COUNTY Council leader David Hitchiner has dismissed claims that the authority would have to repay £3.8m should it decide not to proceed with building the Hereford southern link road.

In August, infrastructure and transport cabinet member John Harrington decided to pause and review the South Wye Transport Package (SWTP), which includes the project which would link the A49 Ross road with the A465 Abergavenny road.

Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors said they were alarmed at draft minutes from a recent Marches Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) board meeting which suggested the LEP would seek to recoup the funding.

However, Coun Hitchiner said they have not been provided with any legal justification to claw back the money.

He told full council last week that the council’s chief finance officer Andrew Lovegrove confirmed they have correctly spent funding on the road project.

“The LEP has provided grant funding from its Growth Deal allocation,” Coun Hitchiner said.

“Hence the council does not consider the grant to be repayable.

“For completeness, Andrew has commented that if the grant is deemed to be repayable, then the council would need to consider all of the funding options open to it to revise the funding of the South Wye Transport package.

“These options could include the use of revenue budgets or reserves as well as sources of capital funding.”

He also explained that many of the new councillors were elected on the basis that they did not support the proposed Hereford southern link road and bypass, and that it was right for a pause and review of the projects.

“This is an important decision and it is only right that this new administration should not be rushed to make a decision when the previous administration took years.”

Coun Hitchiner also said the previous council had not been in a position to submit a business case to unlock the £27m to be spent on the SWTP.

“To apply for the funds and use them for the road project by March 31, 2021, would require a rapid decision by the cabinet member, submission of a business case, approval of that case, and a very quick build period.

“It is unlikely that all those factors will fall into place.

“The LEP have rightly identified that the money might not be spent and they are seeking other ways of spending it.

“We want to keep this money in Hereford.”

He said council officers were having discussions with the Department for Transport on spending the money on other projects.