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Heysham Link will make our traffic problems worse, Professor warns

John Freeman
Former city councillor John Whitelegg, a Professor of Sustainable Transport, has hit out angrily at claims from the construction company, Costain, that the proposed M6 Link will improve the economic health of the Lancaster area.

His comments came after Costain, who won the bid to build the Link Road last April, issued a newsletter making the claim, echoing previous comments from Lancashire County Council's project manager for the scheme, Steve McCreesh.

"Amongst other things the completed scheme will promote regeneration in the area by improving access and reducing congestion," Mr McCreesh argued last year.  "... the regeneration will start once work gets underway."

"The HM6L will not contribute to the economic health and vitality of the area covered by Lancaster City Council," counters Professor Whitelegg, who is also a member of the Green Party as well as being a Professor of Sustainable Transport at Liverpool John Moores University and a Professor of Sustainable Development at the Stockholm Environment Institute.

"The estimate of the number of jobs that will be created or protected is based on a very shaky methodology and cannot be substantiated by reference to standard scientific criteria.  At the public inquiry into the road the number was more than halved by the promoter.  The Standing Advisory Committee Trunk Road Assessment report “Transport and the Economy”, which is the gold standard on this subject and published by the UK government, is very clear that new roads are just as likely to suck jobs out of the local economy as bring them in.

 "The HM6L will not solve traffic congestion and air quality problems in the Lancaster district," he added, noting also that the complementary measures associated with the HM6L (e.g. park and ride) are capable of delivering benefits as stand alone projects.

"The HM6L is a project at odds with the definition of sustainable development," Professor Whitelegg argues. "It will add to newly generated traffic levels. It will add to the CO2 inventory at a time when we are striving to produce an 80 per cent reduction in these greenhouse gases and it destroys a large swathe of attractive countryside, green belt, trees and hedgerows."

The professor points out that there is now a considerable body of expert knowledge on how to design and deliver sustainable transport solutions to urban areas like the area covered by Lancaster City Council (some covered in Resilient Cities: Responding to peak oil and climate change by Peter Newman).

"The HM6L is contra-indicated and will make our transport problems worse," he feels. "It is fundamentally non-sustainable."

"The freight needs of the port of Heysham can be addressed through a rail freight initiative," he suggests, "and there are best practice examples in several EU ports showing how it is possible, desirable and cost effective to develop these solutions.  They also reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality."

The proposed Link Road has been given the green light by Government but is again going through a new planning approval stage follow changes to the scheme to bring down the multimillion pound price tag.

Lancashire County Council says the Heysham to M6 Link scheme, which will cost an estimated £137 million, will provide the long awaited connection from the M6 at Junction 34 to the Port of Heysham and the surrounding areas.

In its final deposition for funding to the government, made in January (PDF Link), the Council says that once completed,  the dual carriageway will provide improved access for the businesses currently located in Heysham and Morecambe including the port and the nuclear power stations, open up large areas for regeneration and reduce bottlenecks and congestion currently experienced within the City of Lancaster caused by traffic trying to access these areas.