Traffic hell: Interminable queueson the A23 to Croydon are not likely to see relief for the foreseeablefuture.

Many residents certainly feltrelief last month when the government announced it was pressing aheadwith the long-awaited Coulsdon relief road. But then they found out thatwork on the by-pass could be up to seven years in starting. OwenPhillips dons his driving gloves and weaves through the trafficlining the A23 to investigate.

Ask any long-suffering Coulsdon resident how they enjoy their daily drivealong the A23 to Croydon and the torrent of abuse offered back will tellthe full story.

Bumper to bumper traffic, countless hours spent sat behind the wheel andan ever-rising blood pressure are the only by-products of the supposedlyshort trip.

So years of campaigning by frustrated residents to remove the congestionwhich they say has "devastated Coulsdon" was obviously a hugeboost. Or was it?

Gary Eliott, a Coulsdon resident for 20 years, has mixed feelings: "ObviouslyI'm happy that the government is saying it will do something, butthat something needs to be done now, not in seven years. The situation onthe Brighton Road is a joke. It's a national and local disgrace thatthe by-pass has been put back again and again while the constantlygridlocked traffic has sucked the lifeblood out of the town. Shops haveclosed left, right and centre, and making the road a red route has donenothing to help. The road is an absolute nightmare."

Certainly the government announcement that the work might not start onthe £30m scheme until 2005 prevented the street parties andoutpouring of joy that the council seemed to be expecting.

As one of only 37 trunk road improvement projects across the country toget the go-ahead, the scheme is seen as essential in improving links tothe motorway network for businesses.

Although Croydon & South London Chamber chief executive Mike Warehamtold the Guardian he was delighted to see the scheme backed, he reiteratedthe need for quick action: "Anything that can be done to relieve thebottleneck on the A23 and improve access to Croydon has to be welcomed. Atone stage it looked like the by-pass scheme would not be included in theGovernment list, which would have been a massive blow.

"It is now a question of working closely with Croydon Council in aconcentrated effort to ensure that work starts sooner rather than later."

Not surprisingly, the project also invited differing reactions from twoof the borough's MPs

Croydon Central MP Geraint Davies believes the news is an important stepforward, both for the environment and the economy: "This move willrelieve the bottleneck in Coulsdon that causes delay and environmentaldamage.

He added the move was particularly important given the government'scommitment to an integrated transport system: "It should be seenwithin the wider context of the Transport White Paper which looks forwardto decreasing reliance on cars and better public transport - withbillions invested in a modern tube system, and trams for Croydon and southLondon."

But Croydon South MP Richard Ottoway was not so heartened. "I ampleased the Labour government, after removing it from the programme, haslistened to those calling for its reinstatement and have it put back intothe programme.

"However I condemn the uncertainty that remains over its date ofconstruction.

"Compulsory purchases have been completed, sites have been clearedand surveys have been carried out - there is no reason why it shouldnot start straight away and remove the congestion from Coulsdon'stown centre.

"An 80 per cent reduction in traffic levels will transform Coulsdonand restore it to the fine town it was."

Converted for the new archive on 30 June 2000.Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.