Preston Western Distributor £207m price tag defended by Lancashire County Council

Posted on - 3rd July, 2023 - 7:26pm | Author - | Posted in - Cottam, Fulwood, Fylde News, Lea, Politics, Preston News, Roads, Transport, Woodplumpton
Traffic on the M55 going by the new junction 2 Pic: Highways England

The benefits that will be felt by Lancashire’s economy – and its commuters – make the £207m spent on the Preston Western Distributor Road a worthwhile investment.

That was the claim from senior councillors and the government after the route – the biggest road-building project in the county for 25 years – finally opened to traffic on Monday morning.

The two-and-a-half mile dual carriageway – and two, shorter, adjoining link roads – carried their first vehicles after a rain-soaked opening ceremony.

Read more: Google Maps still shows Preston’s newest road as being closed

The moment marked the culmination of almost four years of construction work on site and the best part of a decade of painstaking design.

The road – officially named Edith Rigby Way after the famous Preston suffragette – connects the A583 at Riversway and Blackpool Road to a new junction 2 on the M55 at Bartle.

The completed M55 junction 2 Pic: Highways England

It is designed to facilitate the near-6,000 new homes being built in the North West Preston area over the 20 years through to the mid 2030s.

However, the dignitaries that witnessed the cutting of the sodden ceremonial ribbon were keen to stress the wider boost that the roads would give to the county as a whole – as well as the need for Preston to grow in order to thrive.

Independent studies have suggested that there will be £60m of immediate benefits from the new infrastructure, plus £22m of “gross value added” to the Lancashire economy every year for the next 60 years.

Lancashire County Council leader Phillippa Williamson – whose authority spearheaded the scheme – said it had been “significantly challenging”, but that contractors Costain and County Hall’s own designers had been “ingenious” in how they had gone about delivering a project that includes two viaducts, two bridges and three underpasses.

“Some people say this is only going to impact people in Preston, [but] that’s just not true. It will obviously benefit people locally ..but the opportunities that it opens up for economic development and for housing across the county are considerable.

“[It’s] going to unlock huge areas of Preston in terms of housing development…as well as reducing strain on the [road] network.

“The team have done a fantastic job in terms of delivering it on time and on budget,” County Cllr Williamson added.

A very wet opening for Edith Rigby Way Pic: Lancashire County Council

That budget ballooned from an estimated £104m when the scheme was first conceived to the £207m which it was forecast to cost by the time work started in autumn 2019 – an ultimately accurate prediction of the final bill.

The £434m Preston, South Ribble and Lancashire City Deal – a government-backed agreement to deliver 20,000 new jobs and over 17,000 new homes in the area – stumped up much of the Preston Western Distrbutor’s eventual cost via its Infrastructure Delivery Fund, with other elements coming from the government’s Growth Deal, National Highways and Homes England.

Read more: Watch drive-through of new Preston link road

However, the deal has been under review in recent years, due to what an October 2022 City Deal meeting heard were “a number of risks” which had crystallised as delivery had continued.

What it means for the A582 dualling project

It is not known when or if another proposed City Deal road project – the conversion into a dual carriageway of the entire length of the A582 between Lostock Hall and the Broad Oak roundabout in Penwortham – will go ahead.

Asked about that prospect, County Cllr Williamson said that “our work on City Deal continues, we are very ambitious for the scheme”

“We’re looking to do everything we can to be able to deliver on the City Deal.”

City Deal chair Mark Rawstron was more optimistic still. Quizzed as to whether the costs of the Preston Western Distributor had put-paid the dualling of the A582, he said: “We are hopeful the City Deal will extend to completing the A582.”

He added of Edith Rigby Way: “These projects are all about infrastructure driving economic growth and improving people’s daily lives in terms of congestion.”

Meanwhile, David Borrow, Preston City Council’s cabinet member for planning and regulation, said that Edith Rgby Way – and the new Cottam and East-West link roads – will make “all the difference to the development of Preston”.

“Without this road we wouldn’t see…the thousands of new homes for Prestonians that are being built at the moment and will continue to be built for the next few years. And if the houses weren’t built there, they’d end up being built at Broughton, Barton, Grimsargh and Goosnargh.

“This allows us to plan the development of the city in the future – without this, we would be in a much more difficult position.

“People need homes and Preston needs to grow and develop. We’ve got a growth mentality in Preston in terms of wanting the best for the future, not just in terms of building homes on green fields..but last year we [also] built over 250 homes on brownfield in the city centre – so we’ve got a clear strategy for the development of the city.

“Preston continues to change and grow – if we leave it as it is, it’ll diminish and die.”

Read more: Friargate businesses consider legal action as council says roadworks will run until Autumn

Roads minister Richard Holden – who hails from Blackburn and stood for the Conservatives in Preston in the 2025 general election – rejected the idea that roadbuilding on the scale of the Preston Western Distributor had had its day.

“Where we need that investment, where local communities haven’t seen that in the past … I think we’ve got to be really practical and say, actually, some parts of the country do need [new roads].

“I know how important this road is for the entire area – connecting the docks up to the M55 is just massive,” said Mr. Holden, who also attended the official opening.

Where each road leads

Edith Rigby Way – Preston Western Distributor
From a new junction at Blackpool Road and Riversway, via one new roundabout connecting to Cottam Way and the new Cottam Link Road and another new roundabout at the junction of Lea Lane and Sidgreaves Lane, where the route meets the new East-West Link Road.

A 2.5 mile dual carriageway running at the national speed limit of 70mph, with a shared cycleway and footway.

Read more: Edith Rigby road name sparks debate in Preston

Sign for new routes on the Preston Western Distributor Pic: BBC LDRS

William Young Way – East-West Link Road
Runs between the new roundabout at the old Saddle Inn and the new roundabout at Tom Benson Way/Lightfoot Lane, via junctions with Tabley Lane and Sandy Lane.

A two-mile long single carriageway road, varying in speed limit between 30-40mph with a shared cycleway and footway.

Avice Pimblett Way – Cottam Link Road
A 0.4-mile long single carriageway linking the Preston Western Distributor and Cottam Way.

Designed to remove passing traffic from the junction and immediate vicinity of Lea Endowed CE Primary School at Sidgreaves Lane and Lea Lane.

What the construction teams said

More than 22,000 HGV vehicle movements that would have been necessary as part of the new road construction were avoided – after it emerged that the material excavated to build it was suitable to stay on the site and be used to create surrounding embankments.

John Holding, project director for constructors Costain, said that it had enabled the road to blend in with “the natural landscape” more so than might otherwise have been the case.

Construction manager Steve Webster added: “A lot of the hard work has gone in [during] the design phase. The landscaping, the trees, the…wildlife features…all go a little way just to make it in-keeping with the general area.

“Having a drive through today, I think it looks fantastic.”

John also paid tribute to the “team spirit” amongst the workers who had spent almost four years on site – including during the height of the pandemic, when some of their working practices had necessarily had to change.

He added that the weather had been one of many challenges that had presented itself during the project – but that none had come close to that posed by the construction of the viaduct over Savick Brook, which had required piling to a depth of 45 metres.

“It was underneath two power lines, across a floodplain and a navigable river – [and] with challenging ground conditions,” he recalled.

The pair admitted that they would both be sad to see the end of their involvement with such a long-running scheme, but stressed that happy memories had been made among a team bound together by a big challenge.

“We’ve built a good job out there – but we’ve also had a good time doing it,” John said.

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