It was a ‘battle of the battle busses’ in Peterborough city centre on Saturday, as the A47 dualling question hots up.
Highways England (HE) parked its mobile visitor centre at St John’s Square in the centre of Peterborough last weekend, laden with maps, diagrams and video presentations for the public to view as part of the ongoing consultation over the proposed new A47 dual carriageway.
On a wet and windy afternoon, this was the latest of a series of public consultations intended to demonstrate three routing options for the A47. People were invited into the warm and dry surroundings of HE’s visitor centre, where the preferred route for the dualling of the A47 between Wansford and Sutton was on show.
Outside in the rain were a group of local protesters arguing for a different route who were due to have their own ‘battle bus’ parked right alongside HE, but were banned from doing so by Peterborough City Council apparently on ‘health and safety’ reasons.
Chairman of the Community Consultancy Team, Mick Grange, said: “We have never opposed the dualling of the A47, quite the opposite in fact. We just want the route to run a few meters further north to that preferred by HE, for environmental reasons.
“Peterborough City Council told us that they ‘didn’t want any trouble between us and the HE people’, even though we originally came up with the idea of a battle bus, and have parked ours outside three previous locations where HE have held their consultancy, with no trouble of any kind.
“A spokesperson for the council told us that we could erect a small gazebo if we wanted to, but the weather was so wet and windy it would’ve offered no shelter to the public or our documents.
“At the last moment PCC relented and allowed our ‘battle bus’ to be parked outside the back of the Town Hall on St Peter’s Road, where we invited the public to come and see the real truth about the so-called ‘preferred route’.”
Robbie Reid, a local farmer who owns land that would be compulsory purchased if the HE preferred route goes ahead, explained: “Work is due to begin in March 2020, but nobody is listening to us locals who know the area best and simply want to point out errors in the preferred route.
“Apart from destroying an ancient wood with 300-400 year oak trees, potentially killing three bat roosts, smooth and crested newt nests and various flora and fauna, the ground HE have chosen has a nasty tendency to flood as it did in March 2018 and even worse in 1998, and again in 2007 – but they simply won’t listen to our warnings.”
The protesters group, who call themselves: “A47 dualling – ‘Yes’; ‘No’ to the southern alignment”, also invited members of the public into their ‘battle bus’ where more maps, imagery and diagrams were laid out.
Among the many people who viewed both sets of plans, the overwhelming response appears to have been that HE have got its ‘preferred route’ wrong and should be listening to local views: “Leave the wonders of mother earth alone, there is no reason to destroy woodland,” said Shaed Younis.
“Peterborough is the Environmental Capital and should strongly defend the woodland and other flora and fauna,” said Stuart Killingray.
“It’s time the whole of the A47 should be dualled and without unnecessary destruction of the environment,” said Mr and Mrs Tomkins and Michael and Rosemary Hastings.
“Please avoid the destruction of trees, I totally disagree with the HE preferred route,” said Mrs J Sillwood.
“The road should go to the north and avoid the trees and keep away from the river. Historic England should be more flexible,” said Mr G Mills.
“We want the road dualling, but HE must respect the fabulous but fragile natural environment about the River Nene,” said Antonia Pounsett.
“HE should never be allowed to destroy protected trees, it’s just wrong,” said Ms E Lakey and Mr D Hitchins.
In 2014, the UK Government established the ‘Road Investment Strategy’ which identified the East of England as an area in dire need of investment, including six schemes along the A47 which has a number of congestion hotspots around Norwich, Peterborough and Great Yarmouth.
There have been enormous traffic delays and concerns regarding road safety on the A47 following the large number of accidents (some with fatalities), and this, coupled with projections for significant growth along the length of the route through Norfolk, means that the project has huge local significance.
Once the consultation closes in November 2018, Highways England will review and consider the public feedback before making further refinements to the A47 dualling design.
A report will be published showing how the proposals have been informed and influenced by the public consultation response, and from this a planning application will be submitted in Spring 2019.
Neither Highways England, Peterborough City Council nor Heritage England were available for comment.
Robert Alexander, Local Democracy Reporting Service