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Manchester airport road is nonsensical

Sian Berry's picture

2 December: As another old road proposal gets funding support from the government, campaigner Lillian Burns says that the Manchester Airport link roads are not needed.

Lillian BurnsDespite not receiving a rating in the Comprehensive Spending Review, the SEMMMS (South East Manchester Multi Modal Study) roads have suddenly come to the fore in the government’s Autumn Statement and Infrastructure Plan with the endorsement of a 10 km section of the network from the M56 near Manchester Airport to the A6 south of Stockport.

This decision seems to have come about as a result of the government deciding to locate an Enterprise Zone at the airport – despite the fact that the Regional Spatial Strategy panel of inspectors strongly advised against the airport becoming a commercial hub in its own right.  They were concerned that a major business development here would have economic impacts on the city centre and on surrounding towns and they also recognised that much of the airport is surrounded by Green Belt.

However, even though the government has opted to ignore the advice of some of the country’s leading planning inspectors on that issue, it should have at least paused to consider the remarkable array of public transport options on offer before having such a knee-jerk reaction and commissioning a new road leading to the zone.  We already have the Metrolink - currently under construction - going to the airport and the Northern Hub, which is backed by government, includes having a fourth heavy rail platform there.  In addition, at the recent Examination in Public into the Manchester City Council Core Strategy there was a discussion about re-opening Baguley rail station on the Mid Cheshire Rail Line to serve the Enterprise Zone.  There were also recommendations in the SEMMMS final report that there should be a western passenger rail link into the airport from Ashley and an eastern rail freight link.

And, the early plans for the zone indicate that much of the development will take place on brownfield land in already developed areas and be used to regenerate Wythenshawe which has high unemployment levels.  This lends itself to the provision of good local bus services. 

Bearing in mind the fact that the main argument for siting the zone there is to bring about a renaissance of the area immediately around it, it seems contradictory to propose new roads to encourage more people to commute from farther away and add to the poor air quality around the airport.  It is already an Air Quality Management Area. 

The whole proposal is so unsustainable, it is hard to know where to start.  If this section of road is built, it will close up the Green Belt gap that currently exists between the South Eastern edge of the Greater Manchester conurbation and the settlements in the North East of Cheshire.  And all it would achieve would be more traffic movements, more developments on greenfields - which would generate calls for even more roads – and more carbon emissions.  At a time when traffic growth has flattened out, this is completely nonsensical.  We should be concentrating on providing more and better public transport which more people would use more of the time.

And, despite the funding announced this week, there is still a hole in the budget that will have to be filled locally.  In effect, the Coalition Government has re-confirmed a commitment made by the Labour government that it will fund this section of road to the tune of £165 m to £170m – very roughly half the estimated cost – and the Local Authorities will have to find the rest either from their own coffers or from private enterprises.

Since the multi modal study into these roads took place, Stockport Borough Council has acted as the lead authority on promoting the SEMMMS road network although Cheshire East Borough Council and Manchester City Council also have parts of the network in their territory.  The section covered by the recent announcement comprises the A555 Manchester Airport Western Link Road, the A555 Manchester Airport Eastern Link Road and a small section of the northern end of the A523 Poynton Bypass.  However, it is already bringing on pressures for the remainder of the Poynton Bypass and the Poynton to Macclesfield Improvement to be built as well as the A6 Stockport North-South Bypass and the A6 High Lane and Disley Bypass (which is not part of SEMMMS).

This is a guest post by Lillian Burns, Convenor of the North West Transport Roundtable.