Council told to 'get real' over the cost of South Ribble dual carriageway plan
Campaign group Keep Bee Lane Rural has produced a dossier claiming that the likely price tag for the road upgrade between its junction with the A6 at Cuerden and the Broad Oak roundabout in Penwortham is £121m - compared to the authority's estimate of £77m.
In a 24-page assessment submitted to County Hall's chief executive, it is claimed that the cost of the bridge works required to carry the newly-widened road across the West Coast Mainline railway have been underestimated by £23m in the strategic outline business case for the route.
Based on an analysis of similar projects elsewhere in the country, the group warns that the county council will be faced with higher than anticipated "disruption charges" from Network Rail as a result of the length of time that the track will have to be closed while the bridge is installed.
They also say that an "integral" project to dual the B5253 Flensburg Way between the 'tank roundabout' and Longmeanygate should also be included in the A582 costings to make them truly representative - noting that this would add £18m to the bill.
"Our fear is that they are just going to plough on with these ridiculously understated costs and then, as we have seen with the Preston Western Distributor [connecting Blackpool Road to the M55], the price will just rocket and the council taxpayer will be left holding the baby," said campaigner Graham Eastham.
"We feel that this money could be much better spent on health or things with real socio-economic benefits.
"All that's happening with the City Deal is that taxpayers' money is used to fund roads that allow developers to build estates and profit from them - with no advantage to the existing community."
The group also suggests that the claimed benefits of the scheme - such as improved journey times - have been as badly overestimated as the costs have been underestimated.
They say that existing capacity along the already dualled section of the A582 close to the junction with the A6 at Cuerden will ultimately still dictate average speeds - whatever upgrades are made to the rest of the route. It is claimed that any benefits of an extra lane will be further negated by the additional junctions planned for access to the Pickering's Farm development.
The campaigners also question the "objectivity" of the business case - specifically, why the adverse impact of additional traffic from the housing site - and the planned employment and logistics hub proposed for a plot at Cuerden previously earmarked for an Ikea store - have been excluded from the county council's economic assessment. However, the positive effects of both developments have been included in a calculation showing a "land value uplift" from the plans of £33.7m.
Mr. Eastham added: "We think they have been deliberately over-optimistic in their assessment - and it still doesn't make sense."
Questioned about whether the group's intention was simply to put a roadblock in front of plans for the Pickering's Farm development - now known as "The Lanes" - he said that its abandonment would be "a nice consequence" of being more realistic about the cost of dualling the A582.
Funding has yet to be fully secured for the project and, last month, the scheme was included on a wish list of schemes submitted to the government by Transport for the North.
A masterplan for Pickering's Farm is due to be considered by South Ribble Borough Council's planning committee on 17th September.
WHAT THE COUNTY COUNCIL SAYS
Responding to the claims made by Keep Bee Lane Rural, Lancashire County Council said that the Flensburg Way upgrade is subject to separate funding arrangements to the dualling of the A582.
A spokesperson added: "The current estimate for the cost of the proposed scheme to dual the remaining single-carriageway section of the A582 has been generated with the advice of experts who are familiar with the engineering requirements for road and bridge construction and an understanding of the local area.
"Our engineering consultant has also worked with Network Rail to determine a preferred solution for bridging the West Coast Main Line and for a new underbridge to the Preston-Ormskirk Line, and an order of cost based on these engineering requirements with the benefit of local knowledge.
"As design work progresses, so too will the detail within the cost estimate for the scheme, and this forms an important part of ongoing work to present a more detailed business case to the Department for Transport next year, who will review all information presented.
"The cost and benefits of the scheme will be calculated according to the government's approved method and scrutinised by the Department for Transport before funding is awarded for its construction."