Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Longdendale Bypass & the Credit Crunch - is this the end of the road?

Today is somewhat of a watershed for this blog, because we finally got ourselves in newsprint. Yes, the MEN even asked us for a quote! The story was the one we broke nearly 2 weeks ago, about the massive projected cost increase of the Bypass.

But it's also bad news for other areas - the Government has approved the Cheshire (A34) bypass, and has pretty much underwritten it by pouring in £48 million (94%) of the total £51 million needed for the scheme. One can't imagine the government throwing £295 million at the Longdendale Bypass, and indeed, they have no intention of doing so.

So with an ever-widening 'funding gap' (between what Central Government will throw in and what the North West Local Authorities must find themselves) , the longer this whole thing plays out the better the chance this scheme - and others - will never see the light of day. In the coming months, expect to see the Longdendale Overlord Roy Oldham scuttling around government ministers and laying down the law at the North West Regional Assembly to get his pet project through.

But there is a wider context to all of this. As the costs increase paper outlines, road construction price inflation has doubled since the previous estimates, no doubt largely due to the price of crude oil and inflation generally - old costing models no longer stack up, hence the huge cost rises when these are rationalised. Is it any wonder that Road Construction firms are moving to merge to weather the bad times, not to mention diversify*.

And another way of looking at this is in the context of the much vaunted (but plainly fucked) Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) bid in Greater Manchester - the projected maximum cost of the Bypass is 10% of the money in the TIF. The Longdendale Bypass plan is 5.7 km long - apparently, 'transforming public transport in Manchester' (their words, not ours) is only worth 57 km of roads like the bypass - or 3 years of UK funding for the Iraq war (it's a good job we don't think the TIF bid is the holy grail which will deliver the North West from climate change, like Liberal Bourgeois Greens do - clearly, crumbs for the masters table will suffice for some).

Finally, the top of this blog has the latest New Report from Channel M. At one point, the reporter, Richard 'monkeys might fly out of my' Butt, states that he can understand why people 'have been campaigning so hard and so long' for the road - making his point against a backdrop of freely-flowing traffic. Clearly, there's no need to get hold of Mike Flynn to wring a quote out of - he does the job himself.

*Carillion - the contractors for the bypass - bought Alfred McAlpine in December 2007. McAlpine had the contract for maintaining Sainsbury's supermarkets. What a coincidence then that Sainsbury's have now plainly stated their intentions to build a Large Superstore in Glossop...

Monday, July 21, 2008

'Hyder Consulting Crap'

...not our words, but those of a recent visitor to the blog who had been searching the internet, presumably for people with no good words to say about the Management Consultants employed to work on the bypass. How apt then that they landed here.

The searcher was using a computer belonging to Cantillon Capital Management, who are listed as as Independent Financial Advisers. Perhaps they'd just seen the new costings for the bypass (which we exclusively revealed last week - yet to be taken up by the press, though we did tell them).

One's thing's for sure - Hyder Consulting don't need financial advice - under the official figures, along with Carillion, they've so far been paid £9.5 million for producing an error-strewn, crappy scheme.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

EXCLUSIVE: Bypass costs rise by between 20% - 70%

We have an exclusive here for you today: hot on the heels of the recent announcement that the Glossop Spur costs have risen by 54%, the Highways Agency has revealed that the cost of building the A628 Bypass have risen significantly.

This document outlines cost estimates on all major road schemes. The A628 Bypass comes in at between £223 million (minimum) and £315 million (maximum). This is an increase of between 21% to 71% on the costs increases announced in March 2007 in the Nichols Report (£184 million), and an increase of between 200% to 283% on the figures from 2003 (£90 million).

It's clear these costs are on a huge escalator, and cannot prove sustainable.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Will Cosmetic Energy Schemes Save the World?

The artful reader will see that there is only one reasonable answer to this question, and that would be "no"! But what kind of scheme is cosmetic, and likely to prevent real measures that are really responsible and necessary reactions to climate change? And what is wrong with Gordon Brown being allowed to feel good about himself, by committing to 15% renewable energy? Surely no right minded person would quarrel with that?

Let us start our search for the right green energy strategy locally, with the Torrs Hydro Project and be as fair minded as possible. In New Mills, Tom Levitt has put his considerable parliamentary clout - although in the above video nobody seems to take much notice of him speaking, and the Speaker has to call the House to order to allow him to do so - to bring to the Nations attention a hydro-electric scheme in New Mills. Apparently this scheme can generate enough power for a few hundred homes - hardly a major impact on the 10,000 inhabitants of New Mills then and maybe why Jack Straw saw the funny side and can be seen laughing and joking throughout!

Although it is dubbed a "community project" it is probably safe to assume the energy would be simply handed straight over for a payment to the national grid, so where is the community in that - except the impact on the community resource of the Torrs, where visitors will apparently have an Archimedean Screw to negotiate?

So our verdict on the project, without wishing to be harsh, is that is probably more than a little "cosmetic" when one considers its size and the disproportionate amount one hears about it even at National Level. Why Tom Levitt has latched onto it with such vigour is fairly clear, as I will explain below, but it is worth pointing out that it would be not the only hydro electric plant in his constituency, perhaps not the most productive, but seemingly the one he likes to talk up his green credentials with.

And make no mistake Tom Levitt, whilst being a supporter of the highly un-environmental A628 Bypass, is very keen to be portrayed as an Environmentalist, taking pride in his roots as an erstwhile teacher of environmental science. As such, Tom Levitt is in our view completely symptomatic of the current national malaise of political groups stealing the green clothes of the "Eco movement" now that environmental concerns have suddenly become pressing, or as these people probably see it "fashionable". They like the idea of small unproductive projects simply because they allow development in green belt areas and allow them to avoid "biting the bullet" (as Tom would say) that one day will have to be bit - of reducing car and plane emissions.

In my view, a major part of Gordon Brown's entire "renewable energy strategy" is to offer respectability and careers to silence green groups that call for emissions cuts in transport, and who can be found to support cosmetic schemes at the expense of the countryside and the planet in terms of putting off what really needs doing.

My understanding is that there is a component of off-shore wind farms within the Bill that has a grain of sense in it, and that will be meaningfully productive, and to these I would cautiously lend support. However this component is completely undermined as I see it by the specious attempt of the Strategy - in partnership with the dangerous Planning Reform Bill - to gain infrastructure and planning access for developers into hitherto restricted open countryside and green belt.

The fact of the parliamentary exchange between Tom and Gordon Brown - set up through mention of the "tiny" New Mills scheme to allow the PM to put on his "green suit" again - is to my eyes a seriously worrying assault on the intelligence of the nation. Hopefully people are too smart to fall for this. Otherwise cue the "greying of the UK" courtesy of the Grey PM and his grey MPs, a "greying" where every sustainable project has to have a hidden agenda of allowing motorway junction expansion, or releasing some coveted but previously unattainable beauty spot to the JCBs.

Monday, July 07, 2008

EXCLUSIVE: Glossop Spur costs rise by 54%

Exclusive news courtesy of the Campaign for Better Transport and trailed in today's Guardian. The cost of road schemes are going through the roof, and the Longdendale Bypass - or in this case the Glossop Spur is no exception.

If you read page 3 of this table (opens PDF), you'll see that the original estimated cost of the Glossop Spur was £7.18 million. That's now risen to £11.07 million - a 54% increase since December 2000.

However, worryingly for Roy Oldham and Tameside MBC, the currently agreed Department for Transport contribution remains at £7.18 million.

How will Roy & Co. find the money in these times of Financial crisis?