The Highways Agency is withdrawing from the current Mottram-Tintwistle bypass Public Inquiry, it was announced today.
The decision has been taken after the Regional Leaders Forum, 4NW, informed the Department for Transport that after assessing its priorities for funding from the Regional Funding Allocation it wants to delay the proposed start of the scheme by at least four years, until 2016/17.
The decision also comes in view of the extended period of time between the publication of the draft proposals for the scheme in 2007 and the earliest date at which the Inquiry might be reconvened. It is important that all parties to the Inquiry have a fair opportunity to understand and test the evidence base for the scheme given that the traffic model, environmental statement and cost estimate will have changed since 2007. The additional delay to the scheme will now require further amendments to be made to the traffic model, environmental statement and cost estimate.
Work on the scheme had initially been planned to start in 2012, subject to the completion of statutory processes.
Announcing the withdrawal from the current Public Inquiry, the Highways Agency's Major Projects Director, Nirmal Kotecha, said:
"We would like to thank all those who have taken the time to express an opinion about the A57/A628 bypass scheme.
"Draft proposals for the scheme were published in 2007. Since then a Public Inquiry has been started and adjourned and there have been changes to the traffic model and the environmental statement. After careful consideration we therefore feel it is appropriate to withdraw from the current adjourned Inquiry and re-start statutory processes, subject to further advice to Ministers by 4NW. It is important that all parties to the Inquiry have a fair opportunity to understand and test the evidence base for the scheme."
Notice the use of the word 'current' before Public Inquiry. The "Notes to editors" at the foot of the press release are also very important:
Notes to Editors
The A57/A628 Mottram - Tintwistle bypass is a proposal to bypass the villages of Mottram in Longdendale, Hollingworth and Tintwistle which currently suffer high volumes of traffic from the A628 trans-pennine trunk route between Sheffield and Manchester. A local authority scheme known as the Glossop Spur is being promoted by Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council at the same time.
The joint PI considering both schemes commenced in June 2007. Pending production of revised traffic forecasts incorporating new national traffic growth forecasts and the Environmental Statement, the Inquiry was adjourned in December 2007.
In July 2008, the Department published updated scheme costs estimates for the HA Major Roads Programme, including a new range estimate for Mottram-Tintwistle of £223m to £315m with a central estimate of £270m.
4NW is the Regional Leaders Forum for the north west of England. It has responsibility for housing, planning, transport and economic development. 4NW has a board of members including council leaders from each of the five sub-regions, Cumbria, Cheshire, Lancashire, Merseyside and Greater Manchester, along with seven representatives from the private, non-governmental sector such as Manchester Airport Group, North West Universities Association and the North West Trades Union Congress - people who are responsible for delivering the strategy proposals at local level in the north west.
4NW is due to submit further advice to Ministers in April on its latest priorities for funding from the Regional Funding Allocation.
If 4NW wants to progress the scheme, the Highways Agency will restart the statutory processes, including publication of Draft Orders and Environmental Statement.
It's possible to draw both positive and negative conclusions from this news, and were sure to have something to dissect as time goes by. In the meantime, the Manchester Evening News are carrying the story, as are the BBC.
UPDATE: James Purnell's office turned up for a look at the blog just before 1 p.m., presumably in search of the news (for an explanation into why we know this is JP's office, see this blog from last year).
You can listen to the report from BBC Radio Manchester on the mp3 player below: