Two Green Party County Councillors have voiced serious concerns about the way that Lancashire County Council is proceeding with the vexed issue of the Heysham-M6 Link Road, arguing proposed cost cutting measures have changed the approved scheme to such an extent that it could go to yet another costly public inquiry to gain approval.
Central Government has still not agreed to fund this road and has asked for serious cuts to the funding it would be asked to provide. The final decision on whether or not the road will be funded by Whitehall is due soon (on 31st January) and depends on how much the County Council can re-design the road to make it cheaper. It also depends on how much of the Council's own resources it will take away from Burnley, Preston, Ribble Valley, South Ribble and West Lancashire to support four miles of very expensive road in the Lancaster district.
Although the County Council is refusing to release details of its plans, even to its own councillors, it has revealed that it can reduce the cost of the road by £8 million, by raising Shefferlands roundabout at the north end of the new Lune Bridge by around 13 metres to reduce the amount of excavation here and in the cuttings between the roundabout and the A6.
Commenting on this proposal, Lancaster Green councillors Chris Coates and Sam Riches argue that this would invalidate all the calculations about noise reduction which have been put forward in the past to help get the scheme approved.
Other cost cutting measures revealed include deleting lighting from sections of route between junctions, even though County said at the public inquiry that lighting would be installed for safety reasons; adjustments to southbound slip road at J34 of the M6, saving £2 million; and reduction in site supervision cost estimates from £6.23 million in 2007 to £1.5 million. Such action could potentially, of course, result in a truly worrying reduction that could be paid for in the lives of construction workers.
It has been calculated that the impact of these and other changes means that the County Council will expect to receive £111 million from the Government to build this road and not the full cost of £137 million.
"As far as we can tell from the limited documentation we have been able to access, this exercise has seen massive changes in the road design," says Coun Riches. "It's no longer the same road that went to public inquiry in 2007, and it is almost inevitable that the whole scheme will have to go to yet another inquiry - an incredible waste of money when the County Council is making savage cuts to its services.
"If the road could be built at a lower cost now then it should have been costed in the same way four years ago.
"As things now stand the link road will swallow over £20 million of additional County Council resources and this will reduce the money available for transport projects everywhere else in the county for years to come."