Historic day as £90m Congleton Link Road set to open
The long-awaited opening date of the £90m Congleton Link Road has been revealed – along with its historic new name
The 5.5km route will open for the public to walk and cycle along on Friday 16 April and that weekend, before opening to vehicles on Monday 19 April.
The borough’s largest infrastructure project to date will be named Wolstenholme Elmy Way – after Congleton’s famous pioneering educationalist and campaigner for votes for women, Elizabeth Clarke Wolstenholme Elmy.
The opening to traffic will be marked by a small Covid-secure ribbon-cutting ceremony followed by local classic cars enthusiasts driving their vehicles along the route for the first time.
The new road will relieve the Cheshire East town of some of its historical traffic problems, create road space for cyclists and pedestrians and improve air quality for residents, while opening up new development opportunities for employment and housing.
Despite the twin challenges of the Covid pandemic and recent severe winter weather, the council’s contractor, Graham, worked hard to reduce the delays to the project, which was originally due to open late last year. Despite this, the scheme will still be delivered within budget.
Councillor Craig Browne, Cheshire East Council deputy leader with responsibility for infrastructure, said: “The opening of this link road will be a real ‘red letter’ day for the council, Graham, road users and, above all, the people of Congleton.
“Traffic congestion has previously hampered town centre growth, reduced inward investment and also made it difficult to retain existing business.
“I am delighted this massive project has progressed so well, despite the added challenges of two extremely wet winters and, of course, the Covid pandemic, which affected many of the schemes suppliers and meant contractors had to take special measures to protect workers.
“For a project of this size and complexity, the progress made from first inception to completion has been nothing short of astonishing. Everyone connected with this scheme should be proud.”
The new highway joins the A534 Sandbach Road to the west and the A536 Macclesfield Road to the north, opening up connectivity and improving travel between Macclesfield, Congleton and the M6.
It will release 20 hectares of new employment land with the potential to create 3,000 jobs by 2035.
Councillor Laura Crane, Cheshire East Council cabinet member for highways, said: “I know Congleton Town Council and the people of Congleton have been very supportive of this scheme and I am delighted that everyone’s hard work is coming to final fruition. I want to thank Graham for ensuring that work could continue in a safe manner during this difficult year. Seeing this road named after a local suffragist is a wonderfully positive statement for the community as we move forward.”
Alastair Lewis, contracts manager for Graham, said: “This is a fantastic moment for the whole construction team, its partners and the local community. Despite the impact of the pandemic and some tough recent winter weather, we have been able to continue our works in a safe manner, while following government and public health guidelines, and have delivered the link road as close to the original schedule as possible – and within budget.”
Cheshire East Council is contributing £24m towards the scheme with central government and developer contributions meeting the balance.
Planning for the Congleton Link Road began back in 2012 with various routes considered by Cheshire East Council. After public consultation, a planning application was submitted in September 2015, before permission was granted the following July.
The Department for Transport gave the final go-ahead for the council for their element of funding, enabling the council to acquire the land for the route in 2018, before Graham began construction in 2019.
Elizabeth Clarke Wolstenholme Elmy (1833–1918), who lived in Congleton from 1874 until her death, campaigned for girls to be given the same access to higher education as boys and for women to be given the vote. Wolstenholme founded the Manchester Schoolmistresses Association in 1865 and the Manchester Committee for the Enfranchisement of Women in 1866 – and began 50 years of vigorous campaigning for women's suffrage – the right to vote.
She gave up her school role in 1871 and became the first paid employee of the women's movement, when she was employed to lobby Parliament with regard to ‘laws that were injurious to women’. Nicknamed the ‘Scourge of the Commons’ or the ‘Government Watchdog’, Wolstenholme was instrumental in maintaining the movement’s momentum with a re-grouping in 1867 under the name Manchester Society for Women's Suffrage.
In 1877 the women's suffrage campaign was centralised as the National Society for Women's Suffrage. Wolstenholme was a founding member of the Women's Franchise League in 1889. Wolstenholme left the organisation and founded the Women's Emancipation Union in 1891, a forerunner of the more militant Women’s Social and Political Union – known as the suffragettes. Women got the vote in 1918.
A blue plaque was installed at Wolstenholme’s home, Buxton House, by Congleton Civic Society. It reads: ‘Elizabeth Wolstenholme-Elmy 1839–1918 Campaigner for social, legal and political equality for women lived here 1874–1918’.