Anyone driving on Congleton’s link road, Wolstenholme Elmy Way, will have noticed that it is, on the whole, quiet.
Even at peak times, the words “bumper”, “to” and “bumper” do not pop unbidden into one’s head, and usually it’s a case of spot the other car.
One can drive most sections of an evening and never meet another vehicle. Many is the time I’ve used it to cut out the town centre roads – itself telling, as the town roads are busy while the link road rarely is – and rejoined the A34 at either Tesco roundabout or at Lower Heath to find the traffic busy.
I’ve often been tempted to take a photograph of the lack of cars on the link road, followed by the rosy glow of tail lights heading down the A34, but pictures taken through a car windscreen are not all that good – besides being illegal, of course – so I instead opted for a freedom of information request to Cheshire East asking for road usage of the link road, and a before and after of West Road.
As we report this week in most of our editions, the figures indicate that the link road has not taken traffic off the A34.
I should make it clear that I have worried considerably over the figures, because it seems so stupid that we would build a £90m link road that took no traffic off a heavily used and polluted main road. I was worried I’d missed something obvious, but the figures are pretty simple, and back the visual evidence.
I emailed Cheshire East for a comment on Monday afternoon and it phoned back late yesterday (Wednesday) as we went to press, telling me the figures were not accurate, and we shouldn’t run the story unless we wanted to look daft. But hopefully the story is more or less right, and someone I mentioned it to said: “It’s about time someone flagged this up,” which removes some of the fear of a daft look on press day.
The link road, of course had several functions, one of which was to allow the infill of land between it and the existing Congleton town boundary, which is now happening.
Another was to service the industry at Back Lane, because Back Lane itself is a tiny residential lane, unfit for heavy goods vehicles delivering to factories there. The new road has also brought more jobs to Congleton from Howdens (who don’t advertise, but you should do, lads) to the upcoming Aldi (Any chance of an advertising war between the supermarkets? Please?).
Of course, not relieving traffic would be a major failing for a new road that was billed as just the job to do that, but it is not the first failing we have seen with the link road.
(Although, as we also report, in the original planning application is a letter from Highways England that reads to me as if the link road never was going to take traffic off the other A-roads. We missed it at the time … but so did everybody at the council, if that is what it really says, because a lot of the talk was of a congestion-busting new road).
Back to failings: anyone who has driven at night will know that at least one roundabout has been carefully hidden from view by the road’s builders; as Oscar Wilde so nearly wrote, “‘To lose one roundabout, Mr Graham, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.” Driving downbank, the Viking Way (Tesco) roundabout is practically impossible to see at night and many locals must have reflected upon how easy it would be to be taken by surprise there: it’s down in a dip, not well lit and comes upon you all of a sudden.
Similarly, the surprisingly after-thoughtish roundabout that leads to Back Lane; it looks like a bit of roundabout they had left over and decided to use anyway.
And for a £90m bypass, it’s not a good look that the Viking Way roundabout is now illuminated by lights powered by a roadside generator – rumour has it that some stretches of the road have no electricity cabling, hence the need for a generator.
A brand new road lit by a set of lights more at home on Back Lane playing fields is not selling itself well.
Another mystery is the speed limit, or lack of. My car tells me what the speed limit is on any road it travels on – but one of the few roads where it is unable to do this is Congleton Link Road. Does no-one have any idea what speed we should be travelling? Fifty? Unless, as happens, you’re driving a souped-up car late at night when the road is so empty you can use it as a race track.
Hidden roundabouts, bodged lighting, no speed limit, boy racers taking advantage of its remote location: It all seems a little unsatisfactory.
Leaving aside the fact that Back Lane was clearly unsuitable to service an industrial estate, there was talk before the link road was built of other options, none of which were seriously considered. I remember talking to Robbie Brightwell (RIP) about making the A34 harder to travel along, using chicanes, road markings, tree-lined avenues and other such measures to deter cars from travelling through Congleton, and instead staying on the M6 or using the existing bypass that runs behind Knutsford and takes traffic from the M6 to Manchester. It’s worked on Padgbury Lane.
Still, at least the link road has disproved one theory that green campaigners often complain about – that is, if you build a new road, the traffic will come.
In the case of Wolstenholme Elmy Way, it appears not to have done. Result!