South Bristol 'Wrong Road' plan becomes issue for two mayoral elections

The question of whether a ring road around South Bristol should be built has become an election issue at Bristol’s two mayoral votes. The hugely controversial proposed ring road would run across green fields from the A4 near Keynsham, around Stockwood and Whitchurch before going into Hengrove and joining with the existing Airport Road. It has long been proposed, mainly by the West of England Combined Authority and housing developers, and it would almost certainly come with thousands of new homes on green field sites around Whitchurch Village.

Now, the Green Party candidate for the Mayor of Bristol, Sandy Hore-Ruthven, has announced he would scrap the plan, and said the money should be better spent on green initiatives like cycle lanes, walking routes and public transport. After Mr Hore-Ruthven’s announcement, Stephen WIlliams, the Liberal Democrat Party candidate for the Metro Mayor, who would run the West of England Combined Authority which covers Bristol, B&NES and South Gloucestershire, also said he would scrap the idea, and has long been campaigning against the idea. The road and homes plan for South Bristol was part of a Joint Spatial Plan for the whole West of England, which sought to find locations for 105,000 new homes that the Government has told the region it needs in the next decade or so.

When it was proposed, complete with maps of the route and where the housing would go, it caused a huge backlash in communities in Whitchurch, Hengrove and Hartcliffe. People in Whitchurch and Whitchurch Village said the 2,500 new homes in Whitchurch and outside Stockwood would change their communities forever, while residents in Hengrove pointed out the plan would mean a main trunk road would be directed straight into what is currently a residential area, along a road that presently has speed humps, and come into urban Bristol from the outskirts countryside right next to Bridge Farm primary school. News of the plan was broken by Bristol Live to shocked residents of Whitchurch, Stockwood and Hengrove back in late 2018, when we revealed that it had been included in a proposed Joint Spatial Plan by local council leaders.

It was not immediately opposed by Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees. At a packed church hall meeting in January 2019, he told hundreds of angry residents of Whitchurch and Hengrove that homes had to be built somewhere, and that congestion and pollution further into Bristol on the A4 in Brislington had to be tackled.

Around 300 residents attended a meeting with Marvin Rees about the South Bristol ring road proposal

But he drew a round of applause at the end for pledging to work with residents’ campaign groups to come up with alternative ideas, and said his administration was willing to consider different routes and proposals – something which is still the position of the current Bristol mayor today. By September 2019, however, a Government planning inspector threw out the West of England’s Joint Spatial Plan entirely, telling the local authorities to go back to the drawing board.

That appears to have ended the immediate proposals for a South Bristol Ring Road, and the homes that would come with it, and if it was to happen it would be a decade away. However, developers still have plans for homes, and the plan has not been defeated entirely. In October 2019, residents complained they were being left in the dark about whether the rewriting of the Joint Spatial Plan would mean the end of the Ring Road plan.

Last year, local Liberal Democrat councillor Tim Kent said he feared the ring road and the homes were still in the West of England Combined Authority’s plans, and complained that his attempts to ask a WECA meeting what the latest situation was were thwarted. He said he feared the ring road plan would be pushed through anyway, as a way to make the thousands of homes on the southern edge of Bristol inevitable. In November 2020, Cllr Kent hosted a public meeting bringing together residents, councillors and campaigners from both sides of the Bristol-B&NES border, and heard Cllr Tim Ball, the Lib Dem housing chief at B&NES, state that he did not support the construction of the ring road for housing development.

And last year, the South Bristol Wrong Road group produced a video demanding to know if the road plan was still on the table, even if the Government inspector had told the local councils concerned to think again about building thousands of new homes on the edge of South Bristol.

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Now, Green Party candidate for Bristol mayor, Sandy Hore-Ruthven, said it should never happen. “The only sector where our carbon emissions are rising is transport and yet Labour and the Conservatives still insist on building new roads, despite the negative impact they have on communities and the natural world,” he said. “We are in a climate emergency, so why aren’t these parties acting like it?

“The South Bristol Ring Road is a prime example of their out-of-touch thinking. They’re trying to steamroller it through, despite massive local opposition. “These four miles of road will cut through the green belt, increase traffic through Stockwood and Whitchurch, increase air pollution and do little to free up traffic elsewhere.

That’s an awful use of GBP200 million. “It really is the wrong answer to our traffic problems and has to stop for the sake of our communities, our open spaces and our future. We need a new way of thinking.

“Creating green, convenient alternatives to car journeys is possible with the right leadership.

If I am elected Mayor I will work with the WECA Mayor to repurpose our road-building budget to build hundreds of miles of dedicated cycle lanes and make improvements to pavements and high streets,” he said, adding that the money spent building a ring road could fund a second wave of the Metrobus project.

After Mr Hore-Ruthven’s announcement, Stephen Williams, the former Liberal Democrat Government minister who is standing for WECA Mayor, said he has long opposed the ring road plan.