The proposed M55 link road is a project I have been working on for several years and one that I know is close to the heart of local residents. This has been a long endeavour, and I have been frustrated at the delays. But I am pleased to say we should have some very positive news in the near future.
At the recent monthly meeting of the Moss Road working group, including members of Lancashire County and Fylde Councils, my office and all concerned parties, we were told the scheme was about to be advertised Europe-wide for bidding contractors.
On this timescale, we should see preparatory works on site this year - although you are not likely to see bulldozers and construction staff on site until March next year. This has been a long and arduous process with a lot of work behind the scenes and many difficulties along the way, most of which residents will not be aware of as they see no physical works taking place.
There have been design issues which are now resolved; the scheme is finally complete and set to go before Lancashire County Council’s planning committee in three separate applications in the coming weeks, including an unconstrained application for the Southern section of the road, one with non-material amendments and another including landscaping changes. All will be dealt with at the same time.
There have also been issues with landowners and the complex legal agreements which need to be in place. To avoid any further delays, officers have actually prepared two different schemes to ensure the authorities are not held to ransom, and so works can begin at the earliest opportunity. Negotiations continue this week with interested parties, and I am aware Heads of Terms have been sent to those involved – ie the legal agreements they need to sign.
The funding formula for the road also alters every time any commercial or residential property is built nearby, including the huge enterprise zone at Blackpool Airport, adding further complexity to matters.
The £2 million funding from Government I secured once the road closed is still in place and I have helped secure a further £9 million from the Government and Highways England, as well as £1 million from Fylde Council. There are a few funding bids still waiting for final agreement, but we have agreement in principal and these are expected to be completed in the next few weeks and will cause no further delays. The scheme will go out to tender across Europe, as is required by law, in the next two weeks for construction firms to bid upon.
There have been many other issues that have arisen in what is now a £24 million scheme; for example, the National Air Traffic Control Service is still active at Blackpool Airport and miles of cabling will have to be moved when this road is constructed; the cost is close to £1 million, and BT Openreach, which provides the cabling, said it would need up to 18 months on site before any works started on the road. After I interjected and held a meeting in Parliament, Openreach agreed to make several concessions to bring the project forward so that it can be completed in shorter time, and simultaneously alongside construction of the road.
I am pleased to say that the order for BT to begin those works has been lodged this week, and we will see BT workers on site very soon. While they are not building the road, their works are facilitating the new M55 link road – it is a sign we are up and running.
It must be said that the previous administration at Lancashire County Council – the highways authority – had no appetite to have this road completed. The cabinet member responsible never attended meetings and the political will was simply non-existent. Since the Conservatives took control of the authority at the last general election, we have seen County Coun Keith Iddon at almost every meeting and a representative at those he has been unable to attend. He has been fully engaged with the scheme, visiting the site, and pressing officers who are now in the latter stages of their work. I have seen more action from Lancashire County Council’s officers on this scheme in the past year than ever before.
I’d also like to mention Kensington Developments; there has been plenty of criticism of the builder which has started works on the Queensway estate. There is a misguided notion the firm should have built the road first, but this is not the case. Kensington only needs to pay out for its share of the road in stages - on completion of 150, 300, 450 and 600 homes on the site. However, it agreed to borrow the funding in full from the Government in one fell swoop to bring the project forward.
I would like to take this opportunity apologise for the length of time this project has taken to come to fruition, but I genuinely believe we are almost there now.
I want to see this road opened as quickly as possible, and I will not rest until I see shovels in the ground.