Work on the £124 million Heysham to M6 Link Road has moved a step closer after the High Court rejected an application for a judicial review with a compelling judgment.
In a statement announcing the road is to go ahead as planned, the County Council has also indicated its hopes that the building of the link will improve the chance of a third nuclear power station at Heysham.
Campaigners against the link road, Transport Solutions for Lancaster and Morecambe, had requested permission to apply for a judicial review to challenge the decision by the Secretary of State to grant development consent for the project.
TSLM argued that there were five very substantial grounds on which the decision should be challenged, ranging from incorrect treatment of European nature conservation designations to the fact that the scheme is not and never was a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project. These areas of concern, they argued, called into question the legality of the decision made by the Transport Secretary.
At a two-day hearing held on 22 and 23 July, TSLM sought to argue its grounds for challenging the decision, all of which were resisted by the Secretary of State for Transport and Lancashire County Council.
The Judge issued his Judgement on 4th October when he rejected all five grounds put forward for the challenge and refused TSLM permission to make the application for judicial review.
The Judge found that there was no arguable case that the decision to grant development consent was unlawful. Moreover, the Judge went even further when declaring that even if he had been persuaded the wrong procedure had been used to obtain permission for the scheme to go ahead, one of the five grounds of challenge, he would not have exercised his judicial discretion to set the consent aside.
The Judge explained that the development consent process is thorough and comprehensive and it is overwhelmingly likely that consent would have been given for the scheme regardless of the route by which it had been achieved.
The road has long been one of Lancashire County Council's top priority transport schemes, with development consent being awarded in March 2013 following a lengthy process that included a six month examination period with three weeks of public hearings.
The County Council has always claimed its construction will herald the start of a new era for economic growth and better transport on the Morecambe and Heysham peninsula. The road is supported by the government who have agreed to invest £111m towards the cost.
County Councillor John Fillis, cabinet member for highways and transport, said: "The link road was given development consent because there's such a strong case for it in terms of value for money and the benefits to the economy and local transport it will bring.
"We've always been confident of the case for the road, which enjoys wide support from people and businesses in the area and I'm very happy that we are closer to getting on with the job.
"The M6 Link will be an engine for economic growth for the whole region, it's always been more than just a road building scheme."
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 claims it will also reduce congestion in the Lancaster area especially on Caton Road, Morecambe Road and the Greyhound and Skerton bridges. Opponents argue the traffic reductions will be temporary at best, and will actually increase traffic congestion in other parts of the district, including Halton.
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. In its press statement announcing the rejection of the TSLM appeal, the Council also says the road would also improve access to a proposed third nuclear power station and the industrial estates on the peninsula such as White Lund.
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.
As well as easing congestion, the link road project features a number of associated improvements including a Park and Ride scheme with buses running into Lancaster city centre, and bus priority, cycle and walking measures.
The Council claims the scheme will bring ongoing regeneration benefits, with 3,000 people due to be employed during construction alone. Up to 100 local unemployed people will receive training and jobs during construction.
The Council says a study has predicted that every £1 invested in the link road will earn £4.40 for the economy. The contractor, Costain, has been selected to construct the road and has been in discussion with local firms for some time.
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.
A price has been agreed with Costain that gives an estimated construction cost of £124m. The Department for Transport have said they will contribute £111m and Lancashire County Council will fund the remainder.
Transpsort Solutions has yet to comment on the decision.
• Lancashire County Council has redesigned the website for the project to make it easy for you to stay up to date throughout construction. It will be launched soon at www.lancashire.gov.uk - search for 'Heysham Link'