Britain’s Highways Agency says its remains ‘fully committed’ to building a new £250m dual carriageway linking the motorway network with the Port of Liverpool. Tony McDonough reports
A new £250m dual carriageway linking the Port of Liverpool with Switch Island and the motorway network is “vitally important to the city region and the national economy” the Highways Agency (HE) has said.
Despite strong local opposition to the plan, which would see the Rimrose Valley country park cut in half by the proposed A5036 Princess Way, designed to alleviate congenstion on Dunningsbridge Road. The HE has told LBN that it remains “fully committed” to the project that has been delayed by the COVID pandemic.
In the last few days a fresh row has brewed up between local politicians and campaigners and the Department for Transport (DfT) with Whitehall officials accused of making untrue public assertions about the rationale for the new highway.
In a letter to the Save Rimrose Valley campaign group the DfT claimed the need for the road was driven partially by extra demand careered by new local housing developments. Both the campaign group and Sefton councillors have demanded this is retracted.
Deputy council leader John Fairclough and Cabinet Member for Planning, Cllr Daren Veidman, jointly wrote: “We would wish to reaffirm in the strongest terms that to suggest that anything other than the Port and its expansion is the main driver of congestion and therefore the suggested need for a new road through the Rimrose Valley is untrue.”
They add that the council’s own Local Plan identifies no requirement for new road infrastructure as a result of proposed housing developments. They insist the ongoing expansion of the Port of Liverpool and plans for the new city region Freeport are the real reason for the road.
Stuart Bennett from Save Rimrose Valley, also said: “This was a bizarre and cynical attempt by the Department for Transport to shift the blame for its damaging road proposal onto a council which has consistently opposed these plans.
“It follows a pattern whereby both they and National Highways are trying to hoodwink the public into believing that the road proposal has little to do with the port… our communities won’t be fooled by these word games. They are in no doubt as to what is behind this proposal – access for HGVs to an ever-expanding port.”
A DfT spokesperson said: “This scheme is a key part of our Road Investment Strategy, but will be subject to public consultation and the usual planning process prior to any decision being made.”
In August hundreds of people came out for a public demonstration against the road plans organised by the Save Rimrose Valley campaign. Bootle Labour MP Peter Dowd joined the demonstration along with representatives from the countryside charity CPRE, Friends of the Earth and Asthma UK.
That protest was specifically targeted at the Port of Liverpool. However, the chief executive and now chairman of port owner Peel Ports, Mark Whitworth, said the company was being unfairly targeted over a scheme that was not of their making.
Mr Whitworth added: “The relief route proposal is a project which has been assessed, conceived and taken forward by the National Highways agency. It is not and never has been, a Peel Ports project.”
Sefton Council, although supportive of more transport infrastructure for the port, has long been hostile to the proposed three-and-a-half mile dual carriageway. In 2018 it failed in its attempt to have the public consultation reopened via a judicial review.
In November last year the campaigners put forward an alternative plan – an underground pipeline that could transport containers between the port and an inland hub next to the motorway network, meaning HGVs would not have to go to the port itself.
However, despite the strong and continued local opposition to the project, the HE has told LBN this week that it is still determined to push on the new road. A spokesman said: “We remain fully committed to progressing the scheme. We are currently working with the DfT to update the project schedule and to decide how best to take the scheme forward.
“Our scheme will support economic growth and employment in Liverpool City Region, at the same time as reducing congestion, improving safety and reconnecting local communities.
“It is part of a multi-modal approach to improve access for regional, national and international businesses, enabling the city region to play its part in, and benefit from, ensuring the UK continues to compete in a global economy. As such, it remains vitally important to the city region and the national economy.”