Bypass project breathes life into commuter belt

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WHEN THE bypass around Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire was opened five years ago it halved the amount of traffic in the town centre and drastically reduced the number of road accidents.

The prosperous commuter heartland and former market town was one of six places to benefit from an initiative by the last government to invest in bypasses whilst simultaneously developing the road system within the town centre.

Adequate provision was made for pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable road users, so that other towns and villages could learn how to avoid being overwhelmed by increased local traffic when their bypasses were built.

The other six towns selected to participate in the "Bypass Demonstration Project" were Dalton-in-Furness in Cumbria, Whitchurch in Shropshire, Market Harborough in Leicestershire, Wadebridge in Cornwall and Petersfield in Hampshire.

The British Roads Federation, the pro-roads lobby, backed the initiative and said that bypasses generated more economic benefits than was generally realised.

Rob Smith, head of sustainable transport projects at Hertfordshire County Council, said yesterday that Berkhamsted's bypass had been a great success.

"It gave us an opportunity to redistribute the road space in favour of shoppers. It took the space away from the car and lorry.

"The Government put in about pounds 1m and the county council and the borough put in another pounds 1m to improve the road layout. It has brought quite a change in the environment. It also cut the amount of accidents by half."

Mr Smith added: "The perception is that the bypass and the other work have breathed life back into the town. There are more visitors coming into the shops. The town is definitely thriving and it has been helped by the bypass."

Ron Cowie, chairman of Berkhamsted and District Chamber of Commerce, said that traffic had gradually increased since the bypass was opened in autumn, 1993.

He said: "Since the bypass was built the traffic is not as bad as it was but a lot of traffic has come back. Shortly after it was opened a new Waitrose opened.

"The bypass has improved communications with other towns and that may have been one of the reasons why we have more office premises and light industrial premises."