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Transport Masterplan?

Fylde Coast Transport MasterplanThe first thing to note is that the Fylde Coast Highways and Transport Masterplan is only one of four such plans.

The others are Central Lancashire, West Lancashire, and East Lancashire.

So if you think the Fylde one is a bit, well, 'could try harder' (as we did) maybe it's because the focus and the cash is heading to other parts of Lancashire. We haven't looked to see if that's the case, but we wouldn't be surprised if it was based on what we've been told before (see later).

The headline 'near future' proposals on the Fylde Coast are

  1. Extending Blackpool's Tramway from North Pier to Blackpool North railway station. LCC say this will improve access to the UK national rail network from Blackpool, Fleetwood and Cleveleys. Yeah, right - as if you can't get a bus or a taxi.
  2.  A new junction 2 on the M55 near Preston and a new 'Preston Western Distributor road' which runs down past the Sitting Goose and comes out where you drop down the slip road to Preston Docks (just past the Lea Gate). What's not being planned  for this scheme in the 'near future' is the connection that this road should make (via a new bridge over the Ribble), to the south Preston new road network - effectively bypassing the Strand Road bottleneck. LCC say even without the bridge at the present time, this will give a dual carriageway connection to the Motorway from South Fylde. Some folk think it will make a big difference to places like BAe Warton, but we're less sure. One or two of the cynics we know think it might help the fracking companies.
  3. Work that has already started on the A585 Windy Harbour to Skippool improvements. More about this later.

For the longer term (which in Highways terms is probably measured in generations not years) the aims are:

  1. To do a consultation (no less) on plans for a Blackpool North (Talbot Gateway) Interchange to improve links between rail and tram services and provide a terminus to the tramway extension. Wow!
  2. To undertake a study of the South Fylde railway line (South Shore to Preston) in the hope that it could make it better for commuters, and to see if there is scope to linking the line to the Blackpool Tramway.
  3. Carry out a study to see if improvements can be made to stations on the North Fylde railway line (Blackpool North to Preston). LCC say that electrification of the Blackpool North line will see changes to a number of stations to accommodate Pendolino trains, and the study will look into the potential to improve features such as accessibility and parking.
  4. Have a look to see where they could put some coach facilities in Blackpool.
  5. To find the most cost effective ways to provide access to services in rural and remote areas, and to brainwash people to use them instead of using their cars (actually that's our take on what LCC mean, not what they've actually said)
  6. Look to make cycling a better option for shorter journeys, and to develop a Fylde Coast cycle network which "builds on existing routes and initiatives already underway to create better routes for commuters and family-friendly routes for tourists". (For which we think you could read 'we're going to use what there is at present, tart it up a bit, and to put some publicity out about it to make it look as though we're actually doing something when we're not').

LCC say they want to know whether people agree with the priorities they've set themselves to make the final plan "as strong as it can be".

Given that it's supposed to be a 'Lancashire' masterplan and a lot of what's being spoken of is actually in Blackpool, (and we suspect that's probably being funded by Blackpool taxpayers - (Blackpool's now a Unitary Council and highway authority in their own right) - not by Lancashire folk outside of Blackpool, we can't help feeling that Fylde isn't getting a lot of bang for the bucks the feed into LCC.

But then, as one of their members once told us when no-one else was listening, the role of the (comparatively) wealthy people of Fylde is to pay into the pot so those less fortunate - such as those in the East of the County - can benefit.

The LCC consultation ends on Friday 20 February 2015, so if you want to make comments you'll need to get your skates on. They're using an online survey form  which means they ask questions and you answer what they ask, rather than asking you for your freeform views on what's being proposed (or not).

Readers will be able to tell we're a bit underwhelmed with what's being proposed. This doesn't strike us as being either visionary or impressive. It feels less than even adequate for what we're paying in. But then, the way the Government is scaling down spending by the state - partly to remove the annual deficit, and partly because of ideology - we probably shouldn't expect much more.

For us, a 'visionary' transport plan would have included things like persuading Fylde not to allow housing on the Pontins site, and to have turned it into a transport hub, coach park, tramway link, direct rail link to Manchester Airport with an undercover link to Blackpool Airport to help make Blackpool airport viable, and maybe even a hovercraft terminus (like the one that goes to France).

To be fair, there are some other things going on in the background - for example the Cypress Point to M55 Link Road. But whether that comes off or not is really down to folk outside LCC, so whilst you'll see politicians of every hue claiming the credit for it if it does come off, it's mostly down to big money developer types to make it happen if they're going to.

But we think the really messy and confused aspect of the Masterplan is the A585 and chiefly the bit from Cleveleys to the M55 at Greenhalgh. It's become a dogs dinner of a plan.

First we need a quick reprise of how we got where we are on this matter.

in the beginning there was the 'Red Route' (essentially a new road from Junction 4 on the M55 ( near B and Q and Whyndyke Farm) to Fleetwood) which was intended to be a Blackpool Easterly Bypass. But it became hugely expensive and mired in land-assembly complications and was eventually abandoned.

Next we got the 'Rainbow Road Plan' - Red and Yellow and Pink and Blue were all options for different ways to get from the M55 to Fleetwood.

Options for new road routes

In 'Red and Yellow and....'  in 2006, we looked at these various options, and at the fundamental change that people were not seeing in the new plan - (that is, that the original concept of the Blackpool Easterly Bypass had gone, and the new aim was a relief road from Fleetwood to the motorway).

Furthermore, although this new series of options wasn't about improving things for Blackpool any more, it also wasn't (and this was a mistake most people made) about relieving the existing problems on the A585 either!

It was ACTUALLY about INCREASING the capacity of the A585 to enable yet MORE development in Thornton and Fleetwood.

Then in 'Road Relief for Some' in 2007 we reported that the Red Route had had its 'protective' status removed (That's a planning designation which avoids built development within a designated corridor along the proposed route). Removal of that protected status more or less says that what had been planned for it at one time is now never going to happen.

We also showed how, on a resurrected consultation about what LCC should do if there was to be no 'Red Route', the public (apart from those in Singleton) were plumping for the Yellow Route.

This was a new road that started at the Greenhalgh junction (Jct 3) on the M55, went across the fields passing close to Singleton, crossed the Blackpool Garstang Road just below that five way junction at Catlows, then continued along the back of Mains Lane to a new Roundabout near the River Wyre. This was followed with changes on the (recent, if not new) road down Armounderness Way to Fleetwood notably turning it mostly into a dual carriageway.

Finally, in 'Road Going Nowhere?' in 2008 we showed how the political leaders - especially in Fylde and Blackpool - were overturning the public's preference for the Yellow Route and heading toward supporting something called the Blue Route.

This started not at Greenhalgh, but almost at Junction 4 at Whyndyke Farm at the end of the M55.

With a bit of parochial thought, you can see why they did this. Some would want to support the folk in Singleton who didn't want the Yellow route disturbing their conservation area. But mostly we think it was about dragging the new road closer to Blackpool and St Annes so the economic benefits of a new road might flow this way a bit. Their aim seemed to be to bring it as close to the old Red Route as they could get away with.

But the logic of what was being proposed here was completely askew.

If you're in Fleetwood in an articulated lorry heading back to the motorway, who on earth is going to come back toward Blackpool and drive on two sides of a triangle (south west to Whyndyke Farm, then due east toward Kirkham) when you can drive the hypotenuse and hit the motorway at Greenhalgh. It's a no-brainer.

And the Blue Route was never going to happen anyway. The Department of Transport made it crystal clear that (technically) it was not appropriate to crate a new motorway junction within a few hundred yards of an existing one. And as long ago as 1994, the Department of Transport had withdrawn its support for this sort of idea.

But the former Commissar at Fylde - egged on by other foolish virgins - thumped the tub for the Blue Route, and eventually (to our amazement) he convinced enough people to shift opinion in favour of the Blue Route - and the County Council eventually supported it and gave the line of the road 'Protected Status'

This was another of the former Commissar's disastrous judgement calls because it guaranteed the road would never get built.

Which is why we're where we are now, and folk in Fleetwood routinely engage in 'road rage' as they try to get to the motorway, and more and more industry and housing gets built in Thornton and Fleetwood - making the problems worse week by week.

So where are we now? And what are LCC planning for the future?

Well, we've all seen the work going on at the Windy Harbour Junction. It's a pain now of course, but although we've not been able latch onto a plan of what is being done now, you can see roughly where its going and how it will improve things for the future.

But the real change is in the LCC masterplan.

This is something that, to us, feels very close to abandonment of the solutions that have been proposed so far.

LCC are arguing that the former ferry operation from Fleetwood (not the Knott End one!) meant that there were high volumes of HGVs on the road. But since the ferry service has now gone, that doesn't apply any more.

We think it's a bit disingenuous for LCC to blame the ferry going for their not building the road now. Especially when the ferry company might well say they only went because LCC didn't get the road built that could service the ferryport in the first place.

So what IS going on?

Well, LCC break the 'Blue Route' into 3 sections:

The Northern section - which runs from Victoria Road in Cleveleys, to the Breck Road roundabout near the River Wyre Hotel at Skippool

The Poulton-le-Fylde section- which they class as running from Skippool to a new junction on the A586 (Garstang Road East), and

The Southern section which would be a new road that would run between the A586 (Garstang Road East) across farmland to the M55 at some point quite close to Junction 4 (B&Q).

Taking each of those in turn

The Northern Section
(from Victoria Road in Cleveleys, to the Skippool roundabout)

Nothern SectionHaving had another think about this, LCC now believes that congestion in this section is really to do with problems at the three roundabouts along the route.

So they're dropping the idea of making the road a dual carriageway (which has been the plan up to now), and they're just planning to do a few 'local improvements' on this stretch.

They're also planning to remove the Protected Status of this part of the route. Our reading of these proposals can be summed up roughly as "we're doing nowt."

The Poulton-le-Fylde Section
(from Skippool to a new junction on the A586 Garstang Road East)

Poulton SectionThe plan here was to have Mains Lane (going toward Shard Bridge) widened to become a true dual carriageway for about 450 metres from its junction with Breck Road, and then (another) a new roundabout would be installed at that point, from which a new road would snake across the fields (behind the properties on the south side of Mains Lane shown here in green) joining up with another new roundabout on the Garstang Road.

There's an implied threat in LCC's wording that, to make this work, there would have to be some fairly draconian changes at the five ways junction at Catlows, but they still seem to believe this bit should be built, and they plan to persuade the Highways Agency (or its successor now that the infrastructure Bill has become an Act) to splash the cash on it. So they will keep the Protected Status along this part of the route.

The Southern Section
(a new road between Garstang Road East across farmland to a new junction on the M55).

Southern sectionThis would have been the most significant part in terms of new road construction costing around 125m.

The County Council believe it could still solve lots of problems on present route from Mains Lane at Catlows to the M55 Jct 3 at Greenhalgh, but it would damage good farmland and need a chunk of funding from Fylde BC.

But the County Council now believe "it would be difficult to put forward a strong enough case for change based on the traffic impacts of the scheme alone, given the environmental impacts of the scheme and current public policy objectives with regard to economic growth and job creation".

In other words the former Commissar was wrong in his judgement and this section's not going to be built. It's also being removed from the Transport Plan.

Sadly (in our view - a view which we know will not be popular with folk in Singleton) this doesn't mean that the Pink or Yellow routes will still be in the plan either. The best we're going to get is the revised Windy Harbour junction (that's in progress now) and some 'improvements' elsewhere along the Windy Harbour to Greenhalgh stretch of the existing road.

Our readers can now probably see why we think this 'Masterplan' is a bit on the weak side, short on vision and even shorter on real delivery.

But then, if the Government is - as we're told by the opposition - planning financial cuts that will take public services back to the levels they were in the 1930's , perhaps we can't really expect much more.

Dated:  16 February 2015


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