Gardening: Angels can wear suits as well as sandals

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The Independent Online
I AM a shade unimpressed by the euphoria that has greeted the defeat of some of the Government's plans to enhance the country's road network. I know and like some of the national 'anti' campaigners, but I sometimes sense that they would no more enjoy living in the Britain they propose than I would.

Don't they remember sitting in the back of their parents' Vauxhall Cresta or Velox for hour upon hour as the prospect of the shimmering seaside drew little nearer? Do they find the aimlessness of a traffic jam so jolly?

God knows the Department of Transport has some funny ideas, and tries to get roads on the cheap (though wouldn't we all complain if it went too far the other way?). For all I know, Oxleas Wood and Twyford Down justify the fuss made about them.

Certainly, the Lugg Meadow here in Herefordshire is worth saving, as in a sense it was this spring when the Government backed off, at least for now, from building Hereford's bypass close to it.

All the same, I don't know any new road so hateful that country- lovers refuse to drive on it. It is certainly a shame that we do not increasingly turn our cities over to public tansport. But outside them, the train cannot deliver many of the journeys people make (and they would not use it even if it did) and is hopeless for most goods traffic. Nor should we pretend that we can sensibly ration road-use by discomfort: traffic jams are environmentally costly because vehicles are never more polluting than when they are forced to stop-and-go.

The refusal to reroute the A49 on a scarp between the city of Hereford and the flood meadows of the Lugg Valley was probably wise, and maybe the Department of Transport was silly to promote the idea for so long. The Greens, who mostly want no bypass at all (though some of the most influential care only that it avoids the Lugg Meadow), say rightly that any Londoner would laugh at Hereford's 'rush' hour.

On the other hand, the city's centre is bisected from its western 'suburbs' by the A49, a busy road taking goods and people from Wales to the Wirral. The road is also much used by locals, who have a horror of using the pretty good bus services from the hinterland villages into the city during the day. If there were a bypass and no need to make the city friendly for through traffic, the city planners of Hereford could get on with encouraging public transport by the judicious, but not punitive, use of traffic-calming measures, including jacking up the price of parking, and perhaps by bringing in park-and-ride.

They would be reviled for these actions. Herefordians don't seem to want the city to be a place of civilisation. It has been turned into a convenience centre, with many of its medieval delights knocked down to make way for tacky shopping facilities (and, to be fair, nice pedestrian precincts).

At night, the place is very dull. It is under-used, except by the noisy or sullen young. There are a couple of wine bars and a few poor restaurants, alleviated by Turkish and Eastern cuisine, and a good many quite nice pubs. Occasionally, the sort of rock and orchestral music- making, which in a more urbane place would be routine, can be heard. And there is a mainstream cinema, a disco or two, and a struggling theatre, which shows art films.

What country people want, they find in or near their homes or villages. There is precious little public transport at night, and rather than haul over to the city and swell the demand for arts and food, most people prefer to reduce the odds of meeting a police car, and to drive slightly over the alcohol limit on the quiet country roads that connect them with the mostly dreadful pub food available all about.

Even if Herefordians are not clamouring for the urban virtues of pavement cafes and art galleries, their city probably should have a bypass. Hereford is already dominated by the through traffic that uses it, and it will probably be even more so 10 years from now. And it's not just the city that might be enhanced by a bypass: many houses and pubs on arterial roads could be returned to something like tranquillity.

The economy of the region is not so robust that it can afford to see through traffic much delayed in Hereford, and the city's businesses are not so successful that it makes automatic sense for many of their goods and employees to be delayed in the town on their way to places farther afield.

There are other bypass routes around Hereford, but they are somewhat more expensive. Even the abandoned route would not - contrary to reports in the national press - have damaged the Lugg Meadow; it merely would have cut off the river and flood meadows from the city and made noisy what has always been a quiet, little-visited, important piece of understated loveliness.

Alternative routes would be longer, and traverse Hereford's fine farmland: a pity in itself, but perhaps the best solution.

I try to be dogmatic on the issue, but fail. I simply suggest that making a city civilised is a legitimate goal, as is responding to what job- providers call for.

Building workable roads in the right places has its costs, but it also brings benefits. The Greens should not feel that they alone represent the angels in this matter.