Monday, 18 April 2011

Campaigners challenge election candidates on M6 Link

Transport Solutions for Lancaster and Morecambe has written to every local election candidate about the controversial and hugely expensive M6 link - and ask them to support instead the package of integrated transport measures they argue the district really needs.

The challenge to support existing City Council opposition to the Link comes as two sitting Councillors in Skerton - one ward which will be hugely affected by the link road scheme - declare support for the scheme, even though their local ward party has long-standing policy opposing it.

Current Labour Councillors Abbot Bryning and Robert Redfern, both seeking re-election in Skerton, clearly advocate the scheme, with Bryning welcoming the M6 link "around Skerton" in the party's latest election leaflet - despite the adverse impact it will have on existing traffic problems in his own ward and, potentially, the huge environmental impact it will inflict on the very people he wants to elect him.

TSLM are hoping a letter sent to every local election candidate will influence their views - and perhaps change the minds of some road supporters when confronted with its rising costs.

Lancashire County Council has been forced to make drastic changes to the Road scheme, although to date they have not provided any plans. They claim to have reduced the cost by £16 million (to £123 million), but doubled their own contribution, from £6 million to £12 million, in order to gain Government approval.

The supposedly cost-cutting changes, which campaigner dispute, include raising Shefferlands Roundabout by 14 metres. This, the Council claim, will save £7.3 million, because earth does not have to be removed from site - but in the original plan, no earth was to be removed from site anyway, suggesting this is a phantom saving.

"The result is a higher Lune Bridge and a very steep road over, rather than under, Halton Road," argues TSLM chair David Gate "With extra costs."

Other proposals include changing the Junction 34 design to save £1.8 million - but the previous design was amended, at increased cost, to meet Highway Agency guidelines. Why is a new design that more or less reverts to the original now acceptable or safe?

Eliminating the lighting on most of the Link Road will also save money, TSLM acknowledge,  but the County Council previously claimed it was essential for safety. Why is an unlit road acceptable now?

"The cost to Lancashire County Council (and to us, Lancashire Council taxpayers) will certainly be more than £12 million," argues Mr Gate. "We can see additional costs to LCC of up to £33 million, eating up all of LCC’s capital spending on transport for the next four years, and more – since LCC are responsible for all cost overruns."

Because the changes are so drastic, consultation on the revised scheme will take place over the summer, at which local people will again have your say. It will then be considered by the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC).

TSLM argues the Link Road does not, as Councillors like Bryning and Redfern would have local people believe, tackle congestion. According to Council figures, on the day it opens, traffic will go down on some roads and up on others. Nor does it bring many jobs. County’s expert admitted (2007) that the few new jobs were “not worth building a road for”. Instead, it brings noise, light and air pollution to parts of our area, and devastates the area's environment and Green belt.

Yet alternatives do exist, proposed for LCC by transport experts Faber Maunsell, and developed by North Lancs sustainable transport groups (PDF). The package of transport measures would reduce congestion, and so bring jobs and help tourism. Key elements are: a high quality spinal bus route between Heysham and Lancaster University, rail system upgrades, park & ride, and revisions to Lancaster gyratory systems. What’s more, the cost would be around £30 million, almost £100 million less than the expensive Link Road.

TSLM's letter, which they hope others will emulate, warns this issue is a vote-changer;
asks them to oppose the Heysham M6 Link, and support instead the package of integrated transport measures that the district really needs, to avoid congestion and so aid regeneration and tourism.

In 2007, Lancaster City Council withdrew its support from the scheme, and voted for a comprehensive package of measures to deal with the district’s traffic problems.

• All candidates’ addresses are at
http://www.lancaster.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/elections-and-voting/elections/

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