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Bypass goes back to planning despite government funding green light

Author: 
John Freeman
This week's Lancaster Guardian reports that the proposed M6 Link to Heysham is to be re-submitted for planning approval - despite confirmation of much of the funding for the project from the government in yesterday's budget (see news story).

This week's paper leads with news of the setback, which reports the scheme, which was revised to bring costs down, will now have to be submitted to the new Infrastructure Planning Commission which now deals with "nationally significant" projects.

Even if the project is approved after this new planning process, work on building the controversial link road would not begin until the Spring or Summer of 2013 - by which time the costs already agreed will be higher simply because of rising costs such as inflation and increased costs of land purchase.

Campaigners arguing for alternatives to road building have already questioned the wisdom of the County Council being exposed to 'open ended costs' on the project. The government yesterday committed to £110.9 million in funding, but the County still has to find over £12 million to fund the full, estimated £123 million cost of the scheme.

Back in January, Green Party County Councillors voiced serious concerns about the way that Lancashire County Council is proceeding with Link Road, arguing proposed cost cutting measures had changed the approved scheme to such an extent that it could go to yet another costly public inquiry to gain approval.

Although the County Council was then refusing to release details of its plans, even to its own councillors, in its "Best and Final Bid" for funding, submitted to the government in January, it proposed that it could reduce the then estimated £137 million cost of the road by £8 million in various ways, including raising Shefferlands roundabout at the north end of the new Lune Bridge by around 13 metres to reduce the amount of excavation here and in the cuttings between the roundabout and the A6. 

Other cost cutting measures revealed included deleting lighting from sections of route between junctions, even though County said at the last public inquiry that lighting would be installed for safety reasons; adjustments to southbound slip road at Junction 34 of the M6, saving £2 million; and reduction in site supervision cost estimates from £6.23 million in 2007 to £1.5 million. Such action could potentially, of course, result in a truly worrying reduction that could be paid for in the lives of construction workers.

Although not linked to any specific plans, the County Council argues the Link Road will facilitate, encourage and ease industrial and commercial regeneration of Heysham, Morecambe and the surrounding areas. In addition, it claims the road will ease the current and restrictive traffic congestion experienced in central Lancaster, freeing capacity for alternative greener transport options.

But in its Final Funding bid, the Council admits that while major businesses in the areas that will benefit from the scheme have been approached with a view to securing contributions to its construction, none have been secured to date.

Despite this, there is widespread support for the scheme including both Conservative MPs and within the widespread business community. The MPs, local businesses and the Chamber of Commerce have been actively lobbying in support of the project. Seven out of the ten local County Councillors (both Labour and Conservative) wrote to the Prime Minister in support of the scheme.

Responding to the government's backing for the project yesterday, the County Council claims it will create some 3000 jobs in the local area during the construction phase.

Tim Ashton, Lancashire County Council's cabinet member for highways and transport, said: "The idea for a major road link from the port of Heysham dates back half a century and I'm very proud that we're finally going to deliver it.

"The Heysham-M6 link will generate thousands of jobs during construction alone, promote ongoing economic growth in the region and reduce traffic congestion in Lancaster city centre."

• The Lancaster Guardian's full report on the planning delay, which includes comments from the Chamber of Commerce and campaigners against the scheme, is not yet online. An image of the proposed changes to the scheme published in the newspaper does not yet appear to be on the County Council web site

Lancashire County Council Heysham to M6 Link Road Page 

Best and Final Funding Bid for M6 Link (County Council document, PDF)

Transport Solutions for Lancaster and Morecambe has published many alternatives to the road scheme which could be introduced at a fraction of the cost of a new road

• Infrastructure Planning Commission: http://infrastructure.independent.gov.uk


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