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A417 decision will be brilliant for business

By Ian Mean (pictured), director of Gloucestershire Chamber at Business West The first Business & Economy meeting Wiltshire unites

to talk economy Business West’s first Wiltshire Business & Economy meeting brought together over 50 businesses recently. It was hosted by Wiltshire College at

their Lackham campus. Tony Basham, the college’s director of

business and partnerships, gave a very informative summary of their exciting plans to develop a state of the art dairy milking facility at the Lackham campus site as well as teaching robotics for agriculture. He also outlined plans to develop the

college’s site in Salisbury. Paddy Bradley, director of the Swindon &

Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), outlined the role of the LEP and talked about the importance of developing their new industrial strategy for the area over the next year. Tim Martienssen of Wiltshire Council said

that they were working closely with the LEP to drive the local economy, and detailed special help being made to promote business in Salisbury and to re- establish it as a key tourist destination for the UK, a year on from the attack. Matt Griffith, Business West’s director of

policy, gave an overview of our ‘Trading through Brexit’ business service. This is an MOT for business to help them be better prepared for changes as a result of Brexit. Ian Larrard, director of Business West in

Swindon & Wiltshire, said: “This was our first such meeting in Wiltshire, replicating the successful ones we have undertaken in Swindon over the last 18 months. There was great energy and enthusiasm in the room with considerable interest shown in all the topics covered. We look forward to making these meetings a regular bi- monthly feature in our Events calendar”. The next Business West Wiltshire

Business & Economy meeting will be on 29 May at Hartham Park.

12 insight MAY/JUNE 2019

Away from Brexit to the real world of the Gloucestershire economy, the decision by Highways England for its preferred route for the A417 Missing Link is brilliant news for business in the county. I think we must breathe a sigh of communal

relief because it seemed as though this decision, and hopefully the resultant funding for this major piece of road re-construction often never looked like becoming a reality. I echo the thoughts of David Owen, chief

executive of our local enterprise partnership, GFirstLEP when he told me: “The announcement marks a significant step

forward in reaching a solution to the Missing Link. It’s very pleasing to reach this latest milestone given the commitment made by local authorities, our Gloucestershire MPs, and through GFirstLEP, the business community of Gloucestershire who have lobbied tirelessly to push for a solution to the infamous Air Balloon problem. “The business community now want to see a

quick and robust conclusion and for the work to start on upgrading this piece of critical infrastructure as soon as possible.” I agree with David. Business now wants to see

a quick start to the work, which is now due to start in 2021 with a finish between 2024 and 2025. It has never been calculated in

detail, but the cost to business of the delays around the three miles stretch at Crickley Hill can run into thousands of pounds a day. The road, which carries around 34,000 vehicles a day around the Air Balloon and Nettleton Bottom, is often gridlocked - a good example is the Cheltenham Races recently. I have edited newspapers in

‘The A417 is

now firmly in the Government’s strategic road plan’

Gloucestershire for over 15 years and during that time consistently campaigned (with councils) to persuade the government to make the investment to sort the Missing Link once and for all. It is to the great credit of Highways England

that they have not dropped the baton in the battle. The A417 is now firmly in the

Government’s strategic road plan. I think the detailed consultations they have carried out with local communities have been excellent, which has led them to now recommend Option 30 in their planning as the preferred route. It will improve safety, landscape and community connectivity. And it will reduce rat-running in nearby communities and make journey times more predictable. I have to say that earlier this

year, I was worried that the long-awaited decision might well be delayed or blunted by the Treasury because costs for the A417 work were being

questioned in Whitehall as those costs had approached £500m. So, there is a sigh of relief from

Gloucestershire business particularly who have recently lobbied the Transport Minister, Chris Grayling, to ensure the A417 remained a key priority. However, it is important that business keeps a close eye on this huge project because any delays will have an impact on growth and investment in Gloucestershire.

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