Birds are chattering in the grounds of St Teilo’s Church in Llandeilo on a bracing winter day but their singsong is about to be drowned out again.
Another HGV has crossed the River Towy and is pounding up the hill on Bridge Street towards the centre of the town. The juddering stops and the birdsong resumes. Then another lorry sounds its arrival.
That’s because Bridge Street, which becomes the town’s narrow thoroughfare Rhosmaen Street, is also the A483 trunk road between Swansea and Manchester.
For nine years part of the picturesque Carmarthenshire town, with its fine art and fashion shops, has been designated an air quality management area due to breaches of nitrogen dioxide levels.
Plans for a bypass have been in the offing for decades but still the HGVs rattle through the town centre. Work on a £50m bypass was expected to start by the end of 2019 but it was delayed by the Welsh Government until 2022 and then, a second time, until 2025 at the earliest.
There are currently four options: three featuring a bypass which would skirt the east of Llandeilo, running along the railway below and then joining up with the A40 roundabout just north of the town, and one incorporating traffic lights and the removal of parking in Rhosmaen Street but no relief road. The bypass options also avoid the village of Ffairfach to the south.
Ask about the project in town and opinions differ widely. All sides recognise the HGV issue but don’t concur on how to solve it. Some people expressed views on the proviso their names were not used. Clearly it’s a sensitive subject.
Jon and Marie Pearson, who were out walking their dog, strongly opposed a bypass. “We think it’s a terrible idea,” said Mr Pearson. “It would traverse the fields and would have to be elevated above the flood plain. One in 100-year floods are now happening every 10 years.
“The carbon footprint would be awful – and does Wales need to spend £50m to £70m on it?”
Mr Pearson said he felt alternatives to a bypass, such as limiting the times HGVs could come through the town, had not been trialled properly.
His wife said: “This is a very pristine area. The landscape is beautiful by the River Towy. The bypass would destroy the valley.”
The couple are keen birdwatchers and live near the town’s railway station and would therefore feel the impact of a bypass more than some. They candidly say they have a “vested interest”.
Mr Pearson said: “If you took a straw poll in town I’m guessing you would find it even.”
Wendy Powell-Jones, of Church Street, which overlooks the Towy Valley, also felt the bypass was not the right option. “It’s all the money, and all the disruption, and hundreds of houses would be affected,” she said.
“When it rains heavily it’s a lake down there and mist sets in down in the valley.”
She accepted there was pollution in the town centre but believed other options could be found other than a new relief road. “There are people who can do this,” she said.
A few doors down and Maggie Crimmins is annoyed that the two most popular options of a previous public consultation – both avoiding a bypass – did not make it onto the current shortlist. “Why offer them in the first place?” she said.
Ms Crimmins said she believed the bypass was a “very bad idea”. She said: “Once you’ve ruined that valley there’s no repairing it. It’s also a huge amount of money and it’s bound to more than they say it would be.”
She added: “By 2030 Boris Johnson is talking about new electric vehicles – we need to stop using 20th century solutions in the 21st century. I don’t feel that building a relief road is the right response.
“The lorries are a problem. There are solutions – weight restrictions on the bridge (across the river) or encouraging lorries to use a different route.”
Looking at the map the only obvious option would be a fairly significant detour via Carmarthen and you can’t blame hauliers for using the quickest route from A to B.
“Maybe there will be a time when we will transport fewer goods,” said Ms Crimmins.
In the town centre Tatyana Stuart-Grumbar backed the idea of a bypass. “I think it’s a good idea,” said the Oriel Mimosa Fine Art employee. “With less traffic I think it would draw a lot more people to the town. There would be less sense of stress.”
Caroline Jenkins, of gift and clothing shop Igam Ogam, agreed. “We desperately need the bypass,” she said. “Llandeilo is a small town and you can’t keep on with these huge lorries and the volume of traffic.
“When the lorries go past things rattle in the back of the shop. We’ve seen so many parked cars getting hit.
“Llandeilo was not meant for this. It’s just horrific – and at school time, oh dear me. One time two lorries were stuck down the bottom outside and an ambulance could not get through.”
Mrs Jenkins rejected a suggestion that a bypass might cut off the town from trade. “People would feel safe not having to worry about the traffic,” she said.
Neil Jones, the owner of Jones International Travel Ltd, of Llandeilo, said he believed a bypass was “the only common sense alternative”. He said: “I’m sure the town would find a way to flourish if that was to happen.”
He said the option of removing parking from Rhosmaen Street could lead to lorries and other vehicles posing an issue by travelling too fast. “And you can’t make large lorries go elsewhere,” he added.
Eifion Davies was based in an office before the coronavirus lockdown but is now working from home in the town. He has asthma and said his chest was feeling better since the switch.
“I used to be standing outside the office at 8.20am waiting to go in during rush-hour traffic with all the lorries and buses,” he said.
Mr Davies said he didn’t think the traffic light option would work in Rhosmaen Street. He said temporary lights in the street in the summer, which were needed to allow for scaffolding and roofing work on a property, had caused “carnage”.
The 55-year-old, who is also a town councillor, said he understood the concerns of objectors. “In the end we have got to get the balance of the health and safety of people in the town,” he said.
The town council backs one of the cheaper bypass options. Town mayor Owen James said: “As it stands it’s simply dangerous for people to come into Llandeilo. I know of people who don’t want to come into Llandeilo for that reason. Stand on the main road – you know exactly why we need a bypass.”
Mr James also said he understood the reasons of those who opposed the relief road. “You are not going to please everyone – we understand that,” he said.
County councillor Edward Thomas said he wanted the “Rolls-Royce” bypass option, estimated at £70m, which takes a wider swerve of Ffairfach than the two other relief road proposals.
“My first priority has always been the pollution,” he said. “Nitrogen dioxide levels at one point in Llandeilo were the highest in Wales. The trunk road runs past two primary schools, which is not good. My other concern is pedestrian safety.”
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The Independent ward member led a county council motion on the delayed bypass in September, claiming the first delay dated back to 1938 when “Mr Hitler decided to divert us from that task”. Cllr Thomas said Rhosmaen Street would become one-way if a bypass was built, allowing pavements to be widened.
He rejected the suggestion that businesses could lose out if passing trade was redirected. “Llandeilo is such a tourist attraction – a town with independent shops and nice eateries,” he said. “I think the days of passing trade have passed.”
The latest public consultation on the bypass and option excluding it ended on November 20.
A Welsh Government spokesman said: “We remain committed to delivering the (bypass) scheme as part of wider efforts to improve transport in the area. We’re working closely with stakeholders, including Carmarthenshire Council, to take this work forward.”
Feedback was taken on board, the spokesman said, from walking and cycling charity Sustrans and Future Generations Commissioner Sophie Howe. The spokesman said ministers had committed £50m to the project thus far and added: “We continue to follow detailed appraisal processes to ensure this scheme delivers the maximum set of benefits for the local area.”
Carmarthenshire’s executive board member for environment, Cllr Hazel Evans, welcomed the commitment. She said: “We also support the need for improved walking and cycling provision. However, as acknowledged in the consultation document, the nature of traffic movement through the town is strategic – 81% of general traffic travels through the town and 95% of heavy goods vehicles travel through the town.”
Short-term measures, she said, were likely to have marginal impact on improving air quality, which was the major issue.
The Plaid Cymru councillor added: “Consequently we support the need for the bypass complemented by better facilities for pedestrians and cyclists once the bypass is built.”
Leaving Llandeilo, the late morning sun delves further into Rhosmaen Street and its offshoots, illuminating the shops and cafes. I suddenly feel a little Christmassy.
But as I get into my car a thin layer of grime on the windscreen reminds me why I was here.