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County Council pushes on with M6 Link plans despite spending review

John Freeman
Lancashire County Council is pressing ahead with its plans for the M6-Heysham link - even though Britain's new coalition government has called a halt to progress on many new road plans until the completion of a spending review later this year.

The Department for Transport has written to all new road scheme promoters, including Lancashire County Council, saying that no scheme without Conditional Approval will be progressed until a comprehensive spending review has reported back later this year (You can read the full text of the letter from the DfT to the Council here).

The DfT say that the funding position and priorities of all the schemes remain uncertain until Ministers have set out their spending priorities.

Whilst the Government have awarded the Heysham to M6 Link "Programme Entry" status (which indicates they are willing to fund it subject to funds being available, gaining planning permission and providing a further analysis of the business case), the County Council will need to make a further application for funding once the legal processes are complete. This is likely to be in spring 2011.

The Campaign for Better Transport claims the government review means that schemes with public inquiries coming up stand a very good chance of having their funding pulled in an effort to save money nationally - and schemes without Programme Entry status are unlikely to proceed.

The Government's new stance, which has been given a cautious welcome by campaigners who have long argued for other approaches to improve Britain's traffic problems, comes in part as a result of demands to reduce the national budget deficit. New ministers are also looking at new approaches to national transport issues.

New Secretary of State for Transport Peter Hammond is considered in favour of cuts in public spending sort of person, although he has also talked about ending the mythical "war on motorists", but has, as yet, proposed anything particularly new.

Minister of State Theresa Villiers – a senior Minister within the Department - is considered to be very much in favour of 'option identification and multi-modal approaches' - meaning she won't necessarily opt for one solution to traffic issues.

Campaigners against the planed M6 Link say Lancaster County Council should now go back to the drawing board and look again at the many low-cost alternatives previously proposed including, perhaps, continuing with the Park and Ride plans which were already part of the Bypass scheme; and pushing for improvements to the Heysham-Carnforth rail link that could help address the problems of lorry traffic by making Carnforth a hub for rail freight.

Land already owned by Network Rail could be utilised for this, and such a proposal makes sense given County Council claims that much lorry traffic to Heysham port comes from the north of the country.

Green councillor and transport expert John Whitelegg - who had discussions with the Conservatives about transport policy before the Election - has welcomed the spending review.

"Most new roads are bad value for money and our very own M6-Heysham link plan is especially bad value for money," he told virtual-lancaster. "Its impact on creating jobs, reducing congestion and improving air quality is pathetically small and for a £137 million a real white elephant. I's an obvious candidate for the chop and I hope it is chopped.

"There are so many really good ways of dealing with our transport problems that it will be marvellous to get on with developing them without the spectre of the bypass hanging over us."

Transport Solutions for Lancaster and Morecambe co-ordinator David Gate has also welcomed the review. "This is encouraging news," he says.

However, the County Council, which recently announced Costain had been awarded the construction contract for the £100m Heysham to M6 link road, says it will be "business as usual" for the link's design team after what they describe as the DfT's announced post-election "stock take" of all the major transport schemes.

The council says it will continue to work on the development of the scheme and prepare for the Orders Inquiry in October, as work on this is being funded by the county council and money has been set aside for it.

"When the DfT awarded Programme Entry for the scheme they said that it was a vital new road that will ease congestion and boost the North West economy," County Councillor Keith Young, Cabinet member for highways and transport told virtual-lancaster. "That is still the case and when the time comes we will be presenting the best possible case to the Government to obtain funding.

"The road will bring much needed investment to the area and is excellent value for money with a return of £6 on every pound spent."

Lancashire County Council is not the only Council affected by the review. Almost as soon as the new government was installed, the Department for Transport wrote to Conservative-run Shropshire County Council about plans for its North West Relief Road for Shrewsbury, telling them the scheme should not be progressed until the comprehensive spending review has reported back.

• (Full text of the letter from the DfT to the Council informing them of the spending review)

• TSLM have a range of proposals for non-road traffic and transport improvements on their campaign web site:

• Campaign for Better Transport:

Peter Hammond discussing his brief on the BBC's Daily Politics