Concerns have been raised that the sun is setting on a 40-year dream to relieve major congestion through South Ribble.
Nearly four years ago, South Ribble Council passed plans to build a Cross Borough Link Road linking Penwortham and Walton-le-Dale.
But with no sign of progress, councillors have called the scheme ‘Never Never Land’ and accused South Ribble Council of being “impotent”, allowing problems between landowners and developers to hold the project up. Faced with criticism for not exercising compulsory purchase powers on the land needed for the route, the borough council in turn says it has been caught out by Lancashire County Council’s decision to change its mind on access to a major housing scheme.
Discussed since 1971, the Cross Borough Link Road between Carrwood Road and The Cawsey/Leyland Road, was heralded as a key way to open up access to the A6, motorway networks and drive more people to invest in the local economy.
It would be paid for by house builders given permission to build up to 350 homes on the old gas works site off Leyland Road.
Four years ago landowner National Grid announced it was confident of signing up a housebuilder by January 2014 and work was predicted to begin in early 2015. But time slipped and it was only in 2015 that Morris Homes and National Grid were given joint approval for 281 dwellings on the site.
This week National Grid has admitted there have been “some issues” between parties stopping progress, but it is committed to the plan and in the process of finalising the sale.
South Ribble Council said it is ongoing discussions with stakeholders and is hopeful it can find “a constructive way forward”.
But critics say the council should have Compulsory Purchased the land years ago and its decision not to oppose a Bovis Homes’ appeal to access the nearby Penwortham Mills development site from Leyland Road - and not the CBLR as was agreed on the advice of Lancashire County Council - has compounded the problem.
Councillor Paul Foster, leader of the Labour opposition at South Ribble Council, said: “It doesn’t look like it’s (the CBLR) going to happen.
“The council is letting the developers dictate this. There has been a big row between National Grid and the housing developer over the price of the land.
“If we (Labour) were in power, we’d look to Compulsory Purchase that land. It should have happened five years ago and the council have every power to do it.”
Conservative Councillor Mike Nelson, who represents the Carrwood Road area where the CBLR would come out, agrees the council should look at a Compulsory Purchase Order.
He said: “I think it’s about time we started banging some heads together. I fully agree with the call to Complusory Purchase it, because otherwise, how long is this going to go on for?”
Councillor Cliff Hughes, South Ribble Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning and Housing, said: “For most of the time we were trying to get this going, LCC were adamant there was going to be no access onto Leyland Road. Then out of the blue they’ve decided to change their mind.
“With hindsight, I suppose perhaps we should have CPO’d the land, but we put our trust in LCC. The circumstances are different now and at the moment we’re still waiting for the decision of the Planning Inspector.
“The council is in ongoing discussions with these stakeholders, including Bovis Homes, Morris Homes and National Grid and we are hopeful that we can find a constructive way forward.”
A spokesman for National Grid said: “NGP is committed to a sale of the former gas holder site to a housing developer and is in the process of finalising that sale.
“Once completed, the construction of the CBLR can commence. There have been some issues which both parties have been working hard to resolve which has caused the delay, but it is still the intention the development and work on the road will go ahead.”
Garry Goodwin, group planning and design director at Morris Homes, said: “Planning consent is one part of a lengthy process that takes place before we can complete the site purchase and start the development.”
If the road is not constructed before house building work starts in the area, there is a limit on the number of houses that can be occupied.
This was set out in a report to South Ribble Council’s cabinet in April last year which said it was part of the approval for the Bovis and Morris Homes permission that no more than 75 dwellings can be occupied until completion of the link road.
South Ribble Council has declined to comment on whether this rule will still stand for Bovis Homes if a Planning Inspector rules in favour of access to their site via Leyland Road, demolishing the Sumpter Horse.
Lancashire County Council had recommended South Ribble refuse access to that site from Leyland Road by using a roundabout or T junction and instead use the CBLR.
Highways bosses have now decided a T-junction would be acceptable if certain changes were made.
A LCC spokesperson said: “The technical details in earlier proposals from the developer, Bovis, with access from Leyland Road at the Sumpter Horse pub, were not suitable.
“A new proposal from Bovis includes a priority junction and off-street parking, as in the previous proposed layouts. However, it also includes a linking road to Castle Fold and other changes that would overcome our concerns and improve the road for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. These changes would ensure it could handle extra traffic created by the new development.
“The planning decision on the Bovis application does not prevent or hinder the delivery of the Cross-Borough Link Road between Leyland Road and Carwood Road. This is being progressed separately by National Grid.”
Middleforth Councillor David Wooldridge said: “To me the CBLR is Never Never Land, it’s like a fairytale.”
A Bovis Homes spokesman said: “We will await the Secretary of State’s decision before making any further comment.”