The campaign to try to deliver a bypass for Sudbury is moving to its next stage, after the MP for South Suffolk brought a petition in support of the road to Parliament last week.
James Cartlidge, one of the main advocates for a relief road for the town, presented his petition to the House of Commons on Wednesday, which he says will lay the groundwork for the outline business case that will set out the proposal in more detail.
Mr Cartlidge confirmed the outline business case would not only look at the question of whether a bypass should be constructed, but also examine all potential routes, including both the western and southern corridors.
Mr Cartlidge said it was possible the business case could recommend alternative solutions, if it showed they would be able to address local congestion and pollution issues.
A statement from Suffolk County Council, which will help lead the development of the business case, said: “As part of the process to develop the outline business case, Suffolk County Council will be convening a forum for elected representatives of local communities in and around Sudbury.
“The forum will be engaged every step of the way, as we evaluate all possible options to resolve Sudbury’s traffic problems.
“It is also intended that there will be at least two stages of consultation with the public as work progresses.”
The online version of Mr Cartlidge’s petition gained 1,601 signatures, with a similar number thought to have been collected in paper form.
However, opponents of the bypass argue this has failed to show strong public support for the road, pointing to counter-petitions against the road, which they cite as having received more signatures.
But Mr Cartlidge says he feels there is not only strong cross-party support for the proposal, but also a broad consensus that something needs to be done.
He told the Free Press: “It was absolutely clear to me that there is a sizeable part of the local population who support the bypass, but there is another part which accepts something needs to be done, but wants to know more about the route and the environmental impact.
“The outline business case is a very significant step forward. Regrettably, these things are expensive, but they are necessary.
“What this will do is set out in much more detail on potential routes and more detail on potential impacts.
“There can’t be an option with nil impact. But there’s an upside to the environment, given the current pollution and impact on physical heritage.
“There has been a long-standing issue in Sudbury of a failure to make decisions that move things in one direction or the other.
“If we want to address the issue and sustain our town in the face of more and more pressure, we must do something substantive.
“For all its weaknesses, I feel the bypass remains the only credible option for dealing with these issues.
“Do we want development to happen with or without the infrastructure? I think the bypass is the most significant part of that, although it is not the only part.
“In terms of housing, I think we are going to get it anyway – so we need to have the infrastructure there.”
But Suffolk county councillor Robert Lindsay, a vocal opponent of the relief road, said he believes it is clear there is greater opposition than support.
A counter-petition set up by Mr Lindsay has been signed by 4,684 people.
He said: “The key thing to remember is James Cartlidge said, when the roads minister (Jesse Norman) came to visit the town, he needed signs of local support.
“I think the evidence of local support is not particularly strong. If that’s what the petition was designed to do, it has not worked.
“What annoys more about this is that he is trying to smear people as nimbys or political fanatics.
“But there is a very large number of people who don’t want part of the countryside destroyed.
“He is making out that building a road is the only possible solution to the traffic and pollution.
“If he really wanted to tackle traffic and pollution, he should be encouraging investment in buses, wider pavements and cycling lanes, which are all far cheaper.
“The key point is there are more people saying they don’t want it than saying they do. The evidence for local support is flimsy at best.
“The Suffolk Public Sector Leaders Group apparently agreed to spend hundreds of thousands on a business case, despite the fact more people oppose it than support it.
“They seem to have made that decision with no regard for what the people of Sudbury want.
“The true solution to congestion and pollution is doing more to promote cycling, walking and buses.”
But Mr Cartlidge said that while measures like this would be welcomed if implemented by local councils, they will not address what he feels is the biggest problem: HGV traffic.
He stated the volume of HGVs going through Sudbury had been causing significant damage for years, and that a bypass could mitigate this by requiring HGVs to travel along this new route instead.
Responding to concerns that the bypass would be followed by increased housing development, he added that there was no evidence in either the Babergh or Braintree local plans of homes being allocated for this purpose.