If there’s one thing in Stratford everybody has an opinion on it’s transport, whether you’re seething about the state of the Birmingham Road or fretting the impact of traffic lights on the Clopton Bridge.
The town seems to have more than its fair share of problems to overcome and last week Stratford District Council published an update on the progress of the Stratford Transport Strategy, the action plan agreed with the county council to address these issues.
Although the report shows a little progress in some areas, there is frustration about a lack of action in others, notably towards Warwickshire County Council, which leads on many areas related to transport.
This week the Herald takes a look at what has been done to improve transport in Stratford and where the various councils and other organisations could be doing better.
The single biggest gripe residents had at Stratford’s Transport Summits was congestion on Birmingham Road, but in 2017 there appeared something to celebrate when the £2.2million needed to fund an improvement scheme on the route was announced by Warwickshire County Council and the Department for Transport. The announcement eased anger over Stratford’s failure to win funding from the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership for the project.
However the project has been beset by delays. According to the council report this is due to higher than expected costs which have forced a redesign of the scheme. It was initially expected that much of the project would be completed in the 2019/20 financial year- that’s clearly not going to happen now.
HERALD VERDICT: FAIL
For an issue so important to residents, there appears on the face if it to have been very little progress made on improving the Birmingham Road. Back in November when the county council admitted the project had been delayed again, Stratford MP Nadhim Zahawi said the news was disappointing. We agree.
As businesses on Henley Street can attest to, widespread improvements are certainly underway. The £1.2million project, was successful in gaining a great deal of the cash from the CWLEP, with the district council and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust also chipping in considerably. The scheme has generally been welcomed, despite the inevitable disruption caused by improvements of this scale. As well as improving the look of Stratford’s most famous street, the work will also make it safer, with hostile vehicle mitigation measures being incorporated to prevent possible terrorist attacks.
HERALD VERDICT: SUCCESS
Although we reserve judgement on the finished scheme, it is hard to argue that the parties involved have not made swift progress on the improvements to Henley Street. The hope is that all will be finished by April’s Shakespeare’s Birthday Celebrations and Stratford will be well prepared to benefit as a tourist destination from Coventry’s year as UK Capital of Culture in 2021.
This is a hard one because relief roads in Stratford are such a controversial subject and some in the town will deem it a success if some such projects never happen in their current proposed state.
The most divisive of these projects is the South Western Relief Road, supported by the district council and the developer of Long Marston’s Garden Village, CALA Homes. They claim it is an essential measure to mitigate traffic coming into Stratford and CALA Homes say plans for 3,100 of the 3,500 homes proposed at the airfield rely on the road being built. However the project has faced determined opposition, most notably from the Stratford Residents Action Group (SRAG). The group say the road is proposed in the wrong place to ease congestion, will devastate local ecosystems and increase the risk of flooding.
They also point to the huge amount of public money the project would require to be built.
In terms of progress, an application for the road (which is linked to an application for the remaining 3,100 homes at the airfield) has been submitted, though it has been going through the planning process for a long time. A decision on the application was originally estimated to have been made in December 2018, than revised to September 2019 and now who knows…..?
Another project potentially on the horizon is the West of Shottery Relief Road, which developers of the Shottery site are conditioned to deliver. According to the district council, this scheme is going through a technical review at the county council and a construction start date has yet to be set.
HERALD VERDICT: THE JURY IS OUT
With projects this controversial we’re staying out of this one. There appears to be slow progress being made by those pushing for these relief roads, but there is certainly a big question mark still hanging over the SWRR, with the county council still waiting for a decision on a multi-million pound grant funding bid to the government to finance it. There is also the matter of the huge opposition the project faces.
Improvements to Stratford Station, costing £1.5million, are rapidly approaching their completion, with a host of enhanced passenger facilities set to open to the public. This project was a bit of a slow burner, with a slightly less ambitious scheme having first been announced way back in 2015. A start date in 2018 was missed and rail campaigners began to grow restless at the slow progress. However Last year Network Rail revealed they had increased the scale of the plans and boosted the initial budget of £750,000 to £1.5million.
Last May saw another boost to rail services as Chiltern Railways significantly increased the number of direct trains being offered between Stratford and London. According to the council’s report, progress is also being made on the Warwickshire Rail Strategy, which among other things plans to seek further improvements to services between Stratford-upon-Avon and London and increase service frequency between Stratford and Birmingham via Henley.
One sore point for rail campaigners though has been the district council’s stance towards any potential re-opening of the Stratford to Honeybourne line. Last year the authority decided not to focus efforts on re-establishing a heavy rail route on the historic route, having been put off by a report estimating a potential cost of £111million. However the Shakespeare Line Promotion Group have urged to council to commission an economic impact assessment investigating the economic benefits the route could bring, rather than just dismissing the project on the basis of the cost alone.
HERALD VERDICT: PARTIAL SUCCESS
It has taken too long for improvements at Stratford Station to begin, but they are well underway now, which can only be a good thing for the town. However there appears little appetite at the district council to pursue the idea of re-opening the Honeybourne line at this point. While there are undoubtedly many who would agree that the council is right not to push forward with a project so costly, some rail campaigners believe that the potential benefits of the line are simply being ignored.
Often mentioned as the most dangerous road in Stratford District, the A46 has been the scene of a number of serious accidents over the years. The A46 has also been recognised for its important role in the region’s economy and Stratford District Council is part of the A46 partnership, working with partners in the region to come up with a 20-year improvement plan for the route, which includes potential changes near Stratford.
In terms of safety changes, in 2018 Highways England announced improvements to the road’s dangerous junctions, at Haselor Hill and Bintion/Billesley. Highways England say they have completed design at the two dangerous junctions, but there is no date for such works to begin.
In the Long-term many are calling for the dualing of the A46, though this appears to be a long way down the road.
The junctions at the Marraway, Bishopton and Wildmoor roundabouts have all been identified for improvement and the district council says proposals are coming forward.
HERALD VERDICT: FAIL
There’s been a lot spoken about the need to improve the A46, but little appears to have really happened so far. Last year Cllr Mark Cargill, then deputy leader of the council, said he was disappointed about the slow progress on the A46 junction improvements, given the positive statements that had previously been made about the project by Highways England and Stratford MP Nadhim Zahawi.
Park and Ride: FAIL
Encouraging increased use of Stratford’s Park and Ride by improving the facility is an ambition in the Transport Strategy, yet last year the Herald revealed the county council was looking to sell a two-acre parcel of land within the car park area. Despite being questioned by the Herald, the county council has refused to say whether this land has been sold or not. Either way it is hard to see how selling part of the site aligns with trying to increase use of the facility.