In the 1980s Guinness ad execs told us that “good things come to those who wait”. They were talking about beer of course, but they might just as well have been referring to the proposals to fix the notorious A417 bottleneck at the Air Balloon.
Well, now we’ve got to the crucial public consultation stage. Thank you to the many local people I met at the information event at St Andrew’s Church on Saturday.
It’s difficult to over-estimate the importance of this scheme. It represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to save lives, generate jobs and end traffic misery for tens of thousands.
The sums involved are vast. The £500 million price tag represents over 16% of the total annual £3 billion roads budget for the whole country. That’s a whopping proportion earmarked for Gloucestershire. And after our recent successes winning millions of pounds for Cheltenham’s cyber park, secondary schools funding, town centre housing and vital homelessness reduction projects, I’m proud that Cheltenham has once again been made a national priority.
It’s been a long slog to get this far. The refusal of Cheltenham politicians in the past to back the scheme was disappointing and was said at the time to have thrown it into jeopardy. But with the support of local people we’ve got it back on track.
Since 2015 I have held seven meetings with transport ministers to press for this scheme, as well as numerous round tables with Highways Agency engineers. And only a matter of weeks ago I was delighted that Theresa May confirmed to me she backed the plans at Prime Minister’s Questions.
Now I know there some who are still arguing for a tunnel. But with a cost put conservatively at £1 billion it’s a non-starter. There’s no conceivable way that one third of the total UK annual roads budget could be allocated to a single scheme. And it would inevitably fail viability assessments. No, we have to be pragmatic. We’ve won an enormous sum and it’s time to get behind a shortlisted option.
Then let’s get on and build this road. Or in the language of another advertising slogan, “Just Do It”.