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Borough Council Votes to Proceed with an Extra £5.6m Funding for Ash Road Bridge

Published on: 18 Mar, 2023
Updated on: 19 Mar, 2023

Ash level crossing

By Martin Giles

A further £5.6 million has been approved by Guildford Borough Council to complete a new road bridge over the railway in Ash even though support for the project from residents is uncertain.

The bridge is to be built to enable traffic to avoid being held up at Ash level-crossing, alleviating traffic problems in the area, to reduce air pollution caused by congestion, and “to support the delivery of housing” in Ash.

The proposed route of the new Ash flyover or bridge. Image GBC.

The cost of the bridge when first discussed by the previous council was estimated at £12 million but is now expected to be around £44.5 million, roughly £9 million of which has already been spent on preparatory consultations.

See also: Ash Road Bridge Costs Could Double – Council Still Has More Money to Find

Although Surrey County Council is normally responsible for highways they have not accepted financial liability and have, only in the last week, agreed to contribute £5 million. Nearly £24 million of the cost is being funded by Homes England (the public body that funds new affordable housing), with GBC being forced to accept liability for most of the rest.

At Thursday evening’s extraordinary full council meeting (March 16), concern was expressed about the consequence of this expenditure for the council’s future finances. GBC’s budget is already under considerable strain and any debt will have to be serviced. But costs are not yet fixed: a contract has not yet been awarded nor all the land required purchased.

Sue Wyeth-Price

Sue Wyeth-Price, representing the Ash Green Residents Association, was the only public speaker. Speaking ahead of the councillors’ debate, she pointed out that the £23 million of central government funds have to be used before March 31 next year or handed back.

She said: “You’ve known this for years, and this project has hardly progressed at all in that time. Instead, you’ve spent £9 million for no practical gains, and you’re leaving the project in the hands of the very people who wasted that money and who are the only ones to continue to benefit from this project. That’s it. That’s the total of all you know.”

She characterised the council’s strategy on the bridge as one based on hope rather than realistic expectation, concluding: “Every one of you has said at some point that you’re in it for the residents. It’s even in your election leaflets, but not this time.

“You haven’t even asked them the simple question, “Do you want the bridge?” So you hope the residents will forgive you? Well keep hoping. But hope is not a strategy.”

Cllr John Rigg

The Lead Councillor for Regeneration, John Rigg (R4GV, Holy Trinity), commencing the debate, said: “The cost to the council will be met from a combination of council reserves and funds and council borrowing as with Weyside Urban Village which is larger at over £400 million.

“This project was embarked upon by the previous council. And so these are inherited commitments. Ash Road Bridge is a requirement, an integral part of Guildford’s adopted Local Plan to mitigate existing and planned development and to support the delivery of housing within the total 1,750 homes in Ash.”

And today Cllr Rigg added: “The council reviewed all the available information regarding the justification for this long-running project, including the cost to proceed with the project and alternatively the substantial abortive costs and lost government funding if we cancelled and ended up with no bridge.

“R4GV will always be in favour of action and results rather than U-turns and abortive costs, and with the need for new investment in infrastructure, particularly in Ash, the choice was reasonably straightforward. At the vote, we were pleased to have virtually unanimous council support and can now take forward the project into the construction phase.”

Cllr Fiona White

Liberal Democrat councillor and Ash resident Fiona White, who represents Westborough, commented: “Ash residents can now have confidence that we will be getting the much-needed bridge.

“Traffic problems in Ash have grown much worse as a result of new housing developments which were approved by the previous Conservative administration on the assumption a bridge would be built, but without being made conditional on the completion of the bridge. With even more housing on the way, Ash desperately needs this new infrastructure in order to cope.

“Although the increased cost will prove a challenge, we Liberal Democrats are determined to meet that challenge. This project represents a much-needed investment in part of the borough which has been neglected by previous administrations for too long. I’m proud my Liberal Democrat colleagues joined me in standing up for the people of Ash.”

Cllr Graham Eyre

Cllr Graham Eyre (Con, Ash South & Tongham) spoke to say that Network Rail’s safety concern was “only for pedestrians not for vehicles”.

He continued: “Another statement that requires clarification is that the level crossing comes down eight times an hour. This is not accurate. In fact, the true figure is four times an hour, each time for an average of four and a half minutes. I don’t think anyone is actually sure where the eight figure came from. But if you say something long enough people start to believe it.

“We are being asked to approve a project, the final costs of which are still unknown. The amount of the contingency being factored in, in my opinion, as a retired consultant on major projects, is far too low.

“[At] £15 or £19 million, the bridge was a good deal. But at £44 million plus, which could easily go to £50 million, I don’t think so. I don’t think the residents of Guildford borough will think so… they’ll be paying for it out of their council tax for many decades to come.”

Cllr Nigel Manning

But later in the debate, Cllr Eyre’s fellow Tory, Cllr Nigel Manning (Con, Ash Vale), said: “I’ve been a councillor in Ash for nearly 23 years and almost from day one I’ve had residents coming up to me asking where we’re going to get a road bridge.

“I agree with what Cllr White said, it’s been a hot topic for many, many, many years. And to come along and say no one wants it in Ash is to my mind, rubbish. It’s wanted. It’s needed.

“Ash has already had about 1,500 extra homes without any mitigation for the extra traffic, and Ash was already congested.”

Cllr Ramsey Nagaty

Cllr Ramsey Nagaty (GGG, Shalford), speaking after the meeting, summed up the Guildford Greenbelt Group’s position: “This is yet another inherited project that expects GBC to bear costs that really are the responsibility of SCC or others. The Local Plan has resulted in GBC taking the lead on too many projects for which they are ill-equipped and take up so much officer and councillor time.

“GGG raised concerns over the increased cost and the fact that GBC had not secured contractors’ quotes that could be presented with the report nor firm agreements for procurement of all the required land. As with many projects today the costs continue to escalate and the contingency may well be exceeded.

“There was also conflicting information as to the benefits and whether residents wanted the bridge and had been fully consulted. I doubt the buyers of the adjacent new houses had been asked.

“GGG however are in favour of enabling infrastructure that does not cause harm to the AONB etc (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty). Hence our members were somewhat conflicted, resulting in two votes to approve the extra funding and two abstentions.”

The new budget for the Ash road bridge was approved by 34 votes to 1 against (Cllr Graham Eyre, Con, South Ash & Tongham). There were four abstentions: Cllrs Paul Abbey (R4GV, South Ash & Tongham), David Bilbe (Con, Normandy), Ramsey Nagaty (GGG, Shalford) and Susan Parker (GGG, Send).

Of the 34 voting in favour, 15 were Liberal Democrats, 10 R4GV, 5 Conservative, 2 Labour and 2 from the Guildford Greenbelt Group.

Reaction from the Ash Green Residents Association (AGRA)

On Friday Gill Squibb, chair of AGRA, said: “We are obviously disappointed that the council has committed GBC to the bridge whilst they have no fixed contracts in place for either the land or the construction. We are also very concerned that there are no plans or apparent funding for alleviating the other current bottlenecks in the immediate surrounding area, or to provide the footbridge. We can only hope that the council puts something in place before the bridge is completed.”

Sue Wyeth-Price, AGRA committee member, added: “It was very disappointing not to get further time to make our case at the earlier executive meeting. I was the only public speaker, when up to six are permitted, so I do not understand why I couldn’t have been granted more time. I find the leader’s response “that there are no exceptional circumstances to warrant any additional time” completely nonsensical, given the circumstances”.

See archived articles on Ash Road Bridge here.


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Responses to Borough Council Votes to Proceed with an Extra £5.6m Funding for Ash Road Bridge

  1. Roshan Bailey Reply

    March 26, 2023 at 9:12 pm

    While absolutely agreeing that the existing traffic issues in Ash, compounded by the huge new housing developments, desperately need a bridge to replace the level crossing, I do hope thought is being given by local parishes, GBC and SCC to the resultant exacerbation of the already over pressurised traffic along the rest of the A323 into Guildford during the morning rush hour.

    This needs to be part and parcel of the bridge project.

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