Trans-Pennine Corridor

Transport North: Caught in a Trilemna ~ 1 There is an imbalance between North and South in the funding of transport – where longrun lack of investment and inequality of provision result in revenue shortfall and need for subsidy ~ 2 But when investment proposals do come forward – largely from decisions taken in London, but also locally – they are usually for schemes that will actually worsen sustainability and carbon, whilst still failing to ‘close the gap’ ~ 3 Because the decision making, policy, scheme assessment, planning and consultation frameworks are now so inadequate that projects can no longer be effectively tested. ~ Our featured campaigns illustrate aspects of this Trilemna.

Anne Robinson, campaigner for Friends of the Peak District and CPRE South Yorkshire, introduces the current battle over the endlessly returning but always defeated (in the end!) schemes for increased road capacity in the southern TransPennine corridor. Haven’t they noticed? That’s through a National Park!

Once again things have hotted up on the trans-Pennine trunk route through Longdendale, the A57/A628/A616 between the M67 in Greater Manchester and the M1 in Sheffield. Once again the nation’s beloved Peak District National Park and the stunning countryside around it are threatened with bisection by a band of tarmac and speeding traffic.

With the Treasury muscling in on transport infrastructure in last year’s summer spending review [notes 1,2] road building took a big hit to revive the economy. The A628 corridor, one of the ‘most notorious and long-standing road hot spots in the country’ is now the subject of a feasibility study to investigate the problems along the route and, as one of the Highways Agency’s single carriageway trunk roads, is in danger of becoming a dual carriageway or even a motorway if local councils have their way.

A vast amount of work has been done on the trans-Pennine routes over the last 20 years but sadly the majority adopted a ‘predict and provide’ approach towards traffic growth (which has failed to materialise), failed to address freight movements, local journeys or visitor trips to the Peak District National Park, and failed to look at a comprehensive suite of measures or to examine synergy between a number of measures.

Transport campaigners would be prepared to welcome yet another study of the issues but this one too seems doomed to fail. The study is unclear what it is trying to do – is it trying solve local congestion in Mottram Hollingworth and Tintwistle, reduce accident numbers or connect the connurbations on other side of the Pennines with a fast all weather route? Despite traffic on the A628 interacting significantly with the M62 only 12 miles further north, the M62 is excluded from the study. But most heinously the Highways Agency has virtually ignored the major environmental constraint, the National Park, which has lead the Chief Executive of the Park to express his extreme disappointment.

It is because of the National Park that small scale sustainable measures have to be shown to fail before any grandiose schemes for highways can come into play. To date very little has been done to improve conditions along the route. Traffic light phasing, signing and resurfacing are the majority of measures that have been tried over the years. What is needed is implementation of measures that address the fundamental problems. Every day local car commuters meet long distance heavy lorries within the western villages and create a traffic jam of 36,000 vehicles with pollution on the A57/A628 trunk road. Although traffic flows are much smaller further east safety is an issue on the Longdendale section through the National Park and air pollution impacts on Langsett and Sheffield.

Smarter choice measures that get people using the buses and trains or walking and cycling for short journeys would do much to relieve traffic flows, 30% of which are locally generated. These, coupled with a weight restriction of 7.5t along the route to divert lorries onto the motorway network around the Peak District – Keith Buchan of MTRU has shown the environmental gains of this measure [note 3] – or a low emissions zone over the whole of the Park, would free up road space. In order to prevent it re-filling with cars some form of restraint based on traffic signals, slower speeds, or average speed control would be required. The £100million earmarked by Greater Manchester for the area would go a long way to covering the costs of all this [notes 4,5]. And if you want a fast all weather route connecting Manchester and Sheffield then the Hope Valley rail services, planned for upgrade through the Manchester Hub [note 6], are for you.

Over 40 years transport campaigners have fought for the right solution to the traffic problems. We have seen off a motorway, a dual carriageway and a bypass of Mottram Hollingworth and Tintwistle at the western end. We have lobbied for small scale measures before any consideration is given to road building [note 7]. The Peak District is worth so much more than a few minutes saved by each driver on a faster road. Its beautiful landscapes give us the space for physical exercise and spiritual refreshment on which the wellbeing of the nation depends.

Hide it away in the Victorian railway tunnels we hear some of you cry. Unfortunately these would only allow 3 miles underground and ‘cutting and covering’ the remaining 10 miles in the Park would be prohibitive. A decade ago tunnelling one and a quarter miles under Stonehenge would have cost £470 million. Even this Government hell bent on road building is not going to invest £4.7 billion in ten miles of road. Furthermore, that is not the answer to the problems. We do not need more road space – we need to manage existing road space better with people travelling by more sustainable means.”

1. Investing in Britain’s Future, HM Treasury June 2013
2. Transport an engine for Growth DfT Aug 2013
3. CPRE lorry control proposal on the A 628, Assessment by MTRU, 2005
4. Greater Manchester’s Third Local Transport Plan 2011/12-2015/16
5. Update Greater Manchester Transport Fund 11 October 2013
6. Northern Hub Network Rail
7. CPRE SPITS The way to Go, 2006

Background Information:
– How have we got to where we are now

In its 2013 plans to develop the country’s infrastructure the Government committed to the biggest programme of investment in roads since the 1970s, trebling today’s annual investment in major road schemes by 2020-21. As part of this programme some of the most ‘notorious and longstanding road hot spots’ in the country including the trans-Pennine routes between Sheffield and Manchester would be tackled. To date the north’s ‘most notorious and longstanding road hot spot’ on the A628 corridor has been progressed by the Highways Agency through the Trans-Pennine Routes Feasibility Study. It began with a stakeholder reference group meeting held on 3 February 2014 to review the proposed scope of the study, and was followed by at a second meeting on 23 May 2014 when the Highways Agency presented the final scope of the study.

The draft scope of the study was thought by northern transport campaigners to lack clarity of objectives and be too limited in its geography – it did not include the M62 with which traffic on the A628 corridor interacts. It was largely road based and therefore did not take advantage of the potential benefits of Network Rail’s Northern Hub development which is set to improve rail travel for thousands of commuters across the north. It also completely ignored the high quality and strongly protected environment of the Peak District National Park through which the A628 corridor passes. Despite repeated dialogues around these shortfalls (NW TAR submissions in NWTAR TPFS1 and NWTAR TPFS 2 and Letter from CPRE and Friends of the Peak District in May), DfT and the Highways Agency have not amended the brief to address them. The scope has narrowed even further to focus only on connectivity between Manchester and Sheffield, which puts the spotlight for upgrades on the A628 Trunk or Derbyshire County Council’s A57 Snake Pass.

– What’s next
The study is set to progress rapidly in order to present costed solutions in the Roads Investment Strategy, due to go before Parliament this autumn. At a meeting in early August the Highways Agency will present the options for addressing the problems along the route. These will be informed by the Southern Pennines Route Based Strategy which was developed over the last 8 months through stakeholder consultation and gives an up-to-date view of current conditions on the route. The final version of the Route Based Strategy, along with other routes that impact on the Southern Pennines route can be seen here.

– What do we want
Over the last twenty years various studies of the trans-Pennine routes have revealed a number of sustainable small scale options that would relieve local congestion and improve safety, and rail options that would improve connectivity between Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield, among them re-opening of the Woodhead rail route. Given the environmentally sensitivity of the Pennines, with nationally designated landscapes and internationally protected habitats, and policy requirements that all long distance traffic should go round the National Park, these measures must be implemented robustly and shown to fail before any major road improvements are considered.