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Mark Andrews on Saturday: Delays put us on the road to nowhere

By Mark Andrews | Opinions | Published:

*JOY, oh joy. The A460, a main arterial route through Cannock will be completely shut to traffic for a fortnight starting Monday to allow for the construction of the new Designer Outlet Village. The result will almost certainly be long delays and chaos.

At the same time cafe owner Sham Sharma asks if the Pipers Row roadworks in Wolverhampton will ever end, concerned about the devastating impact on his trade.

The works in Pipers Row, for a 350-yard extension to the tram line, began in March 2018. We were told they would be completed by ‘late spring’, which ends on Thursday. Some of you might recall that in December I speculated that 'late spring' was probably a euphemism for the end of August. Now we're told it's expected to be finished 'at some point over the summer'. Which I guess means October?

Roadworks are sometimes necessary, although I question whether 350 yards of tramline really justifies the expenditure of £33 million and 15 months-plus of disruption.

But even if these works do bring long-term benefits, do the restrictions always need to be this draconian?

Think back 25 or 30 years. If a few potholes needed replacing, or a small hole was dug, workmen stuck a few cones around it and got on with the job. But today, for even the smallest job, the whole play set seems to come out. Barriers, traffic lights, stop-go boards. Is this always necessary? Does every resurfacing scheme warrant a three-week road closure?

It's time to rip up the red tape and use a bit of common sense.

*COUNCILLOR Helen Fisher, of Staffordshire County Council says the benefits of the Cannock designer outlet scheme outweigh the cost of the disruption.

“It will create jobs and bring visitors into Cannock, boosting the local economy,“ she says.

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Similar arguments were made when they built the Merry Hill Centre, but in reality it just sucked the life out of the Black Country’s historic town centres. The coach trips of tourists never really materialised, but the free rates and relaxed planning regulations did persuade big-name retailers to move out of Dudley, West Bromwich and surrounding towns. Thirty-four years on, those scars still raw.

Now the Cannock Designer Outlet Village is more of a niche development, and the artists’ impressions actually look quite appealing. But wouldn’t it have been better to build it in Cannock town centre, giving a boost to the businesses that have been there for decades?

Yes, purpose-built designer outlets with ample free car parking may well be the future of British retail, but it would be much better to build them in existing town centres, not out-of-town retail parks. And if that means sweeping changes to our outdated town centres and improving transport links, bring it on.

*COMEDIENNE Jo Brand suggested on Radio Four that protesters should hurl battery acid rather than milkshakes at Nigel Farage. What? For wanting to leave the EU? Where does all this hatred come from?

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Any way, a statement from the BBC said Brand's appearance was on a comedy show where 'panellists often say things which are deliberately provocative and go against societal norms'.

Well, I suppose it is good the BBC considers throwing acid at politicians goes 'against societal norms', but it would be nice to set the bar a little higher.

But, given that some years ago the BBC fired comedian Dave Allen for using the F-word, it is hard to see why Brand should escape the same fate. And if some idiot does attempt to follow her suggestion over the next few weeks, serious questions will need to be asked.

Mark Andrews

By Mark Andrews
@MAndrews_Star

Senior news writer for the Shropshire Star specialising in in-depth features and commentary, investigative reporting and political matters.

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