Monday, 27 June 2011

M6 Link route "not ideal", Morecambe MP admits

Morecambe MP David Morris has admitted the proposed northern route for the M6 link, backed by Lancashire County but not our City or Morecambe Council, is not ideal - but argues an imperfect route is better than nothing when it comes to improving the area's transport links.

Responding to constituent concerns about Lancaster County Council's apparent approach to the current Link road consultation process, Mr Morris wrote that he agreed "the route chosen for the M6 (sic) is not ideal and I believe the alternative would have been preferable.

"However, by the time I was elected as MP for Morecambe and Lunsedale the route had already been set and I was given the choice of this imperfect route or the road not being built at all."

Meanwhile, Lancashire County Council has responded to concerns raised about the way it has handled the consultation, which have met with criticism from various quarters, including Transport Solutions for Lancaster and Morecambe.

Critics argue the Council has deliberately given the impression only design elements of the Link road plan can be objected to. In fact, under the terms of the scheme's consideration by the Infrastructure Planning Commission (PDF), it is clear that it is possible for residents to protest about the entire scheme.

Defending its approach, the Council says the IPC process is very different from the previous planning process used for the Heysham Link.

"One of the main changes is the difference between the consultation and examination processes," says Steven McCreesh, who is Project Director for Heysham to M6 Link. "We are currently consulting on the design and look of the proposals that we will build if we get development consent.

"It is quite clear from our literature and the display boards at the exhibitions that we are consulting on the whole scheme," he argues. "We are highlighting the changes made to the scheme that already has planning permission so that residents know what has changed. This is a period to shape the proposals, not to object or support the scheme.

"After we submit our application to the IPC, the IPC will carry out an examination into the proposals and decide whether to grant consent or not. This will be the time for people to object or support the scheme. The notes from the IPC state that the examination will consider the whole scheme."

Neither Mr McCreesh or Morecambe's MP seem prepared to be drawn into how the County will pay for any cost over runs if  the £140 million road scheme does get the green light. As it stands, it appears any costs over and above the current estimates will have to be met at some stage by Lancashire taxpayers.

But David Morris is categorical that any increased costs will not be borne by local taxpayers. "I agree that taxes are putting far too heavy a weight on residents and for this reason Conservative Councillors recently voted to prevent any increase in council tax," he notes.


Anonymous said...

The DCLG pre-application guidance states that "... Because they live and work in the affected area, local people are particularly well placed to comment on what the impact of proposals on their local community might be; what mitigating measures might be appropriate, or what other opportunities might exist for meeting the project’s objectives." (my emphasis).

It may sound superficially clever of McCreesh to say that the consultation is about shaping the proposals rather than objecting to them, but there is a clear expectation that
Impacts may be better understood and expressed by local people, which has nothing to do with shaping the proposals: and
One way in which local people might shape the proposals is by saying that the proposal presented is unacceptable and there are alternatives that better meet the project's objectives.

There are many more statements to similar effect, especially "a community involvement process should ensure that people ... can put forward their own ideas and feel confident that there is a process for considering ideas ... can comment on and influence formal proposals".

Why can't a comment be that the whole idea is misplaced and unnecessary and the scheme should be scrapped - preferably substituted by non-road building alternative proposals, though even do nothing is better than do this?

The only constraint anywhere in the guidance is on comments about national policy (eg there should not be a new nuclear power station at Heysham because I object to the policy of expanding nuclear capacity).

McCreesh's response therefore adds to the dossier on the unacceptability of the consultation process. He may now be conceding that consultation is on all parts of the route as opposed to the scheme changes (which I don't think is what LCC have been saying all along), but that is not consultation about the whole scheme with its significantly changed context.

LCC can now readily be accused of seeking to make the consultation look better by telling people that now is not the time to object.

Anonymous said...

I think McCreesh's assertion that the consultation is about shaping proposals, not objecting, is way off beam and he may live to regret it.

The consultation cannot be about the whole scheme when little matters such as the specific route are fixed and not open for consultation, and when the consultation excludes consideration of alternatives when the guidance specifically includes suggestion of alternatives by consultees.

Anonymous said...

David Morris can be as categorical as he likes about cost increases not being borne by local taxpayers, but the update announcing confirmation of supported pool schemes in February 2011 says:

"2.2 As a minimum, all of these schemes can now have Programme Entry status reconfirmed, although on different terms than before. The key difference, as stated in the October document, is the discontinuation of the risk layer mechanism for the sharing of cost increases between the Department and the promoter. The approved figures represent the maximum sum that the Department will pay for these schemes. The local authority promoters are responsible for meeting all costs over and above the stated figures."

I would love to know where his categoricalicity is coming from!

John Freeman said...

This BBC News item caught my eye this morning:

New £657m motorway route to open
The controversial M74 extension through Glasgow will open to traffic later - almost three times over the original estimated budget.

This road is about the same length as the proposed M6 Link, and the cost over runs are staggering and must surely be of concern - I really think LCC are opening themselves up to a major cash drain which we as local taxpayer will end up paying for, no matter what Mr Morris claims.