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This section is updated monthly.
by Anne Robinson
Friends of the Peak District/ CPRE Peak District & South Yorkshire
The Pennines, that backbone of England, have long been perceived as a barrier to travel and trade, despite the existence of a well-established transport corridor between the Manchester and Leeds city regions, with the M62 motorway and various rail routes and waterways which provide strategic west-east links between Merseyside and the Humber ports. But, for some, these are not enough. Several councils still seek an all-weather fast highway route 12 miles further south along the line of the A57/A628/A616 trunk road (or Woodhead Pass) that connects Greater Manchester with South Yorkshire. Although the idea of a motorway and dualling of the route were rejected in the 1970s and 1990s respectively, a motorway by stealth has been slowly gathering pace with the opening of the M67 Denton and Hyde bypass and of the Stocksbridge bypass. The next step in that putative motorway - the Mottram, Hollingworth, Tintwistle bypass - hangs in the balance twenty five years after its conception.
There is no doubting that appalling traffic conditions exist on the A57/A628 in the Longdendale villages of Mottram, Hollingworth and Tintwistle. Here traffic causes a congested, polluted and intimidating environment for residents, pedestrians and cyclists (although a below-average accident rate). The majority of it is locally induced. The two trans-Pennine feeder roads (A628T Woodhead and A57 Snake Pass) together introduce only 44% of total traffic into the area, leaving 56% generated locally. Through traffic of heavy lorries represents 4% of traffic on Mottram Moor, although its effects predominate.
A bypass of these villages (see map above, from the Highways Agency) was presented as the only solution without rigorous appraisal of alternatives. The impact of this scheme on the stunning countryside that it would cut through - in the east the Peak District National Park's statutory purposes require the conservation and enhancement of its natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage and in the west the Greater Manchester Green Belt is protected from development - was largely ignored. The intrusive new road infrastructure, with its viaducts and 'highway furniture', would have devastated these outstanding landscapes and generated large increases in traffic, locally and in the National Park in addition to increasing CO2 emissions in a valley which is already a designated air Quality Management Area .
The 'Preferred Route' was adopted by the Department of Transport in 1993 but it took 14 years for it to reach public inquiry in June 2007. In order to fight the scheme alongside the statutory objectors (the Peak District National Park Authority and Natural England), environmental groups formed the A57/A628 Alliance . Members were generous with support, advice, funds and hard work. The North West Transport Activists Roundtable, Campaign for National Parks and Friends of the Peak District formed the active partnership but in retrospect our efforts seem like overkill! None of our evidence was heard or scrutinised and all proceedings at the inquiry became null and void when, after sitting for only 15 days in a period of six months, the inquiry was adjourned indefinitely, without a date for return, in December 2007. This shambles was entirely due to the Highways Agency who had made various omissions and a wide ranging set of errors in the Environmental Statement and the traffic modelling. The Agency then failed to meet various deadlines to return with revised evidence until, on the back of rising scheme costs and delayed funding, it announced in March 2009 that it was withdrawing from the public inquiry. Formal closure of the inquiry is still awaited.
After such a debacle it would seem reasonable to expect a measured and informed response would be taken towards Longdendale's traffic. Not so. Rising costs of the scheme by 141% over two and a half years to a central estimate of £ 270 million (upper limit £ 315 million) led to the next episode of the saga. As the scheme was funded by the North West region, not central government, the bypass was part of the regional budget. With the escalating cost of several road schemes 4NW (the region's Leaders' Forum) had over budgeted for transport by 37%, with a total projected spend of nearly £1.7 billion over ten years. 4NW sensibly decided to advise the Department for Transport (DfT) in March this year to postpone the start of construction of the Mottram Tintwistle bypass to 2016/2017 because it was the weakest of all the Highway Agency schemes in terms of 'strategic justification'. Before DfT could decide whether or not to accept this advice AGMA (the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities) quickly reneged on that regional decision and proposed an amended scheme - a shorter cheaper (£100 million) bypass of Mottram only to link up with the local authority's link road the Glossop Spur.
The way that AGMA has progressed this new Mottram bypass is shameful. The spirit of the process is not being conducted with either the Secretary of State's proposed 'fresh thinking' on the traffic problems or in line with Eddington's methodology of defining the problem and seeking all reasonable solutions. It is merely carrying on the discredited approach of 'predict and provide' road building. The process is also failing to comply with Regional Funding Advice guidelines and the DfT's webTAG (Wider Economic Benefits Transport Appraisal Guidance), and to meet the requirements of the Climate Change Act. There has been no public consultation and local residents and others have not been privy to the alternatives that have been considered. The proposed alternative would leave the villages of Tintwistle and Hollingworth to endure the through traffic of heavy lorries, despite its removal being a key reason for the original bypass!
Equally shameful is the way it is proposed to fund it. It is understandable that AGMA, with the loss of its proposed congestion charge and Transport Innovation Fund bid, has had to re-think its transport priorities and find alternative sources of funding. That those sources should include 40% 'top slicing' of Greater Manchester's Local Transport Plan funds that would lead to reduced spending on travel planning, walking and cycling schemes is outrageous. This would have a negative effect on health based targets, on the achievement of several national PSA (Public Service Agreement) targets and indicators and Local Area Agreements, and on goals outlined in the government's latest transport 'command' document 'Delivering a Sustainable Transport System' (DaSTS).
The focus of AGMA's reprioritisation must be on preparing for the third round of regional funding advice using Eddington's problem solving approach that considers all types of interventions, as promoted through DaSTS. This would ensure that funds are allocated to progressing more sustainable transport projects, such as the Manchester Rail Hub which would help all the AGMA constituencies and in particular improve trans-Pennine travel.
What is the solution? Something must be done quickly to alleviate the traffic problems the villagers have endured for so long. In the short term an area weight limit to divert HGVs onto the motorway network around the Peak District National Park, coupled with enforced 40 mph speed limits, traffic lights at key junctions and random vehicle exhaust testing on the A57/A628T, and smoothing of flows on the M1 M62 and M60, would result in an immediate improvement to the environment of the villages, tranquillity and air quality, and would also address the poor accident record east of Tintwistle. This approach would represent a policy change that would need comprehensive consultation and travel planning with affected haulage firms but it has been shown to work when applied to other areas, such as the whole of Leicestershire and the New Forest.
Work by MTRU (Metropolitan Transport Research Unit) that was done on behalf of Friends of the Peak District demonstrates that there would be significant environmental benefits from applying a weight restriction on the A628T corridor. These measures coupled, with smarter travel choice measures - with Glossop at the heart of these as a Sustainable Travel Town - and investment in public transport, walking and cycling, would address local car traffic and bring immediate benefits to the area.
In the longer term the transport problems of the wider Peak District or Southern Pennines need scrutiny using Eddington's methodology, as promoted in the DfT's 'Delivering a Sustainable Transport System' ,which also flags up the need to reduce greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050. This approach must encompass strategic and local freight movements, and residents' commuter and visitor journeys.