PROPOSALS for a new Severn crossing have been dismissed as a ‘red herring’ by opposition politicians.
Labour has gone on the attack after Conservative MPs Mark Harper and Neil Carmichael floated the idea of a bridge between their Forest of Dean and Stroud constituencies.
With an £85million road repairs backlog facing the county, and cross-party county council agreement on a need for cash to improve the A417 ‘missing link’ near Birdlip, Labour politicians said a bridge between Lydney and Sharpness is a bridge too far.
"It seems the silly season of empty promises before a General Election is with us already,” said Gloucestershire County Council Labour leader Lesley Williams. “As a county we have a £85m shortfall in our roads and highways budget.
“We have also all party agreement on the urgent need to resolve the continuing problems with the A417 . So I question where the bridge proposal fits in versus these pressing priorities.”
Labour county councillor Graham Morgan, who represents Cinderford, said: "People in Forest would welcome a third bridge. But we do not want red herrings from Tory MPs.
“The Tories need to explain how they are going to pay for a third bridge, especially as first Severn bridge which could be put back into public hands in 2017 needs tens of millions of pounds spent on it.”
Mr Harper, who raised the idea in Parliament, has asked the county council to consider it, and Mr Carmichael believes it could bring economic benefits to both side of the river, and improve dire traffic snarl ups between the Forest of Dean and Gloucester.
Mr Carmichael has made the suggestion part of his Carmichael Commission, a project group tasked with making sure the south of his constituency does not miss out on economic growth.
Steve Lydon, the Labour county member for Dursley said: "It seems strange that the so-called Carmichael Commission, which has not even met yet, is coming up with recommendations on capital projects which have national implications.
“When will the businesses and residents of Dursley and the surrounding areas be asked to give their view on priorities for the area?”
There are no road crossings between the M48 Severn Bridge connecting Bristol and south Wales and the Over bridge, a mile north of Gloucester.
A new bridge could cut journey times and traffic queues.
Mr Harper accepted it as a long term solution - one which he said Labour did not address.
“Clearly a third Severn crossing is a major project and would take a number of years to come to fruition,” he said.
“Given this, I want the process to start, which is why I have asked the Highways Agency to look at the options
“Congestion on the A40/A48 is a real problem for my constituents. The county council and the Highways Agency have some improvements planned for this year and next which will help.
“However, I make no apology for putting forward a realistic and practical long-term solution. It's disappointing that in their 13 years in power, Labour did nothing about it.”
Mr Carmichael said the Coalition Government had come up with £45million to double the Stroud to Swindon railway line and will consider proposals to improve the A417 - and it is right to start a debate about a third Severn crossing.
“That’s a measure of our commitment to improving infrastructure,” he said.
“We have not finished - there is more to do.
“We are right to start talking about another Severn crossing, it is part of a story of economic growth which Sharpness must be part of.”
He said the Carmichael Commission has met in private and will meet in public.