MCFly reader (from back when we were fortnightly!) Jamie Fisher writes about another road, which is clearly what the planet needs right about now…
The current A556 is a major dual carriageway from Chester to the M56 near Altrincham, crossing the M6 at junction 19. A significant amount of traffic uses the section of the road through Tabley and Mere to link between the two motorways. Over the past decade or more several plans have been put forward to try and address the traffic issues and congestion.
With the recession and reduced budgets, the project appeared to be under threat.
But in autumn 2011 the government announced the A556 was one of 500 major build projects it hopes will be financed through a public-private national infrastructure plan.
The route, inevitably termed an “Environmental Improvement Scheme” , proposes to build an entirely new 7.5km stretch of road running from junction 19 of the M6 to just before junction 7 of the M56. Roughly parallel to the existing A556, this would be constructed on what is currently greenbelt land.
The plan envisages replacing one section of four lane dual carriageway with a brand new version. Overall capacity on this busy stretch will not be increased, and the existing A556 will be reduced to a two lane road through Tabley and Mere for local traffic use only, and will not be connected to the motorway junctions.
Both the existing A556 and the new route lie in the parliamentary constituency of the Chancellor George Osborne, who approved the plans for it to go ahead as a major infrastructure project for the region in his 2011 autumn statement.
What are the timescales?
The scheme is currently progressing through the preliminary design stage, which involves a 12 week consultation with local residents, businesses etc. This consultation is scheduled to end on 16th April and anyone can submit a response via the Highways Agency’s website.
After that date, the Highways Agency says they will assess the consultation feedback, undertake further design development and submit an application to the Infrastructure Planning Commission who will then examine it before making a recommendation to the Secretary of State on whether to grant permission to proceed into the construction phase. The Planning Act 2008 major infrastructure projects planning process is scheduled to take place during 2013.
The Highways Agency’s website indicates construction will begin by 2015 and take approximately two years.
What is the reason for the road?
The Highways Agency’s own projections place the cost between a minimum of £137million and a maximum of £212million. Their website claims “A new road will address the significant congestion problems and will reduce accident numbers within the area. The air quality within the area will also be improved”.
What are the arguments against?
One of the main arguments against the road is that it does not address the Highways Agency’s own reasons for construction. It is scheduled to cost hundreds of millions of pounds, at a time when huge reductions in public spending are taking place, but does not alleviate congestion or significantly reduce journey time. It simply replaces one four lane dual carriageway with a brand new one. Overall capacity will not be increased, as the existing A556 through Tabley and Mere will be reduced to a two lane road for local traffic, which is not connected to the motorway junctions.
The argument is that this massively expensive scheme will simply transfer congestion, accidents and poor air quality onto the new road a few hundred metres to the west. In other words it is not a sustainable project.
Campaigners argue that there are cheaper and more effective solutions, particularly improving the M6/M56 interchange at junction 20 near Warrington or seeking to reduce road traffic by creating better rail links from Manchester to the M6.
The local action group have highlighted the significant destruction of hedgerows, trees, farmland and historic landscapes that construction will lead to. It will blight the homes and surrounding countryside of hundreds of people who lie in its route.
The Highways Agency have already carried out an extensive environmental impact assessments which fully detail the massive ecological and landscape damage which will occur during construction, including the loss of significant mature woodland, sites of biological importance and ancient parkland. A large scale mitigation programme is proposed including the relocation of populations of Great Crested Newts.
The CPRE are also strongly opposed and have produced a report detailing their arguments. This report can be downloaded from the A556 action group at http://www.a556road.co.uk/#!consultation
The A556 is one of 500 major build projects which the coalition government which George Osborne has said will be financed through a public-private national infrastructure plan. This will be supported with £5bn of public money, but Osborne has said the rest of the cost will be sought from pension funds or the likes of sovereign wealth funds of foreign countries. George Osborne has recently been on a tour of Asian countries including China to seek investment in UK infrastructure, and other ministers have toured those well known havens of democracy, the Gulf.
The 500 are ranked in order of priority with funding guaranteed for a number of high priority projects. Unfortunately this includes the plans for the A556. The public funding, which the Chancellor will be provided by cuts made to other areas of public finances, including to tax credit payments. Investment from foreign countries would see the profits repatriated abroad in the manner of privately owned utilities. In addition road projects are notorious for large cost overruns. Recent PPP schemes in the NHS and schools sector under New Labour have proved to be vastly more expensive than if the state had built them directly, and saddled the tax payer with long term repayments.
Many local residents are opposed to the scheme. An action group has been established and a website set up which gives much greater detail of the plans and the reasons why the new road is financially and environmentally senseless.
They are seeking to raise at least £7,000 to engage a specialist transport consultancy to review the evidence. They are also seeking volunteers to help leaflet drop, lobby their MP, etc.
How can I get involved?
There is an online petition at http://www.a556road.co.uk/#!the-solution
Activists are planning a long term campaign against the scheme. The first public meeting was held on Thursday 23rd February.
Attendees were urged to write to the Infrastructure Planning Commission before 16th April listing a number of inadequacies in the Highways Agency consultation and their plans. The points to make are laid out in a guidance note which was circulated at the meeting and can be downloaded from the action group’s website. For further information and details of the action group visit:
Manchester activists are involved and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org