads project had been included in the RIS 2 (Road Investment Strategy 2) budget for 2020-2024. All that is required now is for planning permission to be secured and the works can begin. Junction 10 of M5 will also be made four-way – another £200m investment for the county.
In the heart of Cheltenham itself, work on the £23m government-funded cyber project is expected to start in early summer with investment in the Arle Court roundabout and the A40 eastbound from Junction 11. Further infrastructure improvements for Benhall roundabout are expected next year.
Right now we need to hold firm and remain focused on observing the lockdown. Cheltenham is showing an iron resolve to do so. We recognise the need to preserve capacity at CGH and GRH, and also protect the astonishingly brave and skilled clinicians on the front line.
But this lockdown will eventually end. And when it does, there will be a brighter future. Cheltenham will flourish again.