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protester holds up Rotherwas relief road construction - Hereford


from the Western Daily Press - 25 May 2007

Green campaigner Martin Wyness tried to single-handedly stop plans to expand the city of Hereford into the countryside by chaining himself to a digger. Contractors arrived for work on the major project yesterday morning to find Mr Wyness chained to the giant JCB meant to plough the route of the £12 million Rotherwas relief road. And work was held up for several hours until police arrested the protester and took him into custody.

But placard-waving protesters who gathered to cheer on Mr Wyness warned the local council to expect further trouble if it continues to drive the city boundaries into the countryside. The Dinedor Hill Action Association Ltd has already lodged a High Court challenge to council plans to use a homes-for-roads deal with private developers to expand the city.

Councillors say the remote cathedral city needs to grow to bring it into the 21st century and have moved the city boundary on from an old railway line to the new road, which is being built between the A49 - the only main road into the south of the city - across the countryside in an arc to the Rotherwas industrial estate on the south-east side.

Advantage West Midlands is putting £9.5 million towards the £17.5m Rotherwas Futures Project, which includes the relief road and refurbishment of the industrial estate. But the council will plug the shortfall by allowing developers to build thousands of new homes between the old and new boundaries in return for cash contributions.

Residents say the building programme will eventually swallow up whole hamlets and villages and some have invested their life savings into a fighting fund to halt the plans. "People are resorting to this because they feel like the council are steamrollering things through," said campaign leader Peter Cocks who was protesting at Crize Green yesterday. "There is a serious lack of effective democracy and we are putting down a marker to let them know the people of Hereford have had enough."

Meanwhile, Mr Wyness, who was arrested for aggravated trespass and released on police bail yesterday afternoon, said the council should not be building a road that had been turned down three times by the Government and would increase congestion in the city centre by funneling drivers from the new houses over the bridge spanning the River Wye. He said: "They are building a road to nowhere that nobody wants but this Tory cabinet and a business on the industrial estate. It would be cheaper for them to relocate the business."

Historically, Hereford has struggled with its outdated transport system but plans to build a ring road around the city became so mired in debate that the Government dropped it off their main road building programme. Regeneration chiefs say poor transport links are putting off investors and some firms have threatened to quit the Rotherwas industrial estate because of the traffic jams.

But campaigners say the county should not sacrifice its best asset - rolling countryside and prime agricultural land - to keep the businessmen sweet and insist there are other solutions and other less intrusive places to build roads and houses. Villagers living in the south of the city say their landscapes are being sacrificed to fund the road-building programme because the council has gone against the advice of a government inspector to class the Bullinghope area as housing land in the Unitary Development Plan.

They claim councillors have done this solely to fund their road-building programme and will not be able to afford to judge future planning applications impartially because they will need money from developers to pay off loans for the access road. "The developers have also bought out their obligation to build 30 per cent affordable homes by donating money to the road," said Mr Cocks. "There are about 7,000 people on the waiting list in Herefordshire but they will not be able to afford to live in these homes."

Green councillor Gerald Dawe won a council seat on the back of the controversy in May and says his election shows how strongly people living in villages like Bullinghope feel about the proposals. They believe development should be concentrated in the north of the city and the council should concentrate their efforts on two other industrial estates which are not fully utilised. "People feel very angry and disconnected," said Mr Dawe. "There has been a complete lack of communication about what the council is doing, and what it is doing is awful."

RESIDENTS are working on the planned judicial review of the council policy which they claim will set the blueprint for other areas of the county if it goes unchallenged. Friends of the Earth and The Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England, which lists the road among the 10 worst road-building proposals in the country, are backing campaigners who have vowed to fight it in the High Court.

But the council says it has no option to try innovative schemes because the Government has consistently turned down its bids for funding to improve Hereford's infrastructure. Council leader Roger Phillips said: "The scheme, which has been designed to minimise the environmental impact, has long been a commitment of successive administrations of Herefordshire Council but is now actually being achieved."

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