THE chances of securing a vital extension of Thamesdown Drive are looking increasingly remote as Swindon Council faces a £1m bill to continue with the project.
So far £80,000 has been spent on drawing up plans for the ring road link to put forward to the Chancellor, who failed to allocate any money for the £60m project in the Autumn Statement.
And after questioning the decision, councillors and MPs have been told they would have to spend a quarter of the town’s major transport budget over the next five years to continue, as well as allowing further housing developments in the west of Swindon.
Keith Williams, cabinet member for highways, strategic transport and leisure, said he was uneasy spending £1m on a project with no guarantee of approval.
“When we discovered we had not received any money from central government we inquired as to the reasons why, and were told we needed more local buy-in from the Local Enterprise Partnership of Wiltshire and Swindon,” he said.
Funding from central government for transport bodies within the LEP has been cut from £18m to £12m, reducing the amount available for Swindon.
“The road scheme that is preferred would cost in the region of £60m, and because money is allocated per capita, you could argue that the population of Swindon would only receive £4m of the LEP funds,” said Coun Williams.
“Given the work we have done so far, the next stage would be to produce a detailed design of the road, which would cost £600,000.
“On top of that we would need to spend £400,000 to redo the traffic network as a whole.
“What we found after going to Whitehall is the route we would have to take is through growth-point funding. Growth in Swindon is currently planned for the east of the town. Development for the west, which could fund this road, would have to be locked in to the Wiltshire potential for growth to the west.
“We do not necessarily want that development, but we would not be able to fund this road unless it goes ahead. There is a chance that would go ahead anyway, but it puts us in a very difficult position.
“I am reluctant to commit £1m to take this to the next stage when there is no guarantee of funding.
“To commit 25 per cent of our major transport budget for a scheme that may not happen we would not be at all comfortable with.”
Kevin Fisher, chairman of the Shaw Residents’ Association, said the government was putting the council in an untenable position.
“To require local authorities to gamble taxpayers’ money in the hope that afterwards they would release the money to complete the project seems unreasonable. They should give some guarantee it would be forthcoming,” he said.
“I do not believe we should drop it. It is a vital project. In terms of future development, whether this road gets built or not, history tells us more land to the west is going to get developed.”
Haydon Wick parish council chairman Richard Hailstone said the council should have acted faster to secure the project. “I am naturally disappointed, but I can’t say I am surprised,” he said.
“I think Swindon Council have been dragging their feet on this issue. Money used for other areas could have been used for preparatory work and to get plans ready.
“All the new developments, taken together, amount to several thousand more vehicles on the roads every day. Twenty years ago, when the northern development was in the planning stage, it recognised the need for a link road. Twenty years on we have nothing, and extra developments are now a recipe for disaster.”