After the positive news last week about major investment to clean up the River Chelt, this week it’s the turn of Cheltenham’s transport infrastructure. I was delighted to travel to Stockwell Farm to meet apprentices, engineers and the other Gloucestershire MPs to mark the start of the construction phase on the £400m Air Balloon investment scheme.
It marked a key milestone in a ten-year campaign. Back in 2013, before I was an MP, I promised that if elected I would fight to deliver a solution for a problem that had dogged our town for decades, cost too many lives and inflicted too much traffic misery.
Now after five Transport Secretaries, four route proposals, three House of Commons questions to the Prime Minister, one public inquiry and countless meetings with Highways officials, construction is now fully underway.
I and others have been so determined to get the project over the line, because the A417 near the Air Balloon is currently one of the most congested roads in Gloucestershire. This project will reduce snarl-ups, improve safety and deliver significant economic benefits to Cheltonians.
And it will do so while conserving the surrounding landscape. With the old road being returned to nature, the aim is to deliver no net biodiversity loss as a result of the scheme. Already the A417 project team is working to promote nature, with 22 staff-members visiting Cleeve Common and Leckhampton Common in October to clear scrub and gorse so that the diversity-rich grasslands are able to flourish.
This Government investment is a vote of confidence in Cheltenham’s economic future. Taken together with recent progress on our buses, trains and gigabit broadband, our town is on track to become one of the best connected in Britain.
And when you add in the £24m Government funding for the cyber hub, £11m for GlosCol and £6m for UGlos’ digital offer, Cheltenham is modernising too.
We need to. I know from recent ministerial visits to India, Japan and America that we are in a tight global race. Past successes mean nothing. To win again, we have to modernise, invest and work hard. I’m delighted that in Cheltenham we’re not wasting time.
[Column published in the Cheltenham Post and Gloucestershire Echo]