Thursday, 28 November 2013
M6 Link clears last legal hurdle, County Council's favourite white elephant finally goes ahead
Local pro-road builders are jumping for joy today, after the £125 million plus Heysham to M6 Link Road that will save an incredible five minutes journey time for Heysham to Lancaster commuters cleared the last legal hurdle.
Work on the Heysham to M6 Link Road will now begin in the New Year after a final attempt by Transport Solutions for Lancaster and Morecambe to stop the controversial scheme – whose cost over runs will be the responsibility of the County Council – was thrown out by the Court of Appeal.
The decision clears the way for Lancashire County Council to start building the £124.5m road linking the Heysham Peninsula to the M6 motorway, which the County claims heralds a new era for economic growth and improved transport.
The County Council argues link will provide better access to Morecambe and industrial areas which include the Port of Heysham and the Heysham power stations. It will also reduce congestion in the Lancaster area, particularly on Caton Road, Morecambe Road and the Greyhound and Skerton bridges – although in its own evidence it has acknowleged the journey savings may be as little as five minutes.
The project has long been one of Lancashire County Council's top priority transport schemes, after all other routes were rejected – leaving it only with a route planners previously claimed made no sense and originally had limited political support.
When the route became the only road building option, local political parties changed their minds and joined the Liberal Democrats in backing this northern route, claiming it wasn't the best option but arguing road building was the only solution to the area's traffic woes.
Lancashire Ciounty Council rejected alternative transport schemes out of hand and insisted any potential traffic calming measures, such as Park and Ride could only be included as part of the road scheme and not considered as a separate item.
Development consent for the Link was awarded in March 2013 following a lengthy process that included a six month examination period with three weeks of public hearings and further work by the County Council to put the plans in order after its own staff made several mistakes in the planning process.
Campaigners against the link road, Transport Solutions for Lancaster and Morecambe requested permission to apply for a judicial review to challenge the decision by the Secretary of State to grant approval for the project.
Following a two-day hearing held in July, a judgement was issued by the High Court in October, which rejected all five grounds put forward for the challenge and refused TSLM permission to make the application for judicial review.
TSLM made further applications to the Court of Appeal, asking for the High Court's judgement to be overturned. The last of these was made today during an oral hearing, with the judge again finding no substance to their case against the road.
County Councillor John Fillis, cabinet member for highways and transport, said: "We've always been confident of the case for the link road, which is widely supported by local people and businesses, and I couldn't be more pleased that we can now get on with building it.
"The road will provide excellent value for money in terms of considerable benefits for local traffic, businesses and employment, while acting as a catalyst for wider economic growth," he argues.
"Whilst I'm very satisfied at the strong judgement in our favour, I'm also extremely frustrated that objectors have cost the people of Lancashire an extra £2.6m by pursuing what amount to no more than delaying tactics.
"I went to see the depot being constructed earlier this week, and I'm looking forward to seeing work on the road itself start in earnest in the New Year."
Lancashire County Council's contractor Costain recently began constructing an area to accommodate staff, offices and equipment needed to build the link road at an army camp on Halton Road leased from the Ministry of Defence. The depot is scheduled to be completed in time to allow work on the road to begin in January.
The new road will complete the long awaited connection from the Heysham and Morecambe peninsula to Junction 34 of the M6, and will be a 4.8km dual carriageway with a footpath and cycleway along the entire route.
The project also involves a fully remodelled junction 34, with new slip roads, a new bridge over the River Lune and a 600 space park and ride site. The new road will provide better access for residents, businesses and tourists to the area.
The link road project features a number of associated improvements including a park and ride scheme with buses running from the park and ride site into Lancaster city centre, and bus priority, cycle and walking measures. (All of which, as noted above, could have been introduced before).
The County claims the link road will improve access to Heysham Port, the third largest in the North West, allowing it to develop as a hub for services to Ireland. It is the supply base for major offshore gas field and wind farms.
And, of course, the road would also improve access to a possible third nuclear power station, not to mention opportunities for other building along the route.
The Council argues road access to the port, which specialises in roll-on roll-off freight, is currently severely congested and unreliable, acting as a barrier to further growth.
(The Council refused to consider proposals to improve the rail link with a lorry park at Carnforth, which would have cost far less than the road that will now be built. Ironically, as it champions road building here in Lancaster, the County is arguing that there are too many roads in Skelmersdale and it would be better serviced if it had a train station. Go figure..).
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.
A contested 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.
Andrew Langley, Costain project manager, said: "We are just looking forward to getting started on the construction of the new road. We have already engaged with several loc! al companies, and have already started the local employment and training programme."
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.
Terms have been negotiated with Costain that gives an estimated construction cost of £124.5m. The Department for Transport has said it will contribute £111m and Lancashire County Council will fund the remainder.
• Lancashire County Council M6 Link Information: Search for Heysham Link at www.lancashire.gov.uk
• When the road is built and when it becomes as congested as the rest of local roads now - we give it three years, tops, before the Council starts asking for another road – why not check out the Transport Solutions for Lancaster and Morecambe's web site and view its costs alternatives, all of which were much cheaper than the road and didn't destroy part of our Green Belt?