Innocent little headline on BBC Online - Mid Wales. "Bridge damaged by cold weather". Anyone would be forgiven for thinking this is nothing more than a minor inconvenience. Well its a whole lot more than that. The headline should have been "Central Wales economy at risk". Or MP demands Assembly Government acts to save Central Wales from economic meltdown." Actually I haven't yet, but I will have written to Ieuan Wyn Jones by tomorrow night. For those who do not know why this matter is so significant - read on.
Four years ago Tesco sought permission to build a new supermarket on the A483 in Newtown. I, and some others were strongly opposed to this development, believing that it would lead to severe traffic problems. My attitude was not based on any anti-Tesco feeling, which is evidenced by my strong support for the Tesco development in Welshpool, which opens next month. To make matters worse (much worse) Tesco was required to replace a nearby busy roundabout with a ridiculous (my opinion) system of traffic lights - which has brought traffic chaos to Newtown. Sometimes the queues are miles long. Newtown has become a bottleneck which is strangling the life out of the town and westwards. Huge numbers of people, including me have found a way of avoided the lights by taking a back road to Newtown, the B4389 through Aberbechan. Suddenly this artery which has mitigated the problem for those in the know has been cut, by the closure of this bridge.
So what should happen? Hopefully the Council will ascertain whether the bridge can re-open with a weight limit. If this is not possible, perhaps it should consider whether a temporary pontoon bridge could be constructed. What cannot happen is that this road remains closed for the year that has been suggested. We are facing a real crisis here. The economy of Central Wales is under serious threat. In the longer run, the area needs a Newtown By-pass, and it needs a sense of urgency in the office of the Deputy First Minister at the National Assembly to deliver it. For months, my Assembly candidate colleague in Montgomeryshire, Russell George, has been developing a strong campaign in support of early construction of this by-pass. Never has a strong campaign been more needed.
Already I have settled on how I'm going to get around this problem myself. Tonight we dined at the Waggon and Horses in Newtown, an experience we recommend to all, and drove home to Berriew via Bettws. Took only 17 minutes. Sorry Bettws, but prepare yourself for heavy traffic.