Lancashire County Council (LCC) has finally halted work on the much-maligned Heysham Link Road scheme following a further written warning from the Department for Transport (DfT). The letter outlined the financial risks LCC was taking by persisting with investment in a project for which the new government has withdrawn approval, as it launches its Spending Review.
The Secretary of State's letter to LCC Chief Executive Ged Fitzgerald reiterated, "In view of the likely budgetary constraints, and the consequent likelihood that not all schemes will be able to proceed on their planned timetable, it would be inappropriate for the Department to continue to invest time and resources on development of schemes at the same rate as before.
"Local Authorities will also wish to consider carefully whether investing further time and resources in developing such schemes ahead of the Spending Review is justified. They should not assume that schemes prioritised under the previous Government’s Regional Funding Allocations (RFA) process will be funded to the previous published levels."
The letter also confirmed that the public inquiry into the Compulsory Purchase orders sought by LCC for the scheme, scheduled for 12th October, would be indefinitely postponed, as (he reminded LCC) a key requirement for the scheme, the funding, could not be met.
County Councillor Keith Young, Cabinet member for highways and transport, said of LCC's collision with economic reality: "We are very disappointed to have to make this decision, but we accept that tough choices need to be made in light of the national deficit.
The County Council was warned by the DfT earlier this year of the potential risk to its budget of £1.5 million for external design and preparation work for the £139 million bypass scheme. The Council had just announced the award of the contract to Costain, who must share Coun Young's disappointment.
However Coun Young added, "We've continued work on Heysham Link until now because we know the project would have great benefits for communities and regeneration in the area.
Campaign group delight at bypass halt
Not everyone shares Coun Young's feeling, however. Transport Solutions for Lancaster & Morecambe (TSLM) have resolutely campaigned against 'the monster road' since the scheme was first mooted, and have often compained that they are forced to pay for both sides of every public enquiry as not only do they have to raise funds for the enormous preparation required to present their own anti-bypass case, and campaign but also, as ratepayers, to fund LCC's pro-bypass case, and its promotional campaign, with which they strenuously disagree.
virtual-lancaster reported on 17th May the concerns raised by LCC's continued determination to press on with the preparation of their case, despite warnings from the DfT that the funding position and priorities of all the schemes remain uncertain until Ministers have set out their spending priorities.
Given the state of the deficit it is likely that this position may remain 'uncertain' for some considerable time yet, hence the DfT's notice of its retirement from involvement.
Speaking for TSLM, Chair David Gate told virtual-lancaster, "The writing is on the wall for the £140 million Link. The idea belongs to another era, and Lancashire County Council will now have an uphill task trying to demonstrate that it represents value for money”.
“£140 million for three miles of HGV dual carriageway that doesn’t solve congestion and doesn’t bring jobs can’t be value for money. This scheme is out of line with government policy on transport, on the environment, and on what the country can afford.
"This is a huge blow to the Link plan, from which it may well not recover. It makes complete sense not to waste any more resources or public money on this project."
"We hope that Lancashire County Council will now develop plans for more affordable alternatives to tackle Lancaster and Morecambe transport problems. The Link divided the towns, it would not have brought them together. A great starting point would be the integrated transport proposals prepared for the Council by transport experts Faber Maunsell," said Mr. Gate. “The people of Lancaster & Morecambe would support them on that.”
Greens welcome Bypass halt
In a Green Party Press release Lancaster City councillor John Whitelegg said “This is a savage blow to the bypass and simply reflects what the Green Party has been saying for many years. This road is extremely poor value for money, does not solve congestion problems, does not solve air quality problems, frustrates our attempts to cut greenhouse gases and creates very few jobs”.
“We now have a very important job to do to persuade the government to deliver all the things we really do need in this district," he included, "including rail freight to the port of Heysham, much improved bus services on modern, attractive alternatively fuelled buses and big reductions in children being taken to school by car.”