The Environment Agency has given formal consent for the proposed new bridge over the River Lune at Halton that is part of the controversial M6 Link to Heysham - but although this has been welcomed by Lancashire County Council, campaigners against the proposed £140 million road say planners have failed to alleviate the fear of flooding for local residents.
The County Council claims extensive computer modelling has shown flooding concerns are ill-founded - but all the projections have done is show that while the new bridge may not cause new problems, it will not reduce the possibility of flooding, either.
“The permission has been given because we have been able to prove that the bridge will not make existing flooding problems any worse," says Lancashire County Council’s project manager for the scheme, Steve McCreesh.
“This is good news for us but I also hope it will mean residents in Halton can now feel more comfortable with the Heysham Link project.
“While the engineers cannot solve the flooding problem in Halton, at least residents now know that the proposed bridge, even under extreme conditions, will not make matters worse."
But campaigners have rejected the County's view, also arguing the building work will be both costly and intrusive for locals.
"This is no comfort to Halton residents, who are only too well aware of the power of the river in extreme conditions; everyone is concerned about debris causing blockage and flooding at this planned low level bridge," said Mike Jacob, a concerned Halton resident.
"Climate change has sparked unprecedented flood events: what would happen if Cockermouth-type rainfall fell around Shap and Tebay, the Lune's catchment area?"
“The bridge design presented at the time of the planning inquiry was a very conservative solution and even this was shown to only raise the water by a few millimetres during critical flood events," says McCreesh.
“As the detailed design of the bridge progressed we were able to make improvements. Even with a worst case scenario we have been able to show that the bridge will not cause problems.
"While the construction of the link road cannot solve the flooding problem in Halton, elsewhere, the proposed road will help solve problems," he claims. "An undersized drain, known as Slynedales Culvert, that runs down the A6 is the only outlet for water from the Slyne and Hest Bank areas. Because it is too small, water backs up and causes flooding around Hest Bank Lane. As part of the link road works, the culvert will be replaced with a larger pipe so helping to solve the problem.
“We were pleased that our engineers have been able to redesign the drainage on the link road to provide this additional benefit to the residents in Slyne. After meeting with the residents and the Parish Council the staff from the county council, city council and the Environment Agency were determined to work together and come up with a solution.
“Further works will be required up the A6 and in Hest Bank Lane," McCreesh adds. "These cannot be funded from the link road but we are working with Lancaster City Council and the Environment Agency to provide additional funding. The main cost is in replacing the culvert and that is included within the estimated cost of link road scheme.”
"Locals want an improved bridge redesign, but that would increase costs, making the £140 million pound Link road plans even more vulnerable to transport funding cuts,” counters David Gate, chair of local transport campaign group Transport Solutions for Lancaster and Morecambe.
“This is a big issue: why else would Lancashire County Council produce a press release which actually says nothing new about the risks?
"This is a multi million pound scheme, and all they can say is that the existing low level bridge plan will not make existing risks worse," he continues. "That does not look like value for money for the hard pressed taxpayer. Remember that local council taxpayers will have to pay half of any cost overspends, which are inevitable on a big road scheme like this."
TSLM believes that the Link road is an under-performing plan, which has been overtaken by financial and environmental events. TSLM would like to see it cancelled, and some transport budget money spent instead on integrated transport plans to tackle congestion between Lancaster and Morecambe.
• Transport Solutions for Lancaster and Morecambe
• Lancashire County Council M6 Link Page