Friday, 26 September 2008

Traffic Management Cheaper than Bypass, says expert

Concerned that vital Department for Transport appraisal guidance has not been followed in planning for the planned Heysham M6 Link road, and the fact that there is no clear statement as to what the costs really are, local campaign group Transport Solutions for Lancaster and Morecambe (TSLM) engaged a national transport expert, Keith Buchan, who works for transport planning consultants MTRU, to look into matters.

In his report (available from the virtual-lancaster website, PDF format), which is now being considered by the DfT, he concludes that vital appraisal guidance has not been followed and that a proper alternative package of transport measures should be prepared to compare with the Northern route scheme.

Lancashire County Council's proposal for the Heysham M6 Link was called in by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and went through a Planning Inquiry in 2007. It is now awaiting a decision from the DfT as to whether it can be entered into the capital programme for the North West region.

The original total scheme cost was £113m in 2002 prices, according to the Council's own Transport User Benefit Appraisal (TUBA). The original cost will go up to £142m in 2008 prices (assuming 6% p.a. construction cost inflation). The delay of three years in construction would thus make the £113m go up to £135m (2002 prices).

Mr Buchan, part of a team with a wide range of clients that includes British Gas, the Council for the Protection of Rural England, the Department of the Environment and Transport for London, argues there needs to be a clear statement of what the current costs really are and this almost certainly needs a new estimate to be prepared. He also says the Council would be better spending less money on congestion busting measures, not the Northern route.

The Council's arguments that the road will bring more employment are also disputed. The proposer’s figure of 6,000 new jobs was not supported by the Planning Inquiry Inspector who mentioned, but did not confirm, the figure of 600 in his report. If these figures were used, the cost per job would be £233,000, well in excess of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's benchmark of £27,000.

The Council has also not explained how Heysham expansion fits within national ports policy and rail policy and how it interacts with development at other ports.

In his recommendations, Mr Buchan says a proper alternative package should be prepared to compare with the proposed scheme including smarter choices in the economic appraisal; that an assessment of how the driver benefits would undermine the use of sustainable modes and smarter choices must be included; that the expansion of Heysham, and its relationship with other ports, needs to be undertaken as part of national policy and the need for ports to be rail linked; and a full assessment of the impact on carbon emissions in 2020 and their costs, and how the scheme will help or hinder in achieving the reduction target, must be prepared and included in the appraisal.

"A considerable amount of work on other measures has already been done by council consultants Faber Maunsell and proposals have been made in a £120,000 report, but the Preston based County Council stubbornly sticks to the £189 million Link road as its top prioritiess" says David Gate, chair of TSLM.

"The main purpose of the Link is to attract more heavy traffic to use Heysham port, but for most local people between town congestion is the main priority."

"It will come down to a question of priorities; no one in their right mind thinks that the taxpayer can afford both," says David Gate. "We believe that for half the price of the Link Lancaster and Morecambe could get the integrated transport solution that it deserves and we challenge the County Council to prove that we are wrong."

• Read Keith Buchan's report via (PDF)

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