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"Roads Bring Jobs" Claims debunked as Chamber of Commerce pushes for Bypass again

John Freeman
Campaigners against the proposed M6 Link Road have savaged claims made by Lancaster's Chamber of Commerce that the Bypass would bring new jobs to the area - or stop jobs being lost.

In a seven-page justification for the Link Road (PDF link), whose funding is currently on hold pending the Government Spending Review, the Chamber of Commerce argues it would benefit lorry traffic to Heysham port, supporting development of a Heysham 3 nuclear power station (thereby offsetting future job loses through de-commissioning), bring new private sector investment to reduce the area’s dependency on the public sector, support the regeneration of Morecambe and open up of employment sites.

Separately, Lancashire County Council claims that based on Department for Transport calculations, 900 new jobs would be created by 2020 on just a few industrial sites thanks to the new road.

Responding to environmental concerns and other criticisms of the road plan, Jon Price, president of Lancaster and District Chamber of Commerce told the Lancaster Guardian last week that “as residents and employees or employers, we must be prepared to look beyond the inconveniences that arise from such developments and consider the future for our economy.”

The document provides little supporting evidence for its claims that the road would bring new jobs and campaign group Transport Solutions for Lancaster and Morecambe, which is working on affordable transport plans with other groups to combat in town congestion, has dismissed it as "speculative wishful thinking."

"The claim that a new road creates jobs or 'saves' jobs is often made, but has never been proven," notes David Gate, chair of TSLM. "The government's own advisers on these matters (the Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment) said that evidence of this kind is 'weak and disputed'. They refer to the 'two-way road effect', which explains that a new road could lead to a decline in jobs and economic activity as the city or region becomes more accessible to competition from other areas.

"Locally, the promoters of the High-Low Newton bypass claimed that 2,000 jobs would be created," David also points out, "but they haven’t appeared.

"At the Inquiry in 2007, claims for new jobs the Link Road would bring started out at 6,000 but, as mistakes in the calculations were revealed, were whittled down to 600," notes David Gate, chair of the TSLM. "As the County Council’s expert said: 'not worth building a road for'.

"Let’s be clear," he added. "600 new jobs would be great, but if you spend £140 million, you’d expect a lot more – nine times more, according to the government benchmark.

"The County Council's own survey for the 2007 Inquiry found that local businesses were not worried by the lack of a link road," he notes. "85 per cent had been at their current location for over 10 years, 85 per cent had no intention of moving, and only 15 per cent regarded accessibility to their premises as a problem."

Would tourism benefit from a the proposed new road? "Visitors are attracted by what’s on offer when they arrive, not by a journey that might be ten minutes quicker," David argues. "Look at all the visitors to Britain's South West, with all its tourist bottlenecks."

TSLM also points out that the Chamber of Commerce wants “the government to provide the right infrastructure.

"So they’ll take a road if it’s given to them for free, but won’t contribute to it themselves," David surmises.

"You can see why. Peel Holdings, owners of Heysham Port, also own the Port of Liverpool, where they’re planning to develop a 'SuperPort'. That would bring vastly increased capacity to North West ports, and leave Heysham dwarfed.

"Lancaster Chamber of Commerce is trying to elbow its way to the front of the queue for government handouts," David feels, "in front of schools, hospitals, community services for an old-fashioned, big-spending scheme that won’t solve congestion, the district’s biggest problem.

"The Chamber of Commerce should be aware that integrated transport plans exist which would address congestion problems at a much more realistic price, and we would encourage them to be more realistic and look to the interests of local business rather than pursue a pie in the sky political agenda."

Despite the support for the road plan from the Chamber of Commerce and both local MPs, it does look as though the County Council is giving up on the plan. Earlier this month they decided to make cuts of £22 million, including £1.3m by deferring the Heysham bypass project. These are preparatory costs (for staff and consultants) up to March 2011 but it does appear they are assuming that the scheme in unlikely to get the go ahead in the Government's Spending Review, due to be announced on 20th October.

However the Review is "defer", not "cancel" the Bypass plan, so TSLM fully intend to continue the fight against it, arguing there are cheaper and more effective alternatives.

Whether you are pro or anti the Bypass you can make your views known by:

• Writing to Norman Baker MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, Department for Transport, Great Minster House, 76 Marsham St., London, SW1 4DR.Email,

• David Morris MP (Morecambe & Lunesdale), House of Commons, London, SW1A OAA.
email, (don't expect a reply, he's obviously far too busy to talk to constituents - and his web site correspondence form doesn't work)

• Eric Ollerenshaw MP (Lancaster & Fleetwood), House of Commons, London, SW1A OAA.

Lancaster Chamber of Commerce

Transport Solutions for Lancaster and Morecambe