Wednesday, November 26, 2008

First Watsongate, now Hoongate...

Today brings reports that the local politicians backing the Bypass - Tom Levitt MP, James Purnell MP and Tameside Council Leader Roy Oldham - have met with the new Transport Secretary of State Geoff Hoon to gain assurances about the status of the Longdendale Bypass.

Although the (as yet) unofficial press release from Levitt (originally published on Virtual Glossop - a snapsot of the original article can be viewed here) does not quote Hoon, according to Tom Levitt, there was agreement that "there is no credible alternative to the road" - at least amongst the Highways Agency and local politicians. As the Secretary of State, Hoon is effectively the head of the Highways Agency, so with this proclamation, the Secretary of State is commenting on a scheme that - if it were a Court case - would be sub judice. Breaching that would mean contempt of Court

Through their completely unfettered incompetence, Hoon's agency - the Highways Agency - have assured that the 'alternatives' have not even yet had a hearing at the Public Inquiry. What he should be saying is that 'at the Inquiry, the Highways Agency will contend that there are no alternatives, and the Inspector will make a decision based upon the evidence presented by ourselves and Objectors that argue the contrary'. But there's fat chance of such a reasonable pronouncement from this crowd of assorted cretins.

If, as is suggested, the Highways Agency has examined the case for alternatives, why is this information not available to the public at the Inquiry Library or on the website? Why are they not allowing their evidence to be examined prior to challenge by submitting their theories about alternatives now? After all, the alternatives do not form part of their scheme, and are independent of their work/cock-ups so far. Dos this mean the work has not been completed, or is there something else going on?

Despite his past warm words for the Save the Woodhead Tunnel campaign, Tom Levitt is 'speaking with forked tongue'. Because if, as he says, there are 'no credible alternatives' to the bypass, this means he's flashing the campaign a huge V sign. That this twit wants to have his cake and eat it has always been largely undisputed by those who have a realistic appraisal of snake-like politicians. 

And if they are so concerned and passionate about the Bypass, why did James Purnell, Tom Levitt and Roy Oldham fail to schedule their appearances to speak in favour of it at the Inquiry when it was running previously? Because they know full well that their rhetoric and propaganda would be tested to the fullest extent and that they would be exposed as a Cartel in hock to the Road Industry.

Lastly, we hear of reports that at a 'Community Empowerment' event last weekend, Tom Levitt proclaimed that supporters and objectors stood at 50/50 - THIS IS A LIE. For the umpteenth time, we'd like to remind this liar that of the 4239 responses logged by the Highways Agency (available on a list at the Public Inquiry Library), 1469 expressed support, but 2770 have objected. This is 65% against - or using a ratio, 2:1 against

We're sure we'll feature much more about this matter very soon...

Monday, November 24, 2008

If you love roadworks, the bypass is for you - a letter to the Glossop Chronicle

Over the past fortnight, readers of the Glossop Chronicle will have noticed a steady stream of correspondents linking the issue of the recent roadworks at Woolley Lane and abortive ones at Shaw Lane, Hadfield to their desire for a bypass. 

In our post about these roadworks and the disruption they caused, we predicted such simplistic arguments would emerge. What was also inevitable was that sooner or later, Mike Flynn of the Longdendale Siege Mentality would join in, and he didn't let us down with his comments in the Bypass cost increase article we initiated.

Today, we have written to the Chronicle responding to the pro-bypass opportunists, and the letter is reproduced below:

I note the conscious decision of various correspondents over the past 2 weeks - on and off your letters page - to link traffic problems caused by two Highways authorities to the alleged need for a bypass.

On the contrary, I would like to contend that the two are entirely separate matters.

In his comments on the increase in the bypass costs, Mr Mike Flynn of the Longdendale Siege Committee states that holdups will not occur with the bypass in place. Yet he would have us endure several months if not years of traffic disruption in order to ensure that it is built.

Furthermore, he assumes that the Inspector at the Public Inquiry will order that the Glossop Spur will be constructed alongside a bypass, an assumption which is ill-founded and far from certain. If the bypass is built without the Spur, traffic will still have to divert via Broadbottom or Tintwistle in the event of Woolley Lane being closed. Indeed, in the scenario that they wished to get onto the bypass from Tintwistle to go towards Manchester, they would have to queue at Townhead Farm along with traffic coming in the opposite direction, a situation surely worse than at present.

And of course Mr Flynn seems to be unable to envisage the traffic chaos that will be the result of any accident which closes the bypass.

Mr Flynn seems to contend that a lack of localised traffic planning means upwards of £315 million should be spent on a pseudo-motorway. Surely it would be far cheaper to employ someone who had an inkling about planning measures and traffic management. Looking at Derbyshire's website for instance would have alerted Tameside to the fact that the Shaw Lane works had been planned well ahead. Notices at the Flouch and beyond could have alerted motorists to avoid the A628 or expect delays etc. Similar notices could have been posted on the Tameside side. It's really not that difficult.

Or was the chaos meant to happen? Are the Highways authorities so stupid that they hadn't the foresight to do some of the basic ideas suggested above? Or is it one last desperate attempt from the promoters of this road amongst the two relevant authorities to put the traffic problems back on the Agenda big time, to act as a spur or a new impetus for the pro-bypass brigade as the Inquiry fragments and hopes fade? If the former then there should be some sackings. If the latter, it should be exposed. It's not an argument they can win.

At least one High Peak Borough Councillor - Anne Worrall - has publicly called for modern two-lane bridges to replace Besthill Bridge & Woolley Bridge - the latter currently has an abandoned, boarded-up, semi-refurbished building where a proper bridge and roundabout could be. Why isn't anyone calling for similar improvements to the existing highways that will cost a fraction of the bypass?

Living in the real world it seems that whilst all these authorities claim to be concerned for the valley's residents, when it comes down to it they do not care at all, as they have failed to try to minimise the impact - as was their duty. This has got nothing to do with a bypass, neither real nor - as is far more likely - imagined.


Friday, November 14, 2008

EXCLUSIVE: Public Inquiry costs now stand at £16 million

**UPDATE: the MEN, and both the Glossop & Tameside Advertiser as well as the Glossop Chronicle are now carrying this story**

We report on an interesting question raised in Parliament on Thursday. Robert Goodwill MP  - the Shadow Transport Minister - asked the following:

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when the Longdendale bypass public inquiry commenced; for how many days the inquiry has sat; and what the estimated cost is of the Longdendale bypass public inquiry process

The answer (from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Paul Clark MP PPS and not the DfT which seems odd, presumably Adonis has better things to do) told us the dates and times most of us anoraks know, but then tagged the costs of the Public Inquiry on the end - and they apparently now stand at £16 million. You may remember that we covered a similar line of questioning from Goodwill in Parliament in May with the total then standing at £15 million, and so it seems 6 months later, the PI (such as it exists and does anything useful) has eaten up another £1 million of taxpayer's money. That's £39,000 per week.

Now this has the unfortunate effect of putting our Bypass cost counter (which you'll find at the top of the left-hand column) more than a little ahead of the official information, but we still stand by our line that until we have a proper breakdown, it will remain unadjusted.

Either way, that's still a hell of a lot of money for absolutely bugger all. And it's only going to get ever more expensive...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Playing the long game - the Planning Reform Bill & The Longdendale Bypass

Over the past few months, we've increasingly been forming conclusions about possible reasons why this Public Inquiry (PI) is facing the massive delays that it is. We think it's likely that the Labour Government - in the midst of a 'managed decline' - simply does not want to be the party to make a decision about this road - or at least the wrong decision for the Labour Party in Tameside, and the Labour MPs James Purnell and Tom Levitt. Much better to leave any decision to the Tories, and it will suit the propaganda of the local politicians.

Isn't it funny that whilst the likes of Manchester Chamber of Commerce and the Longdendale Siege Committee mewl and puke over the slow progress of the PI, local MPs and politicians don't express their concerns in public, nor write to the Inspector or the Highways Agency to urge for progress in the way objectors do? Do they know something that we and the regional and local cannon fodder for their scheming don't?

Indeed, are there other reasons for the delays? Well, it seems to us that the quiet but sinister progress of a major piece of Planning legislation - the Planning Reform Bill - may shed some like on the surely tactical reasons for the delays in the resumption of the PI.

The Bill seeks to leave it to future Governments to declare 'National Policy Statements' which identify major developments that are in the 'National Interest'. A newly created 'Infrastructure Planning Commission' - unelected and unaccountable, natch - would make a final decision on these schemes, obviating the need for Public Inquiries. It's the stuff of the somewhat damp dreams of the otherwise impotent Longdendale Siege Committee.

Grey Gordon's Goons have trumpeted the Bill as being a way to cut cost and delays, and also as a way to push through 'Green' projects - Orwellian code words for Nuclear Power Stations and 'cosmetic energy projects' like (Pissing in the) Wind Farms.

And despite the fact that Bourgeois Reformists like Friends of the Earth have tried to persuade the Government otherwise, the Bill has now passed it's third reading in the House of Commons. Unless the Lords mangle it too much, it will become law by possibly next year. The failure of the reformist approach to this issue is writ large in FoE's 'hope' that another unelected and unaccountable lot - the House of Lords - will allow the great unwashed some 'climate change' sugar to coat the bitter 'planning' pill.

So what does this mean in the context of the Longdendale Bypass?

Firstly, although the PI has been dragged out by the State rather than the objectors (I make no apologies for delaying tactics!), we are already hearing a clamour about Red Tape, delays etc. To some, this PI entirely justifies the legislation.

It could also mean that another benefit of the 'long game' the Highways Agency are playing is that if the PI is somehow axed, then the Scheme will simply be resurrected under the new rules. Similarly, if a future Tory government drop the scheme and then decide to bring it back, a new planning environment will exist to speed it through. That really would be 'foul play'.

And the delays surely render the Inspector, John Watson, under suspicion. This is his first major PI, and he has served the system well by allowing the HA to ride it roughshod. Would it be cynical to suggest that he might be after a job in the future Infrastructure Planning Commission? If he is, then he's going about it the right way (excluding the objectors and the general public), albeit in the wrong fashion (slow, delays etc) - if you know what we mean.

We'll be keeping a watchful eye on the progress of the PRB, and we'll also be sure to contrast it with PI developments along the way.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Watsongate - the Highways Agency's secret meetings & John Watson's free time (at our expense)

We have an exclusive on the blog tonight. Leading Objector John Hall has contacted us owing to the frustrations he is experiencing getting information from the Highways Agency.

In August 2008 in this document (opens PDF), the Highways Agency revealed that they planned to meet with Statutory Objectors that month to discuss their new plans which they ominously called a 'compromise result'. 

John Hall then promptly wrote to the Highways Agency requesting copies of the minutes under a Freedom of Information request. Almost 3 months later and in contravention of the Statutory time limits, the minutes have still not materialised.

Excuses that have been given so far include:

- HA staff are on leave (including the Project Leader, Alex Bywaters)
- The person responsible for typing the minutes hasn't finished them yet!
- All those present have not agreed to the finalised minutes, which means they cannot be sent out

Whatever the truth is, there are no minutes being provided, despite John Hall's continued reminders. One certainly smells a rat, but of what kind is another matter. What was discussed? Would the release of info prejudice ongoing discussions? What have they got to hide?

In frustration, John tells us that he wrote to the PI Inspector, but was told that John Watson was not aware that any such meeting had taken place - this despite the fact that a document published by the Inquiry broke the news of the meeting in the first place! It seems that Watson does not read all the Inquiry documents, despite having ample time to do so - and these are delays that he himself has ordered & presided over.

Is it lies, or is it incompetence? Exactly who is fooling who? We'll keep you posted...

Longdendale Bypass PI is a record breaker

It's official - the Public Inquiry (PI) for the Longdendale Bypass is soon to be a record breaker.

The previous record was held by the (second) PI into the M6 Toll Road in 1994, which lasted 17 months - our PI has now been underway for nearly 18 months, and by the time we reach 26th November, of the 547 days since commencement, the PI will only have undertaken 15 sitting days, less than 3% of the total time span.

Over the next few days, we'll have a series of articles about where this Public Inquiry stands, and what it may mean for the future.