Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Revealed - the cosy meeting to progress 'Bypass 2.0'

This week has seen the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities publish a document (opens PDF) outlining which major transport schemes will be prioritised in the region and how they will be funded. The story has hit the headlines and is in today's Manchester Evening News.

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 also the TMBC Executive meeting last month, then you'll quickly start to understand something new is on the table.

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 and the announcement by the Highways Agency that they were withdrawing from the PI on 24th 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, when the Highways Agency announced their withdrawal from the PI, one has to look at the wording of their statement which we emphasised at the time (again, our emphasis added):

The Highways Agency is withdrawing from the current Mottram-Tintwistle bypass Public Inquiry

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...


Tom Hagen said...

Disgraceful really. All of the other areas in Greater Manchester such as Oldham are opting to utilise the funds to extend the metrolink to their town centres, where as Tameside takes the backward step of going against further investment in public transport. I know there is going to be an extension to Droylsden, but who will use it?

I find AGMA to be a little too confident in its decision to fund a bypass. After all, £22m has been pissed up the wall so far and not an inch of tarmac laid down due to lengthy public inquiries. If they had opted for the metrolink, they wouldn't have any opposition in planning and that means less money wasted.

Stephen said...

I can confirm that as someone who submitted two of the alternatives to the bypass I have had no communication from any party other than the standard letters sent out from the inspector. As for why not, I have no real idea but I suspect they probably don't like 'laymen' telling them their job...

One point here though is that while the HA have refused to confirm they are pulling out of the enquiry, TMBC have suggested that they intend to, subject to various criteria, so how does that stack up for the scheme if they are intending to reopen the PI at a later date rather than start a new one?

Stephen said...

Actually, thinking about this could the reason people who submitted alternatives are not being involved in the process is that due to the rules of the PI we had to submit an alternative to the published proposal (i.e. a route bypassing Mottram, Hollingworth and Tintwistle) while this new scheme is only planning to bypass Mottram and therefore none of the proposed alternatives are relevant? (As an aside in my submission I did point out that I would favour a bypass of Mottram only with the problems in Hollingworth and Tintwistle being resolved by various measures such as a lorry ban and the reopening of the Woodhead line. However, I was told I was not allowed to submit such a proposal.)

kirtlegreen said...

re Tom Hagen's comments.

Thank you for raising this point, but I find it hard to believe. Are you sure that a CO2 reducing measure is being sacrificed by this "progressive" council for one that will increase CO2 emissions? And that AGMA, Association of Greater Manchester Authorities, also committed to similar c/change concerns, are ratifying this?

The current Labour administration of which local MP James Purnell is a significant cabinet member, actually has a Department dedicated to reducing climate change!

Surely the Labour Party, including that part that runs Tameside Council which claims to be committed to the battle against climate change would not be taking such a decision? I find your information re sacrificing the metro link hard to believe, can you confirm?