Funding for schemes to address Towcester traffic problems confirmed by government - but not weight restriction

MP welcomes minister's commitment but disappointed by U-turn, while councillor remains sceptical

Wednesday, 6th October 2021, 2:05 pm
Updated Wednesday, 6th October 2021, 2:06 pm

The government has confirmed it will provide funding for schemes aimed at alleviating traffic problems in Towcester.

Traffic calming measures in the town centre and signs for the new 'relief road' will be paid for by National Highways (NH), the roads minister told Dame Andrea Leadsom.

The South Northamptonshire MP welcomed the confirmation but is disappointed a weight restriction for the town centre will not be included, as previously announced.

South Northamptonshire MP Dame Andrea Leadsom (centre) visited the Towcester relief road construction site in June

“The Towcester relief road is a top priority for our area, and has been one of my main priorities since I was elected as MP," she said.

"I am pleased with the confirmation that National Highways will be funding the installation of signage and traffic calming measures which will help to alleviate the traffic and air quality problems in Towcester."

The 40mph, single-carriageway relief road will connect the A5 to the A43 and is designed to ease traffic congestion through Towcester town centre, with work starting in December last year.

The final part of the planning permission was approved in February last year as part of a new housing development of nearly 3,000 homes.

On September 10, Dame Andrea announced a raft of measures funded by the Department for Transport after a meeting with Roads Minister Baroness Vere, West Northamptonshire Council, Persimmon Homes and NH, formerly Highways England.

The MP said new signs on the A5 would direct traffic to the relief road and away from the town centre and changes would be made to the new road's lane markings and hatching at junctions to make it safer with more lorries using it.

The traffic calming measures, such as raised tables and pedestrian crossings,‘ street scape environment’ and weight restriction, with through traffic signed along the relief road, would need to be agreed with Towcester Town Council, Dame Andrea added.

Baroness Vere wrote to Dame Andrea on September 17, which was received 10 days later, confirming the signage and traffic calming - to be installed following the new road's completion- but not the weight restriction.

"I am pleased to reiterate National Highways’ commitment to support a solution that will help to alleviate the traffic and air quality problems in Towcester, and can confirm that NH will be supporting the development of the proposed solution under option two, as discussed in our meeting," the minister wrote.

"This option involves installation of NH signs to direct north-south traffic via the new road as well as a complementary programme of traffic calming measures on Towcester High Street to make it less attractive as a through route.

"A range of traffic calming measures have been proposed and will be developed further subject to consultation with the local community and approval by West Northamptonshire Council.

"However, the package we discussed does not include a proposal to impose a weight limit on Towcester High Street.

"This would be impractical due to the heavy goods vehicles traffic that would still require access to the town centre as a destination.

"NH aims to deliver both the signage and traffic calming measures on Towcester High Street when the new road is opened so that it can act as a diversion route for when the proposed measures on the high street are being installed."

Dame Andrea said she was disappointed by the comments on weight restrictions and HGV movements and would be challenging the assertion about the number of HGVs wanting to come into Towcester for deliveries.

"I recall National Highways agreeing that a weight restriction is possible on a sensitive section of an A road, and has been put in place in other locations," she said.

"I believe the issue of HGVs wanting to deliver in Towcester merits further investigation of alternative routes into the town that would not need to use the town centre itself.

"I will continue to work with all stakeholders to deliver the construction of the relief road by 2023."

National Highways regional director Andrew Jinks said they are working closely with the council to 'develop and deliver' the measures.

“We understand that traffic has been an ongoing concern for the people of Towcester for some time and continue to work with our partners to tackle those issues and ease traffic flow in the town centre," he added.

Towcester town councillor Martin Johns was skeptical of the plan as a solution for the town's problems with lorries, which he believes can only be solved by detrunking the A5.

The councillor believes traffic-calming measures would be 'difficult, if not impossible' to implement as well as unpopular with residents and business owners.

"We already have traffic calming, it’s called congestion. The A5 through the town centre must be detrunked, so a weight restriction and 20 mile speed limit can be imposed - a 'clean air zone' is what Towcester needs," he said.

"Towcester wants visitors to continue to come into town by car, but preferably by much improved public transport, by walking or cycling. Towcester needs to be free from polluting HGVs. What’s been announced will not achieve this.”