West Northamptonshire Council passes emergency action to borrow £20 million to build relief road

The opposition has raised concerns that tax payers will now foot the bill for the council's failed bid

Thursday, 23rd December 2021, 3:51 pm
The project met delays when West Northamptonshire Council took it over, only to further delayed

West Northamptonshire Council has approved £20 million in borrowing to finance a new relief road in Northampton, after their bid to the Government's £4.8 billion Levelling Up Fund was unsuccessful.

The project will link the A428 Harlestone Road with the A5199 Welford Road to increase capacity and mitigate some impact of planned housing growth west and north of Northampton.

It also aims to ease congestion in the locality, and to discourage motorists from using some local residential roads as rat runs.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

This has lifted the troubled project out of a long extended stay in planning purgatory.

Yet some have raised concerns about how the borrowing was approved, passing in the form of emergency action as opposed to a full council vote.

Councillor Emma Roberts, deputy leader of the Labour Group, suggested that the council might have known about the failed bid a lot earlier than has been claimed, meaning a full council vote could have been made in time.

Cllr Roberts said: "I have huge concerns about that because it hasn't been put before a full council and instead passed under emergency powers.

"Whether or not we knew about it earlier, they should have been able to take it to full council before Christmas, which they should have done given the scale of the borrowing.

"I'm not commenting on whether the relief road should be built or not. There was a consultation and a lot of people wanted it built.

"I think we needed to know why we didn't get the funding.

"It feels like we've not done well on the bid, for reasons that we don't know, and then we're making the people pay for that by borrowing without an overall infrastructure plan to make sure it's done properly."

Around £32.5 million had previously been secured against the scheme’s £54.5m budget.

The council said the £20m 'investment', plus a £1.95m council contribution agreed by Cabinet in June, will cover the shortfall and allow the scheme to go ahead.

But a cabinet member has countered Cllr Roberts' position, saying that there was insufficient time to bring the motion before a full council after trying to unsuccessfully adapt it without the Levelling Up funds.

Councillor Phil Larrett, Portfolio Holder for Climate, Transport, Highways and Waste Services, said that the council was not informed of the bid's failure until late November and has yet to receive their feedback on why.

The council then had little time to cut the costs of the project, an effort which the councillor said was 'undeliverable'.

Cllr Larrett said: "We talked to Government before submitting the bid. We followed their advice.

"We didn't find out that the bid had been unsuccessful until late November. I don't remember the exact dates. But as I understand it, no new road projects were successful except one which, I believe, was already underway.

"So we obviously then had to give it a bit of a redesign to reduce the cost. When we did that we realised costs couldn't be reduced significantly, even if we took parts out.

"We wanted to unlock development for a project that has had planning permission for years and has been delayed multiple times.

"It was also highly possible that if we delayed, we would have lost £7 million of funding from SEMLEP, which we had planned to spend in the previous financial year. They could not guarantee it would still be there next year."

"We did look at other options to take the scheme forward. But each of those turned out to be undeliverable."

The councillor said that the rejection was 'disappointing' but that borrowing was also 'the only way' to get the project off the ground.