One of Lancashire's top priority transport projects has received the go-ahead, which Lancaster City Council claims will herald a new era for economic growth and better transport on the Morecambe and Heysham peninsula -- but will dismay campaigners who have fought long and hard against it on cost and environmental grounds.
Construction of the £123 milion Heysham to M6 Link road is set to begin this summer after the Secretary of State for Transport granted approval for the project following a lengthy planning and public inquiry process.
The news has delighted the County Council. "Lancashire has been anticipating today's news for decades," says County Councillor Tim Ashton, Cabinet member for highways and transport, "and I could not be happier that the Heysham to M6 link road is going to become a reality.
"The M6 link is more than just a road-building scheme," he claimed. "It will be an engine for economic growth for the whole region.
"The new road will reduce congestion and greatly increase the potential for investment in the surrounding area."
The council's claims about the easing of traffic congestion have of course been hotly disputed by organisations such as Transport Solutions for Lancaster and Morecambe, who may yet mount a final legal challenge to the project.
"To reach this point has taken many years of work by a number of organisations and individuals who have helped to make the case for the link road," says Councillor Ashton, "and I'd like to thank them for their support and dedication. I'm now looking forward to seeing it built."
The road will connect the peninsula directly to the M6, providing better access to Morecambe and industrial areas which include the Port of Heysham and the Heysham power stations. The Council say it will also reduce congestion in the Lancaster area especially on Caton Road, Morecambe Road and the Greyhound and Skerton bridges.
Heysham port, the third largest in the North West, is developing as a hub for services to Ireland. It is the supply base for major offshore gas field and wind farms. The road would also improve access to a proposed third nuclear power! station.
Road access to the port, which specialises in roll-on roll-off freight, is currently severely congested and unreliable, with increasing costs and falling efficiency acting as a barrier to further growth.
The link road project features a number of associated improvements including a Park and Ride scheme (which was dependent on the Road getting the green light instead of ever being considered separately) with buses running into Lancaster city centre, and bus priority, cycle and walking measures.
The Council says the scheme will bring ongoing regeneration benefits, with 3,000 people due to be employed during construction alone. A minimum of 100 local unemployed people will receive training and jobs during construction.
A study by the County Council has predicted that every £1 invested in the link road will earn £6 for the local community. Again, these figures have been contested.
An additional benefit of reduced congestion will be improved air quality, and the scheme includes a number of measures to protect the environment by improving wildlife habitats, tree cover and watercourses.
The approval granted by the government includes compulsory purchase powers as well as the planning permission and the county council will now write to the affected land owners and start the formal process of acquiring the remaining land required for the road.
Archaeological investigation works have already begun. This involves using excavators to dig trial trenches to establish if there are any finds that require further investigation before the main construction works begin later in the summer.
The estimated cost of the project is £123m. The Department for Transport have said they will contribute £111m and Lancashire County Council will fund the remaining £12m.
Transport Solution for Lancaster and Morecambe has long argued the project is a white elephant.
years ago, the County Council decided to build a road, and has spent
decades trying to justify it," they say. "TSLM believes that there is no one
solution to our transport problems, but instead a comprehensive package
of measures is needed."
TSLM worked with other like-minded local transport groups to develop a package of measures, which could include a high quality spinal bus route between Heysham and Lancaster University, with enhanced feeder spur routes; dedicated bus lanes and junction priority measures, where possible; a public transport bridge at Luneside; rail system upgrades; upgrading the environment at railway stations, with more stations serving residential areas; and improving facilities to allow some transfer of port freight from road to rail.
• For more information go to www.lancashire.gov.uk/heyshamlink
• Transport Solutions for Lancaster and Morecambe