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Campaigners raise alarm over 30-mile 'strategic road by stealth' through Manchester and Cheshire Green Belts and countryside

17 March 2014
Plans for roads to the South and East of Manchester would link up to encircle a vast area of Green Belt and countryside in Stockport and North Cheshire and fill it with traffic and development, local and national campaigners have warned today.

A new report by Keith Buchan of the Metropolitan Transport Research Unit says a strategic assessment of the plans is needed – the roads are not being put forward in a clear and cohesive programme, but instead are being funded and planned piecemeal by a range of different authorities. Now Campaign for Better Transport and the North West Transport Roundtable, are calling for a full assessment of the cumulative impact of the schemes. 

Taken together the new traffic, pollution, ecological damage, and associated housing and business developments would cause huge damage to the area and campaigners want to see new studies to look at alternative ways of providing transport, including local public transport and new strategic rail lines.

Campaigners are particularly concerned that the three schemes in this area found in the new Cheshire East Council Local Plan (CEC LP), when combined with those from local authorities in Manchester (the SEMMMS roads) and the Highways Agency, would end up creating a new 30 mile dual carriageway link – a 'strategic road by stealth' – running all the way from the M60 motorway in Stockport to M6 junction 17 at Sandbach in the South.

The roads and the authorities proposing them are shown on a map published by Campaign for Better Transport and are:

South East Manchester Multi-Modal Study (SEMMMS) schemes:

  • A6-Manchester Airport Relief Road (A6-MARR)
  • A6 Stockport North-South Bypass
  • A523 Poynton Bypass / Poynton Relief Road (incorporating the Poynton to Macclesfield Improvement)

Highways Agency:

  • Improvement to M6 junction 17 at Sandbach (due to start in May 2014) plus 'Smart Motorway'/ hard shoulder running proposals for the M6 throughout Cheshire and longer term plans for providing more capacity on the M56.  (This is in addition to the Highways Agency’s Route Based Strategies currently underway for the South Pennines and for ‘London to Scotland West’)
  • A556 Knutsford to Bowdon Improvement – a new alignment and dual carriageway between the M6 and M56. A planning examination has just finished and campaigners have highlighted the effects on air pollution, with a 60mph speed limit now planned for the scheme to reduce the large increase in pollution it would cause.

Department for Transport:

  • Transpennine Feasibility Study – looking at new or wider routes between Manchester and Sheffield

Cheshire East Council Local Plan (CEC LP) and Engine of the North: 

  • Congleton Link Road
  • South West Macclesfield distributor road
  • A536 Congleton – Macclesfield Improvement
  • A534 Sandbach – Congleton Improvement

Author of the new report, Keith Buchan said: "Nowhere is the cumulative impact of these road plans being debated, but there is no doubt that the plans, taken together, would be likely to have a major impact across a wide area. The increased traffic that would be caused, the air pollution and climate emissions created, and the impact on Green Belt, agricultural land, the Peak District National Park and important sites like Jodrell Bank, all need to be looked at and better value alternatives considered in a strategic way."

Kim Barrett of campaign group PAULA, which is opposed to the SEMMMS A6-Manchester Airport Relief Road (A6-MARR) that would plough through Green Belt and ancient woodland between Manchester Airport and Stockport and increase pollution in areas where air pollution is already over legal limits, said: "The fact that we have mobilised so many residents to object to this appalling scheme has been instrumental in the decision to set up a public inquiry. The plan to push a polluting, traffic-generating dual carriageway through our area, in order to facilitate massive expansion at Manchester Airport, is just one of many schemes, the impact of which must be considered together. Rather than having to fight each one in turn, far better would be a debate on whether local people want to see their area transformed by an ever-growing road network, or would prefer the money to be spent on improved cycling provision and public transport."

Councillor Paul Crompton, Chairman of Somerford Parish Council, which would be impacted severely by the Congleton Link Road, part of the new strategic route, said: "Our precious agricultural land and rural way of life is being taken away piece by piece by these plans and other development pressures caused partly by the weakening of the planning system and partly because the principal authority is insisting on going for a ‘high growth’ strategy.  No-one has put forward a case for this new strategic road and it wider implications are not understood.  What we do know is that as local people affected by these plans we feel overwhelmed and ignored.

"It is not just the road that we are fighting, but also the proposals in the evolving Local Plan for infilling of new housing and employment developments. All of the parishes that are affected by the Congleton Link Road are in danger of having the land between the link road and the boundary of Congleton Town Council absorbed into the town and built upon. These developments are being proposed on prime agricultural land, thus decreasing this country's ability to feed itself. The proposed link road has been briefly consulted upon, but only as a stand alone road scheme. The meeting held in our parish was very well attended and the conclusion of the public vote that was held at the meeting showed an overwhelming opposition."

Another concern of many local people and parishes is the impact of all the roads and development on the world class scientific research carried out at Jodrell Bank observatory. The entirety of the Congleton Link Road, which forms part of this proposed new strategic route is within the Jodrell Bank Consultation Zone that was established to protect the very sensitive telescopes which operate by sound and impulses.  The observatory's director wrote in response to a consultation on the CEC LP that:

'… over 6000 new homes, more that 25 per cent of the total plan for Cheshire East are envisaged within or on the fringe of the JBO Consultation zone and this represents a significant potential impact on the successful scientific operation of Jodrell Bank Observatory.'

The Congleton Link Road was added to the CEC LP proposals only after the end of this consultation ended, and it brings the footprint of the Congleton plans even further into the zone.

As well as a working base for ground-breaking scientific discovery, Jodrell Bank is also a candidate for UNESCO World Heritage Site status.



Notes to Editor

A map illustrating the new route is available. The Ordnance Survey base map is used under an Open Government Licence, and can be reproduced commercially with the credit shown
Manchester and Cheshire roads map - base map Ordnance Survey

1. Transport Strategy in South Manchester and East Cheshire, Keith Buchan, MTRU, February 2014 (pdf)

2. The South East Manchester Multi-Modal Study was published in 2001, and included a number of road schemes in its proposals for the next decade, as well as a range of public transport improvements. Background briefing on the SEMMMS schemes produced by North West Transport Roundtable

3. A556 Knutsford to Bowden scheme – final objection document submitted to the planning examination by Campaign for Better Transport (pdf)

4. DfT announced six feasibility studies on major road routes following the Spending Round 2013 and its command paper Action for Roads

5. The Draft Cheshire East Council Local Plan was signed off by Cheshire East Council on 28 February 2014. Representations on it can be made from March 14 to April 25 and the Department for Communities and Local Government will appoint an inspector to hold an examination later in 2014

The Engine of the North is another document from Cheshire East produced to support a development company established by the Local Authority and the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) for Cheshire and Warrington, which takes control of a significant local transport investment budget from 2015.

6. The A6-MARR is the first of the SEMMMS roads to apply for planning permission, and the Department for Transport announced this week in a letter to campaigners that it was calling in the plans for a public local inquiry, which will be held later this year. PAULA is a campaign group of local residents around Poynton (Poynton Against Unnecessary Link Roads to the Airport).

Airport Link Road plan receives 102 objections. Manchester Evening News, 6 January 2014

7. Jodrell Bank Observatory submission to Cheshire East Plan consultation, Feb 2013

8. UNESCO World Heritage Tentative Lists: Jodrell Bank Observatory