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Is history repeating itself with Western Orbital motorway plan?

By Pete Madeley | Transport | Published:

It has been described as a revival of the controversial Western Orbital motorway – and these images show that a proposed new link road around the Black Country looks almost identical to a scrapped plan from years gone by.

Would the new link road help ease congestion?

Transport bosses at Midlands Connect have recommended a new relief road linking the M5 with the M6/M6 Toll as the best way to bust congestion on the region’s clogged roads.

They say the Western Strategic Route could shift one fifth of traffic travelling through the region from the M6 in the north and M5 in the south away from the motorways.

How the designs looked in 1989...and now

Left and right bottom, The Western Orbital motorway proposal in 1989, and right top, the proposed Western Orbital looks remarkably similar to new plans unveiled by Midlands Connect

While bosses are keen to point out that no exact route has been identified, a map included in a report by Midlands Connect to the West Midlands Combined Authority shows it passing near to Codsall, Codsall Wood, Perton, Pattingham, Wombourne, Dudley, Stourbridge and Kidderminster.

It appears to be a mirror image of the Western Orbital motorway, which was scrapped in the 1990s and then again in the 2000s over environmental and financial concerns.

A map printed in the Express & Star in March 1989 shows the preferred route agreed by transport bosses at the time.

As with the new Midlands Connect planned road, it started at the M5 in Bromsgrove and snaked up past Stourbridge and into South Staffordshire, passing Wombourne, Trysull, Codsall, on its way to meet the M54.

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The similarity in the two routes has not been lost on critics.

Birmingham Friends of the Earth (FoE) described it as the revival of the Western Orbital Motorway, and urged Midlands Connect to ditch its plans.

A spokesman said the ‘zombie Western Orbital Motorway will destroy greenbelt land and worsen traffic congestion and air pollution’.

Midlands Connect has made 10 recommendations to ease congestion across the region as part of a 20 year vision.

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Its report said that improving connections between Dudley, Stourbridge and Wolverhampton could have a ‘transformational impact on the economic performance of the Black Country’.

The late 1980s saw transport bosses locked in a constant battle against traffic congestion on the country’s roads, with the M6 considered one of the worst of them all.

Gridlocked roads were considered a major problem for Britain’s economy, and getting goods through the ever-expanding West Midlands conurbation in a reasonable time was proving to be a headache for transport planners.

But schemes for major roads have traditionally proved to be extremely difficult to get off the ground.

The M6 Toll – first mooted in 1980 – did not open until 2003.

Another map published in the E&S in 1989 shows a proposal to link the M54 near junction 2 with the Birmingham relief road, which would become the M6 Toll, and the M6 North.

Almost 30 years later, that scheme – considered vital for firms such as Jaguar Land Rover to transport their goods north – has still not been signed off and remains out for consultation.

Pete Madeley

By Pete Madeley
@P_Madeley_Star

Political Editor for the Express & Star. Responsible for local and national political stories, opinion, comment and analysis.

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