Green light given to traffic-easing St James link road after seven years of debate

Above, campaigners in St James have been calling for a link road for seven years. The proposed route, below, has now been given the go-ahead.
Above, campaigners in St James have been calling for a link road for seven years. The proposed route, below, has now been given the go-ahead.

Long-awaited plans to build a relief road over a disused railway line in St James have been given the go-ahead despite protests from a group who wanted to see the line restored.

The new stretch, the borough council believes, will greatly ease congestion in St Peter's Way and the roads in St James and Far Cotton by providing a continuous east-to-north route between the A5123 Towcester Road in the east and the A4500 St James Road.

When the plans were finally submitted for the scheme by Kier WSP last month, they were roundly welcomed by the St James Residents' Association, which has been campaigning for the joining of the two ends of the road since 2011.

The part council-funded proposals were approved unanimously at the borough's planning committee on Tuesday night.

Cabinet member for regeneration, Councillor Tim Hadland, said: "The granting of planning permission is a big step forward on this vital transport link.

“We expect completion to be within the first half of 2019 and once the road opens it will be of enormous help to businesses within the Northampton Waterside Enterprise Zone.

“It will also help cut congestion on Saints and Cobblers match days, allowing traffic to access the area and disperse via Towcester Road.”

The new 200 metre stretch of road will cross over the former Northampton to Bedford railway line, which has not carried passengers for more than 50 years, even though it was used as a freight line up until the mid1990s.

But the plans were subject to objections from the England Regional Transport Association, (ERTA) which wanted to see that line brought back into use.

Richard Pill, the ERTA's spokesperson, described the plans as "short-termism at best and myopia at worst failing to see the wider picture."

Papers to the committee show nine objections were received for the scheme.

ERTA objected on the basis the line "would enable a quicker transit to and from Northampton and Bedford, East-West Rail to Cambridge" if it were re-commisioned at some stage.

It also said the road scheme linked "two congestion hot spots with no way out of the current congested London Road artery."

However, as the council purchased two-mile stretch of the disused railway line from Brackmills Industrial Estate to the Northampton Enterprise Zone from Network Rail in October, 2013, the council says any plans to reopen the line would be unviable anyway.

Other protests centred around the fact the new road will not feature a designated cycling lane.

In 2014, Northampton Borough Council said it had received a provisional £20 million funding agreement with the Government to complete the work and, two years later, Network Rail eventually decommissioned the disused line.

The planning papers also reveal the council is still yet to purchase the necessary land off of Network Rail to build the road, though it is expected to open within a year.

The project will be part-funded by SEMLEP through the second round of Local Growth Fund grants given out by the Government and the Growing Places Fund, with further costs being met through Enterprise Zone business rates.