£161m soaring cost of Lancashire's new highway

News of the cash bombshell was delivered at a meeting of the Transport for Lancashire committee this week.
News of the cash bombshell was delivered at a meeting of the Transport for Lancashire committee this week.
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Soaring costs mean the planned new super highway serving north west Preston is going to cost £57m more than first anticipated.

News of the cash bombshell was delivered at a meeting of the Transport for Lancashire committee this week.

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It is now thought the new Preston Western Distributor road, seen as the key to providing 5,000 new homes in north west Preston, will cost £161.6m.

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Despite the soaring costs the scheme is set to proceed to its next stage. This will mean compulsory purchase orders can be obtained by the county council to ensure land is available for the route’s development.

The committee, a sub-committee of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership(LEP), was told the original estimate of £104.5m was made before any site investigation or design work.

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The 4.3km dual carriageway will connect the A583 Preston to Blackpool Road at Lea with the M55 at a new motorway Junction 2, near Bartle.

It is now known two major viaducts each 250m in length, will have to be constructed.

A report to the committee revealed: ”One is extremely costly due to the extremely poor ground conditions identified through detailed geotechnical investigations and subsequent requirement for deep piling.”

The committee’s acting chairman Coun Michael Green, cabinet member for economic development, environment and planning, said: “You can imagine the shock Coun Geoff Driver (council leader) and myself had when we saw the difference in those figures. We are where we are. We know this is crucially important to the centre of Lancashire as a whole and also to the west of the county and Fylde.”

After the meeting he said: “The road is of strategic importance in terms of housing developments and the growth of the Lancashire economy. That’s why it’s right to still press ahead to complete that road, but that doesn’t reduce our disappointment at becoming aware of the figures.

“We will have to find the funding via the City Deal. It will go forward while we continue to seek any other alternative forms of funding.”

The price rise includes costs for the diversion of the Hodder Aqueduct and additional costs because of the risks of working in hazardous environments over waterways, railways and motorways.

During the meeting, Blackburn with Darwen councillor and Lancashire Enterprise Partnership Board member Phil Riley asked “Does there come a moment when this doesn’t work? There has to be a moment when escalating costs become a matter of concern.”

But fellow LEP board member Graham Cowley said the scheme would have wider benefits and said he wanted to welcome the fact such an important scheme for the sub-region and beyond “was actually here now and we have some certainty about its delivery.”A report by Dave Colbert, the county council’s specialist adviser on transport planning, advised the route has potential to generate an additional £144m of GVA (gross value added) for the local economy over the 60-year evaluation period “principally through unlocked development.”

Lancashire Growth Deal will give £58m and Highways England will provide £25m towards the cost of the new motorway junction. The remainder of the route costs will be funded through the Preston, South Ribble and Lancashire City Deal.

The committee noted the project has developed to the expected standard in most areas and recommended the LEP Board grant the scheme conditional approval at its meeting on January 30.

This will pave the way for the council to apply not just for compulsory purchase orders and planning consents but for any highway orders affecting existing roads.

Factfile

• This the largest transport project in the Lancashire Growth Deal programme and a key project for the Preston, South Ribble and Lancashire City Deal.

• It will support the delivery of the city’s new “strategic housing location” and 5,000 new homes.

• It will improve access between the Enterprise Zone site at Warton and the area.

• It will create the opportunity for a new “parkway” station at Cottam by the Preston to Blackpool North railway line, providing rail-based park and ride facilities for commuters to Preston, Manchester, Liverpool and Manchester.

• The road will reduce peak hour congestion in Preston city centre and enable the introduction of bus priority measures and improvements to promote walking and cycling.

Going round the bend

Travelling around Lancashire really does send you round the bend, as our week-long series on transport issues has proved.

We have examined the worsening congestion, the problems with public transport, the quickest way to get through Preston and what, with at least four new roads planned, will 2018 hold for a county groaning under the weight of just too much traffic.

And you let us know in no uncertain terms just what you think of the problems you encounter every day by road, rail and bicycle.

But of all the topics we have touched on this week, the one which sparked the biggest reaction was the possible return of trams to Preston more than 80 years after the last one rumbled up Fishergate.

Opinions, as you would expect, were varied. But for many the over-riding reaction was one of doubt that such an ambitious £25m scheme would ever become reality – even though the official sod-cutting ceremony for a one-mile test track in Deepdale was carried out this week.

Here are just some of the views readers expressed about transport in general and a new tramway in particular.

One, Roy Tattersall, was rather scathing of the role local and national politicians have played in creating the traffic nightmares which now exist in Central Lancashire.

Responding to our feature on the trams project he said: “Primarily, what this article highlights is the great, great shame of a succession of local gormless MPs, PCC and LCC (councillors), all of which have just simply, arrogantly, ignorantly and knowingly ignored the vital transport deficiencies (and documented proposals to put matters right, inclusive of a full area tram set-up) for some 15 years since 2003.”

Other views on the tram scheme included:

“A cautious welcome for this project – something has to be done to relieve Preston’s road traffic. It will be interesting to see how things progress. I agree wholeheartedly that Metrolink has been a great success in Manchester.” – Philip Brown.

“As good as the idea sounds, how on earth do they expect to make money on this? You won’t get premium prices from the locals and the tourists just aren’t there like in Manchester/Edinburgh/Blackpool.” - Matthew Lee Craine.

“Can see the old railway line working a treat. One through the streets, hmmmm, expensive and a hell of a lot of construction work.” – Simon Gooch.

“Nowt but trouble from chavs. Is a guard on it? It will be vandalised and derailed regularly.” – Kieran Darragh.

“If it gets people out of their cars it should ease congestion. But that’s the problem, getting people to use alternative transport.” – Graham Hughes.

“I think it will add to congestion, not ease it.” – Len Foster.

“Nothing’s going to happen. They say the same thing every year.” – Mohammed Hashim Patel.

“Sounds great. Let’s just hope they don’t make the same mistakes as Edinburgh. The tram system there is 8.7 miles and the original cost was supposed to be £375m. This rose to £521m.

But the final cost came in at just under £1bn. The inquiry into why it cost so much has itself cost £7m!” – Alistair Woodburne.

“It will probably take as long, if not longer, to sort out than Broughton Bypass, so it’ll probably be up and running by 2080.” – Martin Phillips.

“PCC have already stated that trams down Fishergate will not happen.” – Rob Randell.

“I think it’s a good idea having them running in and out of town to the retail park and employment areas. But Preston centre isn’t big enough to run through it. Run them from the bus station area, not a problem.” Stephen Eastham.

“I don’t get it. Why a test line? If the test track is laid properly and the right trams are brought to run on the test track it will work. So what are they testing?” – Alex McAiney.

“Cut congestion? Not a chance. People are so reliant on their cars nowadays. Why don’t they take Manchester’s approach and run a proper service going as far as Chorley/Leyland etc?” – Michael James.

“They just spent millions redoing that road (Fishergate).” – Valerie Hunt.

On the general transport issues affecting Lancashire as a whole - and Preston in particular – readers also had plenty to get off their chest.

“The tram project and the extension of the Penwortham Bypass will not make the slightest difference to Preston’s and Penwortham’s traffic problems. The traffic through Penwortham flows fairly well, it is only during term time that the problem occurs. This will not change when the road is built from Booths roundabout to Howick. There will still be the same amount of traffic going through Penwortham as there are nine schools between Hutton and Cop Lane.” Michael Cookson.

“Lancashire, your A-roads would not even make the grade to be called farm tracks in civilised countries like Germany. An absolute disgrace to put it mildly.” Phil Black.“Just think of the

misery coming from Leyland Bypass up to Preston. The queues at 8am start, or rather stop, at ‘The Tank’ all the way up to the roundabout at Booths. But the absolute stupidity of changing the Pope Lane roundabout for traffic lights – obviously the bright sparks who thought of that didn’t have to drive in the area.” – Phil Haslem.

“As well as the numbers of cars, the problem is made worse by the sheer number of needless traffic lights and lack of left-hand filter lanes. Spoke to someone from Brighton who called Preston ‘traffic light city.’” – Robin Stopford.“I walk to Preston city centre sometimes from Fulwood and usually just about make it the same time as the bus arrives. And I have taken exercise.” Paul Balshaw.

“The Stagecoach bus service timetable is a joke around Leyland. You can wait a half hour then three come at once. Absolutely ridiculous.” Sylvia Thompson.