CONSTRUCTION of the notorious ‘Missing Link’ at the Air Balloon Roundabout on the A417 near Cirencester is unlikely to start for another five years, according to Highways England (HE).

The connection of the two dual carriageway sections, which is often heavily congested as well as being the site of accidents, has raised concerns for more than 20 years among residents and councilors.

In December 2014, the Government announced its commitment to the improvements as part of its Road Strategy for 2015/16 to 2019/20 but work is now unlikely to begin before 2021 say HE.

Leader of Gloucestershire Lib Dems Cllr Paul Hodgkinson had written to new transport secretary Chris Grayling MP in July asking him to confirm his commitment to the project after taking up his post.

Mr Grayling did not answer the letter himself but did pass it to HE to respond, with the roads authority confirming that the project is still ongoing despite changes in Government but that any hope of construction work starting soon has gone.

In the letter, a spokesman said: “On December 1, 2014, the Government announced its Road Investment Strategy (RIS) for 2015/16 – 2019/20, which included a commitment to improve the connection of the two dual carriageway sections of the A417 near Birdlip in Gloucestershire, taking account of both the environmental sensitivity of the site and the importance of the route to the local economy.

“This particular scheme was announced to be developed in the first RIS period (up until March 31, 2020) ready for construction in the next roads period.

“Due to statutory process, such as the Development Consent Order (DCO), that this scheme will need to follow it is unlikely that we will be able to begin construction before 2021.

He said: “The DCO process can take a minimum of 18 months to complete, however, it needs a considerable amount of work beforehand in order to ensure that we have the best possible chance of achieving a positive decision from the Secretary of State.

“The commitment of £255million as made in the RIS is still current and the details of the RIS have not currently changed as a result of the recent referendum result to leave the EU.

“Every scheme is subject to ensuring value for money is delivered and the funding for every scheme is reviewed throughout its lifecycle.

“Highways England are currently beginning work to identify a number of different options which could provide a solution to the issues on the A417.

“We will be undertaking an engagement later this year however, specific dates, locations and times are yet to be determined and until such time that these are agreed we are unable to invite delegates including the Secretary of State.”

Cllr Hodgkinson called the news ‘frustrating’ but has promised to continue his fight to ensure the work is done sooner rather than later.

He said: “Whilst I’m glad that fixing this urgent problem is still on the agenda, the news that work won’t even start for another five years is frustrating.

“This road is a real drag on Gloucestershire’s economy.

“My other concern is that Highways England say in their letter that funding for all schemes is reviewed regularly. Does that mean the Government could pull the plug if it wanted to?

“I will keep the pressure up on the new transport minister.

“It’s a shame he hasn’t given his personal commitment to the scheme and has not responded to my request for him to visit and see the issues for himself.”