Anne Robinson from Friends of the Peak District has written an open letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the way the Government's transport studies are focused only on finding ways to increase road capacity.
Along with other campaigners in the area, Anne has been taking part in 'stakeholder groups' hosted by the Department for Transport this year. Aimed at putting together proposals for the Autumn Statement following the announcement of six 'feasibility studies' by the Chancellor last year, these have resisted any efforts to rule out road-building in the National Park and ignored the potential for better rail links to reduce car travel.
Dear Mr Osborne,
What is the point of your trans-Pennine feasibility study? You made ambitious plans for the trunk road network in June 2013, but a year later put forward even bigger plans for a Northern Powerhouse with a high speed rail link HS3 between Manchester and Leeds. The North – Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester Newcastle and Sheffield Cities – then stepped up with a rail based vision and HS3 between Manchester and Sheffield. In the middle of all this your roads-based trans-Pennine feasibility study seems hopelessly out of touch.
When you launched your massive road building programme last year in Investing in Britain’s Future the Trans-Pennine routes (M62 and A628 corridor) seemed to be in line for all your proposed upgrades - adding lanes to the busiest motorways, dualling a large proportion of the non-motorway trunk network and tackling some of the "most notorious and longstanding hot spots in the country".
You clearly meant business. Investment in major projects would treble from today’s level by the end of the decade and "mark the start of a once-in-a-generation programme of works worth between £30bn and £50bn over a 10-15 yr period to upgrade the nation’s roads to an entirely new standard…" Spending would be controlled through a budget or Road Investment Strategy on a 5-yearly basis, rather like Network Rail’s control periods.
In this context the Department for Transport began the feasibility study of the trans-Pennine routes, the sole aim of which is to increase connectivity between Manchester and Sheffield. We can drop the plural in 'routes' now as the M62 and rail options are excluded from the study, which is based solely on the A628 route between the M67 in Tameside and the M1 in South Yorkshire - straight through the heart of the Peak District National Park which has the strongest protection in the country.
After three meetings of the study’s stakeholder reference group, the Department for Transport is now only exploring options for potential road schemes on this route to increase connectivity. A study with such a narrow focus, literally on the trunk route and its verges, has ignored Government policy for modal shift, smart choices and minimising the need to travel, which would contribute to wider sustainability and health objectives in the area.
It has also failed to follow Government guidance ‘WebTAG’ for how transport problems should be assessed. Instead of addressing the very different problems along the route - visual intrusion, air and noise pollution, congestion and poor safety – the study started from the premise to increase connectivity by road and so that is where it has ended up.
Finally the protection of the National Park has been reduced in the latest paper on the study to "avoiding unacceptable impacts on it". Neither you nor the Department for Transport seem to understand great weight must be given to conserving landscape and scenic beauty, and natural and cultural heritage in a National Park. Any development of the scale being proposed by the study must, in a National Park, be refused unless there are exceptional circumstances or it would be in the public interest.
Frustratingly this limited study is duplicating the same piecemeal approach as was taken in 2007 with the Mottram Tintwistle bypass. This will lead to the same disastrous consequences of a new road penetrating into the National Park, increased traffic from the removal of the Longdendale bottleneck and reassignment of traffic from the M62, and adverse environmental impacts all along the route.
Meanwhile something momentous has been going on behind all our backs, including the Department for Transport’s it would seem. When you visited Manchester in June this year you announced the Northern Powerhouse – your vision to connect the north not only by fixing the road system but also by building a new high speed railway between Manchester and Leeds. A few weeks later the Northern Powerhouse of Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield cities responded by publishing One North, A proposition for an interconnected North, based on rail and a new fast east-west rail link.
The One North proposals and your own may sound similar but One North went further and got hold of the trans-Pennine routes study by the jugular. It recognised, unlike you and the Department for Transport, that the environmental constraints, i.e. the National Park, its setting and Green Belt, that exist between the cities of Sheffield and Manchester prohibit the development of a new road link. Instead it said "this corridor needs to be considered on a multimodal basis" "with a new fast trans-Pennine rail link for both passengers and freight".
Where does that leave your original plans for this notorious hot spot? Are you going to carry on investing insignificant amounts into making matters worse in the north by adopting a piecemeal approach to the A628 corridor or are you going to put your money where your mouth is, abandon this ill-conceived road-based study and invest in a robust all-encompassing feasibility study of trans-Pennine connectivity based on a new rail link between Liverpool and the Humber ports? And please don’t use the excuse of HS2 needing to be in place. Trans-Pennine HS3 would manage quite well without it.
Here in the north, we all look forward to hearing from you.
Friends of the Peak District
Dr Anne Robinson is Chairman of the Campaign for National Parks, former national Vice Chairman of CPRE and former Chairman of Friends of the Peak District (FPD) and a long-standing transport campaigner on behalf of FPD, CPRE and Yorkshire and Humber Transport Activists Roundtable.