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Lancashire awarded largest share of transport fund from scrapped HS2 money

Posted on - 28th February, 2024 - 8:00am | Author - | Posted in - Fylde News, Politics, Preston News, Ribble Valley News, Roads, South Ribble News, Transport, Wyre News
County Hall in Preston. Pic: Blog Preston
County Hall in Preston. Pic: Blog Preston

Lancashire has been awarded the largest share of a government transport fund established with the money saved by scrapping the northern leg of the HS2 high speed rail line to Manchester.

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The county council area has been handed £494m from a £2.5bn pot intended to reduce congestion and improve public transport in smaller cities, towns and rural areas – more than any of the 27 local authorities across the North and Midlands that are in line for the windfall.

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However, Lancashire’s total allocation is larger still, with the standalone councils covering Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen getting £120.8m and £116.9m, respectively.

Read more: Costs of air filters in every Lancashire classroom would be eclipsed by health benefits

It appears local authorities themselves will be left to decide how best to spend the extra cash that is coming down the track to better connect those places that lie beyond the big city regions – but the government has said it expects MPs and ministers to hold councils to account to ensure “the voices of local people are heard” when potential uses for the money are being considered.

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Lancashire County Council says it already has some possible projects in mind, but will now be seeking the views of local representatives.

County Cllr Aidy Riggott, cabinet member for economic development and growth at the authority, said: “This massive increase in funding means we have the opportunity to deliver some hugely significant transport improvements on a scale that usually only comes about once in a generation.

“We have a really strong track record in Lancashire of delivering major transport improvements, and only last week we hosted Mark Harper, the Secretary of State for Transport, at County Hall to discuss our ambitions, and which this extra funding means we will now be able to deliver.

“We already have a clear idea of the projects we think can bring the biggest benefit to our economy, businesses and residents, and we’ll now be talking to Lancashire’s MPs about what they see as the key priorities for the communities they represent.

“Together we will work to produce a clear and joined-up vision for transforming transport in Lancashire, and I look forward to starting those conversations over the coming weeks as we await guidance on the type of schemes which will be eligible for support with this funding,” County Cllr Riggott added.

The money announced on Monday is part of the government’s so-called ‘Network North’ plan for how it intends to reallocate the total £36bn that will be available following the decision taken last autumn to pull the plug on the HS2 line north of Birmingham.

The original document outlining that vision did not offer an exhaustive list of potential projects, but it did mention one possible Lancashire scheme – the long-stalled widening of the A582 in South Ribble between Lostock Hall and Penwortham.

As the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) revealed back in December, Lancashire County Council has been working on what it described as “revised proposals…with the aim of adding capacity along this part of the road network”.  The original, near decade-old plan to upgrade the routinely congested route has always previously been posited as a blueprint to create a dual carriageway for the full length of the 3.2-mile stretch.

The “South Ribble Western Distributor”, as it is known, was listed as one of 21 “smaller road schemes” across the North to be funded with a total £460m under the Network North umbrella – but it was unclear whether it also fell within the £2.5bn pot that has been allocated today.

That could be significant because it may have an impact on exactly how much money is available for the scheme, which was estimated back in 2019 to have a £77m price tag, but which campaigners against the then proposed – and now approved – Pickering’s Farm housing development in Penwortham claimed in 2020 was more like £121m.

If the funding came from the £2.5bn pot, then it would come out of Lancashire’s £494m tranche from that allocation – offering a much larger potential budget than whatever share it may get from the £460m that is being split 21 ways with other areas.

The LDRS sought clarification from the Department for Transport, which – while not being drawn on the requested detail over funding arrangements – said it expected to receive an outline business case, on which a conditional funding would depend, later this year.

South Ribble MP Katherine Fletcher says she understands the pot from which the A582 work would be funded is separate to the £494m allocated to County Hall as part of Monday’s announcement – because the project “makes its own case”.

For that reason, she says, her focus is on pushing on for a trio of rail projects that she would like to see paid for with the additional cash, – namely, the reopening of Midge Hall station near Leyland, the removal of buffers at Ormskirk station – to allow direct train travel between Preston and Liverpool, along the line that passes through Rufford and Croston, for the first time since the 1960s – and the reopening of the so-called “Burscough Curves, which would reconnect the Southport-to-Manchester railway line with the track running between Preston and Ormskirk.

Ms. Fletcher has written to Lancashire County Council leader Phillippa Williamson asking her to give the “strongest possible consideration” to using some of the new funding to that end.

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She told the LDRS that reopening Midge Hall would not cost “a huge amount of money” in itself, adding:  “What really makes it sing is [also] taking the buffers out at Ormskirk.

“I don’t want to just be a parochial MP – taking the buffers out at Ormskirk is going to benefit everybody between Liverpool and Preston and it makes the case stronger to reopen Midge Hall, where [trains have] to stop anyway.”

That is because the line is a single track at that point, so – as a safety measure – the driver has to stop to exchange a token at Midge Hall, then travel through to Rufford and hand the token back. But passengers cannot get on board or off at Midge Hall even though the train comes to a halt there.

Ms. Fletcher said she accepted the Burscough Curves project would be more costly – and so would require further consideration – but called for the county to “properly fund” a study into the possibility.

“These projects open up leisure opportunities for all – [and] business would have access to more employees and new jobs would be within reach for the people of South Ribble and West Lancashire, facilitating our contribution to further economic growth as part of the Northern Powerhouse,” the Conservative MP added.

Lancashire has already been earmarked for some other Network North cash – including extra money for road resurfacing, which saw the county council allocated an extra £244.5m over the next decade, with Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen getting £12.7m and £20.4m, respectively.

How can the cash be used?

The extra transport funding heading Lancashire’s way will start to arrive in April 2025 – and will be delivered in full over the following seven years.

The government says its Network North cash will give local authorities “long-term certainty to invest in transformative and ambitious transport improvements”, which could include:

  • building new roads and improving junctions
  • installing or expanding mass transit systems
  • improving roads by filling in potholes and better street lighting for personal safety
  • improving journey times for car and bus users by tackling congestion
  • increasing the number of EV charge points
  • refurbishing bus and rail stations
  • improving our streets so they are safer to walk children to school and increasing accessibility for all

The government says it is committed to reinvesting all of the £19.8 billion saved from the northern leg of HS2 in the North and all of the £9.6 billion saved on the Midlands leg in the Midlands.   Meanwhile, £6.5 billion clawed back from rethinking the approach to Euston will be spread across every other region in the country – including the South.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: “Today’s £4.7 billion investment is truly game-changing for the smaller cities, towns, and rural communities across the North and the Midlands and is only possible because this government has a plan to improve local transport and is willing to take tough decisions like reallocating funding from the second phase of HS2.

“This funding boost will make a real difference to millions of people, empowering local authorities to drive economic growth, transform communities, and improve the daily transport connections that people rely on for years to come.”

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