If you don't know much about the background to this report, then you'd assume the numerous references to a 'Mottram Bypass' would be shorthand for the Mottram/Hollingworth/Tintwistle Bypass, even though the latter scheme is referred to only once in the document (on page 4). Look more closely at some of the tables illustrating costs, and you'll find the 'Mottram Bypass' is described as now only costing £100 million - and you may be wondering 'what happened to the other £200 million'?
But if you take this in the context of the previous AGMA press release issued at the end of March
And now, we can shed more light upon exactly who has been up to what in terms of progressing this new 'Bypass 2.0' scheme. Well, almost.
First we must set down some context. On 19th March 2009, representatives from various agencies met at the Highways Agency's offices at City Tower in Manchester. The date is neatly sandwiched between the announcement of the deferral of funding for the original bypass scheme by 4NW on 12th March
The purpose of the meeting was to salvage something from the 4NW decision, and the (redacted) minutes of the meeting - obtained by John Hall - can be read here.
Upon reading the minutes, it quickly becomes clear that all of the major players in the Bypass have no intention of simply dropping the plan for a road through Longdendale, whatever their public position may be. Whilst this is unsurprising for the likes of Tameside MBC, you do start to wonder what is going on when the Highways Agency play a major part, and as you read further into the minutes, you realise it is they that are playing a strange game.
The key section of the minutes lies in section 5 'Existing scheme', with paragraph 7 showing duplicity is at work with regard to the Public Inquiry (emphasis added):
"(redacted) explained that the Public Inquiry had been adjourned but was still live. A discussion took place about the potential for a Phased Inquiry based on any revised option, and it was agreed that there may be some value in exploring this, dependent on the shape of any emerging proposals"
Presumably, this anticipates that the last two years (and as yet undisclosed £X million) have been 'phase 1' which is now adjourned, and that another scheme can be drawn up and emerge in 'phase 2' when it is ready.
Looking back to March 24th
We feel that these minutes are an important part of the puzzle falling into place: they demonstrate that the statements made by Alex Bywaters - the head of the Bypass project - in his email to the PI programme officer are wilfully misleading, and also that the HA have clearly not formally withdrawn from the PI yet because it doesn't suit the plans that this little crowd have for our Valley and the wider area. After all, the idea for a 'phased Inquiry' that they float means that there must be a period of transition: closing the current PI would simply be the end, and getting another PI running at a later date would clearly be much harder. It wouldn't be 'phase 2', it would simply be a second Inquiry.
One also has to note that 'alternative proposals' as described in the minutes means a road drawn up by the agencies, and not those presented to the Public Inquiry so far. The minutes go further in a section entitled 'Alternative proposals', which is clearly concerned with TMBC's 'Bypass 2.0', and makes clear the background behind AGMA's announcement in the press yesterday.
What we would be interested to learn is whether or not those individuals that had taken time and effort to propose 'alternatives' to the bypass or were due to do so at the PI (i.e. the Translink scheme for reopening Woodhead) have been invited to be present at these discussions? And if not, why not?
There's much more to these minutes than can be commented upon by us at this time (particularly the role of GMPTE, Faber Maunsell and Sir Howard Bernstein who the minutes suggest are joined at the hip), and one interesting point to note is that some of those present were due to meet the following day to progress 'Bypass 2.0'. We wonder what went on there?
Finally, there's the issue of the redacted names. There seems to be a spurious reason given for not releasing these names, so we're inviting readers to posit exactly who these people are. If this all looks plausible, at a later date, we'll amend the minutes to show who we think was there. So let's have your ideas.
This one will run and run...