A POLITICAL row has broken out as civic chiefs fear the new direction for a £100m regeneration project will leave a Gloucestershire town “consigned to oblivion”.
Forest of Dean District Council leaders agreed a change of direction for the Cinderford Northern Quarter earlier this year.
They said pressing ahead with the original regeneration plans was futile due to the ballooning costs of building a new road.
The original proposals for the former Northern United Colliery site were designed to bring 1,200 jobs, 195 homes and a new college campus on the former coalfield site.
The first stage of the project, which includes the first part of a new road and a new campus for Gloucestershire College, was completed in 2018.
But there was a £2.5 million overspend to finish the first section of the road and work for the second phase of the spine road which would have connected the site with the A4136 never began.
Labour County Councillor Graham Morgan (L, Cinderford), who has requested that the Cinderford Northern Quarter Regeneration Board reconvene.
He says the town is desperate for more employment sites and he has never known so many Foresters having to travel out of the district for work.
Cllr Morgan has blasted the new Green leadership at the District Council who he fears want to change the nature of the Dean which has always been a “working forest”.
“They’ve literally almost abandoned everything at the Northern Quarter. In doing so, they will consign Cinderford to oblivion.
“That’s the only area in the town where we can get a bit more industry back in. We’ve never had a time where so many people have had to travel out of the Forest to find work.
“We’ve had relentless factory closures in Cinderford. We lost mining, engineering. It’s almost like the American rust belt.
“For a Green Party, they’ve shot themselves in the foot. They claim they want to change people’s attitudes to fight climate change but people are having to travel hundreds of miles to find work
“It’s a working Forest and they should realise that. It’s not a Green playground.
“Local people have worked this area for centuries and never harmed it. They want to realise it.
“They’ve kicked everything into touch with the Northern Quarter and there will never be a bypass for Steam Mills which is something people are crying out for.”
Council leader Mark Topping (G, Lydney West and Aylburton) said he didn’t know “what nonsense Cllr Graham Morgan has been reading or listening to”.
He said the Green-led administration at the District Council is committed to bringing forward more employment opportunities at the Northern Quarter but it’s time to stop obsessing over an out-of-date failed project.
“It would have been better if he had spoken to even one Green or Labour district councillor first before unquestioningly accepting the word of our political opponents,” he said.
“So let me put the record straight about the intentions of the Green-led Forest of Dean District Council in relation to Cinderford.
“We want to bring meaningful regeneration to the town, not waste public money trying to complete a road-building project which overspent by millions of pounds because of the toxic, void-riddled terrain it was trying to build on.
“Regeneration for Cinderford is vital, but it does not and cannot depend on the completion of what experience has taught us was a flawed project.
“After ten years, in which only a college and half a road were built, it’s time the CNQ project was rethought and replaced with a viable, deliverable programme.
“We will continue to promote employment sites in Cinderford Northern Quarter which already have road access, to bring jobs to the town and prevent so many having to travel out of the area for work.
“The sooner we can get thriving businesses operational on those sites the better. And yes, one of them might be an eco study or nature tourism centre – as promoted by the previous administration – all kinds of options are being explored.
“Steam Mills Primary School needs a wide area 20 mph limit around it. Graham Morgan is the county councillor who could help make that happen. We would be grateful for his support with this. 20 mph is essential where children and families come and go on foot or bicycle.
“We share the goal to bring proper regeneration to Cinderford with Labour councillors in the Forest of Dean, along with a long term vision for a possible new secondary school for the town – to help breathe new life into the area.
“In the centre of Cinderford we’ve been working closely with the town council on significant regeneration work at The Wesley, 6 Market Street and Rheola House.
“We’re hoping the Cinderford Regeneration Board will reconvene in the coming months.
“No-one’s abandoning Cinderford, but it’s time to stop obsessing over an out-of-date, failed project, and instead, work on realistic measures which will actually benefit residents.”