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Sunday, April 08, 2007

An On/Off Romance

The Bypass and the Spur: An on and off romance

Firstly apologies for what at times might appear a somewhat dry article. My excuse is that I was asked to write it, and sometimes the devil is to be found in the detail. I have tried to be brief, and hope that what is written will if a little technical ultimately prove to be of interest.

Bypass route

1992

Historically these two road projects have had an off and on romance that has lasted for about 15 years, when the first public consultation surfaced in 1992. At that time the proposed Brown Route actually included the Glossop Spur, and they both formed part of what became known in Highways Agency parlance as as the “preferred route”, so called because it apparently it was the public’s choice from the strictly road based solutions on offer at consultation.

2004

Money concerns and the Labour regime replacing the Tories in 1997 held things up, and then things changed fairly dramatically around 2004, when the Bypass was uncoupled from the Spur for what were given as administrative and funding reasons. At the time James Purnell MP for Hyde and Stalybridge appeared to be outraged, saying in the Glossop Advertiser of 23/12/04 :-“I’m just amazed at the way the Highways Agency have taken this decision – they smuggled it out hidden in a letter and didn’t even spell Glossop correctly”. Although Tom Levitt MP for High Peak took a similar view, the Spur Road has remained a separate project ever since because it did not fall under the remit of being part of the National Trunk Route network.

Therefore the Glossop Spur ultimately had to be put forward as a planning application as the baby of Tameside MBC, through consultants Mouchel Parkman in autumn 2006. Unsurprisingly the Planning Committees at both authorities, Tameside and High Peak upheld the Spur application despite registered public opposition for the road outnumbering support quite significantly - 4 to 1 we believe was the case in the High Peak at least. The A628 Bypass consultation followed in the spring of 2006 at St Mary’s Church, Hollingworth. Perhaps inevitably Tameside’s chief engineer put in an appearance in a small ante room with a set of boards describing the Spur, but it was made adamantly clear by Highway Agency Officials in the main reception, that they were consulting on an independent scheme, the A628 Bypass which they viewed as part of the core trunk road network.

So things then proceeded to the current state of affairs, where the schemes are divergent, although paradoxically in funding terms to some degree there has been a slight re-convergence. This is because the introduction of regional government meant that funding for the bypass ceased to be conditional on central government approval and returned to a local budget in the North West. Thus the 2 schemes would once again seek funding from the same transport funding pool allocated by the the North West Regional Assembly.

However despite this relative convergence in funding the situation is very different in planning terms in one key respect, from how it might have been if the unravelling had never occurred in 2004. Stated very simply planning approval for the Spur was granted as described above but that approval was and remains wholly conditional on the bypass being successfully in place. Conversely, and this is perhaps key, should the Bypass survive its many statutory hurdles, it can proceed to construction with or without the Glossop Spur. This effectively means in fairness to Stakeholders and all affected parties, the A628 bypass must be considered on its merits and impacts alone.

2007

As we know the size and nature of Objections from many significant quarters, led to a resubmission of the bypass application this year 2007, which has just closed. There is no material change in the status of the bypass as an independent project - it can still proceed with or without the Spur.

However all interested parties will now be mindful of the imminent Public Inquiry, and with this in mind, possibly it is worth considering if there has been a significant if slight repositioning attempt made by the Highways Agency with regard to the Spur.

That the position for the bypass as an independent project remains no different can be assumed from the Environmental Summary Non Technical Summary which must be comprehensive with regard to the scheme’s scope and intentions. It describes a scheme that traverses a route from M67 to Townhead Farm, and involves a single side road that ends with a t-junction at Mottram Moor. No mention of the Spur there at all therefore.

The wary bypass watcher will perhaps be wondering therefore why the Highways Agency supplies extensive traffic modelling within the full Technical Environmental Statement for the Bypass with the Spur. Moreover with figures that are by the Highway Agency’s own subcontractors, Mott McDonald, which differ from those of Mouchel Parkman the contractors and traffic modellers for the Spur application.

Traffic modelling is at the heart of any road proposal. Words only half describe the impacts and benefits of any scheme, and traffic models, whilst needing to be treated with caution as only hypothetical, may be said to be the surest evidence upon which the scheme’s proponents and opponents must rely on to make their case.
For the bypass alone the Highways Agency has submitted as core evidence in Figure 1.8, sheets 1 and 2, something in the region of 200 separate AADT assessments of HGV and traffic flows in various scenarios from different locations in different years. This substantial body of evidence meets the general expectation for statistical traffic modelling evidence in connection with such a scheme, and forms probably the centre of the Highways Agency case for the road.

However why the HA have also chosen to submit an equal comparable body of evidence of about 200 traffic models/scenarios for the Bypass with Spur in the adjacent figure 1.9, sheets 1 and 2, raises many interesting questions and perhaps a few eyebrows as well. It is almost as if this was evidence the Highways Agency might choose to rely on, although as has been pointed out, the bypass does not require the Spur to gain building approval, and the Non Technical Summary gives the public no indication that the project has any relationship to other schemes at all.

Looking beyond this fact, the way that the recent announcement of the Pre Inquiry Hearing was made might seem to suggest a further re-positioning on the part of the Highways Agency and various Government departments. In the full Environmental Statement the Spur is referred to as an “other scheme” which could be “interacted with” by the Bypass. However the author of this article received a Pre Inquiry letter from Newcastle regarding the Spur Road, where the bypass was described as a “related” scheme, and the Pre Inquiry hearing in early May will determine simultaneously over how these schemes are Inquired into.

Are these issues of repositioning with regard to the Bypass and Spur technical subtleties of no great moment, or pivotal issues, which decide if bypass opponents have to deal with a single headed monster or some kind of hydra.Or to put it less colourfully will the Highways Agency rely on bypass evidence alone, or do they have so little faith in their case here, that they may try to introduce Bypass with Spur figures in the hope of pulling the wool over the Inspector’s and Public eyes.

Should they try to do this, who is going to point it out, and will they be listened to unless they have a loud enough legal voice to be heard? In the view of the writer, these are matters of serious concern to anyone trying to stop this road, and its poor relation, which is the Glossop Spur.

4 comments:

progressiskillingthecountryside said...

Apparently the Spur and Bypass will be dealt with at a joint public inquiry, but the whole thing remains a total mess. Unless the Environmental Statement is based on BOTH schemes (not just Bypass) the real picture (Bypass + Spur) will not be known. It's vital that this is ironed out at the pre-Inquiry meeting. Both schemes must be presented to the Inspector together at the Inquiry, and that means the environmental and economic impact assessments must be redone based on traffic flows for both schemes.

kirtlegreen said...

Fair enough "progress is killing the countryside". You have a point.

But how can the schemes be considered jointly for their overall impact?

As the history I have shown above indicates; legally, technically and in statutory terms they are separate schemes?

The Spur is not part of the National Trunk network, or the responsibility of the Highways Agency, so it is a little hard to see who what you wish to lobby for, could be achieved?

What argument do you intend to overcome these obstacles?

progressiskillingthecountryside said...

Hmm.. If both schemes go to Inquiry (which they are) then the Government (or more accuarately, the appointed Inspector) can decide that they should be handled together. Hell, this Government can do bloody anything whether it's legal or not (like Iraq, for example) so I'd suggest the "statutory procedures" and other legal loops are not worth the paper they're written on.

As I understand it, the Local Authority vs. Trunk Road distinction is more about where the money comes from (i.e., a handy accouting fiddle) rather than anything set in stone.

What "argument" would you suggest, to "overcome these obstacles", as you put it? Surely the "argument" is just that it has to be that way for the full impacts of the scheme to be assessesd.

kirtlegreen said...

You write

"Hell, this Government can do bloody anything whether it's legal or not (like Iraq, for example) so I'd suggest the "statutory procedures" and other legal loops are not worth the paper they're written on.".

If this is so, then the Inquiry process is somewhat academic anyway! Perish the thought!

Seriously though I posted the article on the Spur cos I thought the history might be of interest to people - in a chessgamey sort of way.

However I do have fairly certain opinons re the issues discussed here, but I dont feel inclined to discuss them in depth in public.

I wish someone would contact good old Kirtle Green, otherwise known as "TamlinTamsin" privately, if they want to discuss these points. This blog seems too public.

I hope to hear,
Cheers

Kirtle