16 July 2012: Local campaigners tell us about their battle to stop a resurrected road project in the Chancellor's constituency.
Another multi-lane bypass has been brought back from the dead in Cheshire, but local people are fighting back with their own proposals for a simple junction improvement. Matt Parkinson from the A556 Lobby Group writes about their campaign so far:
The A556 Lobby Group was set up in Spring 2011 to oppose the Highway Agency's (HA's) latest proposals for a bypass around a stretch of the A556 near Mere in Cheshire.
The A556 is currently used as a shortcut to link J19 of the M6 with J7 of the M56. Over the years various proposals have been put forward to improve this stretch of road which is congested at rush-hour (like a lot of roads are) and has a high rate of accidents. However, the last Labour Government ruled out bypassing it in 2007, as Alistair Darling (the then Transport Secretary), ruled that a motorway-grade bypass would be far too environmentally-damaging.
Fast-forward to 2011 and the new coalition Govt have given priority funding to a new dual-carriageway bypass and what's more they are calling it the 'A556 Knutsford to Bowdon Environmental Improvement Scheme'! How did this go from being 'too environmentally damaging' under the last Government to 'an environmental improvement' under this one?
The current proposals would see a 4-lane dual carriageway built through open greenbelt countryside and prime agricultural land, as well as through five woods and numerous ponds which are home to endangered great crested newts and other species. Several farms will be severely affected with one likely to be pushed out of business.
What is even more frustrating however is that all the reasons being put forward by the HA for building the bypass won't actually be solved with the new road...in fact the new road is likely to create more problems than it will solve. For example the safety issues are in fact likely to get worse as the new bypass will result in quiet country lanes being used as a rat-run with projected vehicle movements increasing from around 150 a day to between 2000-3000 a day! All this on lanes barely wide enough for two cars to pass one another.
These lanes are also popular with cyclists as they form a part of the Cheshire Cycleway and are criss-crossed with public footpaths and bridleways. We can only imagine the number of accidents which may occur should this bypass get planning approval.
As a Lobby Group fighting against this unnecessary and destructive scheme we decided that it is all too easy to say we are against the bypass and that perhaps we would have more of a fighting chance if we could come up with an alternative to the bypass which would protect the greenbelt AND reduce the congestion and accident rate on the current road.
We therefore commissioned a firm of traffic engineers called CBO Transport to examine whether improvements could be done to Junction 20 of the M6 (J9 of the M56) which would allow traffic to switch from the M6 to the M56 freely thus allowing for the de-trunking of the A556, in order to deter traffic from using it as a short-cut in future. We raised about £8,000 from concerned and affected public and parties, held a presentation evening at a hotel in the nearby town of Knutsford (incidentally the same hotel that the HA had used to present their bypass proposal!) and invited the press along to see for themselves which scheme people preferred... the HA's or ours.
We leafletted over a thousand homes and gained local media coverage and on the night over 98% of attendees preferred our scheme! As a result of the presentation evening we were offered a free stand from the organisers of the Cheshire Show. This gave us the opportunity to showcase our plans to a wider audience. Incidentally we got talking to some truckers who visited our stand and they told us that they would prefer to see our proposals for an improvement to J20/M6 (J9/M56) made instead of building a bypass because it would allow them to remain on the motorway network, rather than them being forced to leave it to travel a short distance on an A road to then re-join the motorway network.
To date we have over 900 signatures to a petition calling on the HA to look at our scheme. We currently have surveyors working on costings to prove how our scheme is not only environmentally friendly but also cost-effective. It just so happens that the local MP is non other than George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and we are confident that any scheme which does the job and saves the taxpayer several million pounds will be of interest to him, especially in these times of national austerity.