Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What's the delay?

You may remember back in the dark distant past - 31st March actually - the Public Inquiry Inspector issuing document X21 to the Inquiry. In the document (entitled "Possible Closure of the Inquiry"), John Watson politely requested that the Highways Agency withdraw the draft Orders, and other such legal niceties, and confirm for him the date when they planned to formally withdraw from the Inquiry. He further requested that they do so by 15th April, unless it was their intention to provide such notice "within 4 weeks of the date of this note".

Well, we heard nothing from the Highways Agency by the 15th April and 4 weeks later, no such notice is forthcoming. Once again, the Highways Agency are prepared to waste money by prolonging matters to the utter limit, a limit which the Inspector is wholly reluctant to enforce. 

Could it be that something else is going on? We'll leave you to speculate.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


We had a very interesting & suitably ironic visit today - budget day - which we'd like to tell you about.

It was a fleeting visit from renowned accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC). They'd been searching the internet for the "public enquiry (sic) mottram" and landed on a blog item about the Public Inquiry.

Now this could be just a bored employee idling away some time at work, but then again, maybe someone has called the auditors in? One way or another, we'd love to find out exactly how much the Public Inquiry has cost, and how much our dear friend John Watson the Inspector has been paid for 15 days work

Watch this space.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

More info on "Bypass 2.0" - Tameside's sleight of hand

Snippets of info are starting to emerge about Tameside MBC's plans for a bypass on the cheap.

Last week saw a press release about the possible scheme being published in Local Transport Today (our screen grab of the article can be viewed here). More information is amongst the agenda items for TMBC's Executive 'Cabinet' that met on 1st April (seriously!), and these can be read here (opens PDF). Regarding the bypass, this is all the info we get:

A bypass of Mottram passing to the north of the village crossing and linking to Roe Cross Road and Mottram Moor and from there along the line of the Glossop Spur to Woolly Bridge (sic)

So our prediction in a previous blog post about likely routes appears to be wrong. Instead, the route under consideration appears to be akin to the 'Grey Route', which was put forward for public consultation back in 1993, alongside the Brown Route which ended up in the shit as it were. We'd like to remind everyone why the Grey Route was rejected at that time (from the Highways Agency's history of the scheme published on the Public Inquiry website - opens PDF):

(The Grey Route) had an adverse impact on the built environment, cultural heritage, townscape and construction because it traversed most of the 'difficult' areas of poor ground conditions

Whilst not mentioning where the road will go after reaching Woolley Bridge, the maps showing all the historical routes makes clear the plan will be to forge through what is now Rossington Park en route towards Tintwistle. The plan seems to be to capitalise on opposition to Rossington Park, but how Tameside MBC, or High Peak BC for that matter, will justify subjecting the Nothern portion of Hadfield to a proto-motorway is another matter. Rossington Park is by no means a success, and there's nothing to say it will be there in years to come, unlike any new road that is constructed. 

But the second part of Tameside's plans are the most interesting: 

- A package of sustainable travel initiatives linked to the existing School Travel Plans.

- A package of public transport (bus) improvements on the bypassed/relieved roads

- Cycling and pedestrian improvements on the bypassed/relieved roads.

- A package of traffic calming/road safety and environmental street improvements on the bypassed/relieved roads,

- Selected rail station improvements

- A lorry ban for through traffic on the A628/A616 (Woodhead Pass) and the A57 (Snake Pass) which would probably require the de-trunking of the A628/A616. Possible extension of the lorry ban to the other trans-Pennine routes passing through the Peak District National Park.

- The re-opening of the Woodhead rail route for trans-Pennine freight and passenger traffic

What looks like a sweetener for a road project, may be just that. But anti-bypass activists must ignore this at their peril - it's an attempt to 'divide and rule'. By stealing the positive agenda of more than one local campaign, plus making overtures to the disaffected Peak District National Park Authority, Tameside MBC hope that everyone will forget the plan is still to build another road. And one that follows the route of the likely Eastwards extension of the M67 30-odd years ago.

Of course, there's still the issue of how this will be paid for, and this is also covered in the same minutes. But that's for another time... 

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Are Tameside MBC manipulating the Mottram traffic lights?

We've heard reports - and experienced ourselves - delays caused by very noticeable changes in the traffic light sequence at Mottram over the past few days. Last week saw some extremely short sequences at the traffic lights between Market Street and Stalybridge Road, leading to long delays along the A57 in either direction - one contact reported that it took 2 hours to get from Denton into Glossopdale at rush hour evening one day last week.

This week has seen the sequences reversed, with long delays for local traffic between Broadbottom and Mottram.

We've reported on this seemingly deliberate manipulation of the traffic lights once before, but it does appear to be rather extreme of late, just as the prospects of the bypass begin to look shaky, and Tameside want to build their own version.

We welcome any insight that NMB readers can provide - if you have insider insight into these matters and have evidence that it is deliberate, let us know.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Andrew Bingham - Tweedledumber

Last week's Glossop Advertiser saw a number of all-too-familiar letters from pro-bypass fuckwits decrying the Highways Agency's decision to withdraw from the Public Inquiry. But amongst them was nestled this letter from High Peak Borough Councillor Andrew Bingham, the Tories Parliamentary Candidate for the area.

In it, Bingham paints a picture all too familiar because it's the same one painted by Tom Levitt, the man whose job he's after: the Bypass as the key to capitalist prosperity for the High Peak, representing an alleviation of all the traffic problems in the area, supported by almost everyone (none of whom can actually be bothered to officially do so). 

In our view, these non-differences between Labour and Conservative represent all that the political and economic system can offer here or anywhere else. They demonstrate the hollowness of both parties claims to an environmentally sound future where the infinite growth of markets is both necessary and desirable. Neither of them have anything to offer to anyone who believes in anything different.

You won't be surprised to learn that Bingham is as big a fan of the New Mills Torrs Hydro as is Levitt.  For us, this speaks volumes about his credibility, but we won't labour the point lest it appear to be our hobby-horse. 

Our sincere hope is that the legitimacy of the world of Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber, as represented by Bingham and Levitt, is on it's way out. Since it would appear to be high likely that Bingham will replace Levitt at the next General Election, we'll be keeping our eyes on him over the coming months.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Possible "new" bypass 2.0 routes

Despite all the fuss and brouhaha raised over the cancellation and vague "reinstatement" of plans for a bypass recently (bypass 2.0 as we'll now call it), firm details of any alternative plan for a road through Longdendale are thin on the ground

But as far as we're concerned, there's no harm in speculating about what any eventual plan may look like. After locating details of alternative routes considered in past years, we can now reveal the most likely locations for any new road. And wherever it goes, it's bound to stir up new dissent, perhaps even amongst those who so far have been all for it.

Leading up to 1993, a total of 7 possible routes had been considered by the Highways Agency as possible schemes. You can view a plan of them all here. This document* has a written description of each route, plus reasons for rejection, along with a potted history (opens PDF, see pages 27-30). The route that was eventually chosen after consultation was the eventually ill-fated (but aptly named) 'Brown Route', shortlisted alongside but winning out over the 'Grey Route'.

We feel pretty safe in speculating that any 'new' route for a bypass will utilise plans already drawn up in order to keep down costs, and the 7 routes identified in past years presumably represent all the viable options open to roadbuilders. So the question is, which one is now the most likely?

A good place to start is what has already been said in public, and in private as far as we know. As we've already pointed out, back in November 2008, local MPs and Roy Oldham met with Geoff Hoon, and the possibility of alternative alignments which "hugged the conurbations more closely" was discussed. James Purnell was said to have commented that "such a route would be popular with neither residents nor environmentalists".

However, one has to consider that the MPs wanted movement on the Bypass proposals and the PI that existed back at the end of last year: like the heady days of Globalised Capitalism, that situation no longer exists. Being left with a new situation, we imagine the MPs and local councillors are now starting to think about what costs less in terms of money, if not any supposed public support. 

The only point of detail that has emerged since then has been this article written by two MEN journalists which says that the new route will be "shorter". Looking again at the route plans, to our eyes there is only really one candidate which can be considered shorter than any of the other routes - that of the 'Blue route'. The bad news for the people of Tintwistle is that this route cuts around the South side of their village, leaving them surrounded by both the existing A628 to the North and the 'new' bypass to the South. It also comes a lot closer to Hollingworth than the 'Brown route' ever threatened. 

We can only surmise that Longdendale Siege members like Mike Flynn and David Moore in Hollingworth and Pat Jenner in Tintwistle will be extremely unpopular with their fellow villagers should this be the case. Rest assured, we and others will be doing our utmost to make clear to local people the implications of these plans for the area when more clarity can be obtained. 

* - as we write, this document is still available on the Public Inquiry website, but we will host the file when/if the PI website is taken offline

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Inspector in his castle & the Inquiry that never was...

More interesting developments at the Public Inquiry. A new document has appeared at the Persona Website (can be found here - opens PDF) in which the Inspector, John Watson, virtually pleads with the Highways Agency & TMBC to withdraw the Draft Orders, which he considers will be the end of the Public Inquiry. What's amazing is that he's given them a 2 week deadline to get back to him. If they delay this long, that means the Inquiry will have rumbled on for 3 weeks after the HA stated their intention to withdraw. It's so much fun spending other people's money.

Watson comes across as so weak and subservient - he's not actually telling them to end the PI, instead he asks them to notify him of what they want to do. This reveals almost all you need to know about Public Inquiries. They are granted by the good grace of the State, and the State decides when they end, and even if it gives the PI a chance to conclude, it can (and frequently does) choose to ignore the 'recommendations'. 

So contrast Watson's pleadings with comments today in a letter to stalwart objector John Hall from the Chief Executive of the Planning Inspectorate, Katrine Sporle (which you can read here in a PDF - the redacting and highlighting is ours). It is a response to a Freedom of Information request, but we feel the letter is more interesting than the information they refuse to release. 

Sporle says that the five-times adjourned Inquiry is "exceptional", and she goes further:

Indeed, I am not aware of this having occurred on any other case in recent years.

So much so that they are considering "issuing new guidance" to ensure that "all parties are fully prepared when they come to the Inquiry". She goes on to say that adjournments are necessary to ensure "natural justice" and that the Inspectorate does its best to avoid adjournments. 

Does anyone believe this crap? Individuals have had nearly two years of their lives caught up in this charade, whilst an Agency of the State has sat back and laughed. That the Highways Agency would have suffered any "injustice" had the Inspector been much more firm with them, is a joke. Sporle continues:

We will however be reviewing the handling of the inquiry to see if there are any lessons to be learned from the process and, where appropriate, we will be sharing these with the Highways Agency and others.

Hmmn, yes I imagine that will take all of 5 minutes given that the new Planning Act that we warned about last year is now the law of the land.

On a more confusing note, Sporle says that the HA have "withdrawn from the Inquiry" today. Does she know something that Watson doesn't? Or is she confusing Watson's plea to the HA with the response everyone else wants?

We know of 2 objectors who have been challenging the Inspector over the previous past months as to the legality of the Inquiry. It's noticeable that no criticism has been levelled at Watson by supporters of the Bypass. They have tended to voice their 'frustration' in general terms, not even necessarily attacking the Highways Agency too vociferously for the supposed 'errors' that have produced the delays (although it now seems open season following their withdrawal). 

It's possible to speculate about the reasons why Watson has not come in for criticism. It may because he's seen as impartial. But as far as we're concerned, his handling of this Inquiry has been entirely partial from the start. We've written at length about this, but what concerns us lately is how Watson has essentially pulled up the drawbridge and silenced dissent of his running of the Inquiry, or at least prevented the outside world from seeing that dissent exists. 

John Watson made moves to essentially hide dissenting correspondence from public view. Late last year, a series of conditions were added to the website clarifying what kind of correspondence would be uploaded to it, and we quote:

The scope of the website is as follows:

1 Evidence submitted to the Inquiry that is relevant to the proposals and Orders that are before the Inquiry;
2 Transcripts;
3 Questions of clarification of evidence that are put in writing;
4 Legal submissions that are put to the Inquiry;
5 Documents issued by the Inspector;
6 Inquiry news and programme, and links to related websites; and,
7 It is also useful, so as to keep parties informed during the current adjournment, for the website to carry information from the Promoters regarding their current reviews of their cases (if such information is presented by them in the form of an Inquiry document). 

We can therefore see that, short of a legal challenge to the legitimacy of the Inquiry (which was beyond the means of most Objectors, and seemingly beyond the will if not the means of the larger statutory objectors), dissent as to the process itself was not be allowed to be displayed to the public. Watson created a fortress to buttress the complete sham that is his Public Inquiry. The walls are still standing, and he's still behind them.

The sham will seemingly continue until the Highways Agency decides it has had enough. Did anyone really expect anything else?