A ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to create 4,500 jobs as part of a major new retail, housing and industrial site, has hit a stumbling block.
Furniture giant Ikea has already been earmarked as the flagship store for the proposed 65-hectare Cuerden Strategic Site development at the end of the M65 between Lostock Hall and Farington, with plans also including a 120-bedroom hotel, 80,000 sq km of industrial space, 26,000 sq m of office space and 210 new homes.
But months after public consultation was launched and with the planning process firmly under way, delays could be about to hit the project, after a red flag was raised over traffic.
Lancashire County Council’s highways department has warned about “fundamental issues” in the Transport Assessment, and Highways England has called for any planning decision to be put on hold until a new report is compiled. Although joint applicants LCC and the Eric Wright Group are confident all concerns will be addressed, campaigners say they welcome the news “someone has finally recognised that the highways plans are totally inadequate”.
The original Mott MacDonald report commissioned for applicants Lancashire County Council and the Eric Wright Group, looked at a forecasted 2024 traffic rate – five years beyond the expected 2019 opening.
It claims the morning peak delay in the area would increase from 26 to 38 seconds, with the “only junction predicted to operate over capacity is the Bamber Bridge A6/A582 roundabout.”
It adds the development “generally increases the cumulative travel times with the M6 least affected and the A6 suffering the largest impact”.
It predicts the evening peak junction delay would increase from 33 to 52 seconds, with the M65 southbound approach to Bamber Bridge suffering the most.
However, it claims that models could be improved with changes to the road network, including signal timing changes.
But LCC’s own highways department and statutory consultee Highways England have picked holes in the assessment.
Warren Hilton, assistant asset manager for Highways England, has written to planning authority South Ribble Council formally requesting all decisions are delayed until at least August 9, while revisions are made.
In an email he states: “We note that fundamental issues have been uncovered by Lancashire County Council highways regarding the Transport Assessment for this site, which warrants production of a new Transport Assessment.”
He adds: “Consequently, until a new Transport Assessment and revised VISSIM model are available for us to review, Highways England remains unable to form a view on this application.”
Highways England has also commissioned a Transport Submission Review. Issues raised about the original dossier include:
• Weekday surveys for the M6/M65 roundabout were conducted in July – a holiday time with potential for non-typical traffic patterns to occur.
• Weekday peak hours determined in the report were noted to be outside the traditional commuter peaks and “therefore may not necessarily be representative of those found on the strategic road network.”
• More attention should be paid to motorway traffic growth rather than ‘all road types’
• Trip generation figures for Ikea have used data from three other Ikea stores and not those of Ashton or Warrington in the north west.
• More recent accident data for the M65 terminal roundabout is needed to ensure any accident trends are fully accounted for
• Models used require a fuller look at the internal road network within the Cuerden Site, to better understand the interaction with the trunk road network
• There are concerns regarding the short weaving distance between the M6 northbound off-slip and the terminal roundabout.
It is understood that Lancashire County Council and Maple Development Ltd – the development arm of the Eric Wright Group – have agreed to a new report.
They are confident that issues raised can be resolved, Highways England will remove its holding direction, and South Ribble Council has confirmed to the Post it is willing to work with the parties over future planning committee dates.
Farington Councillor Paul Wharton said he was “very pleased” the original assessment was being challenged.
He said: “It feels like someone has spoken up for the residents. Traffic around that area is already horrendous at peak times, and I was worried that concerns would be overlooked because this development is needed for the City Deal.
“We welcome investment, but not at the expense of residents.”
Lostock Hall and Bamber Bridge County Councillor Jim Marsh said: “We desperately do want the Cuerden Strategic Site, it will be a tremendous boost and asset for the area, but first things first, we need to get the roads right.
“There’s a log-jam around there already at peak times and I can understand people being worried.
“But a lot of work will go into scrutinising this. People need to know we will look properly at this before we go changing anything.”
John Jones of action group Limit Cuerden, said: “It’s obviously welcome news that someone has finally recognised that the highways plans for this scheme are totally inadequate. We are glad the road network will be completely reassessed.
“Anyone unfortunate enough to use Lostock Lane, the end of the M65 and the roundabouts near Sainsbury’s and the war memorial will know how congested the roads are currently. Can you imagine the impact Ikea, shops, warehouses and hundreds of homes will have?
“We hope the new study will also take into account plans for thousands of homes on the old Moss Side Test Track and at the Pickerings in Lostock Hall.
“The solution for the roads is not an easy one, but needs to be radical, or South Ribble won’t be one of the best places to live in the UK, but a gridlocked nightmare.”
He added: “We’re realists – it’s great Ikea want to come to Lancashire. But this is the wrong location.”
A spokesman for the applicants said: “The Cuerden development proposals will see a multimillion pound investment being made into the local highway network.
“Highways England have issued a holding response which enables them to have more time.
“This is a standard approach from Highways England and the developer’s transport consultants are working closely with them and Lancashire County Council’s Highways team on this. We are confident that all remaining points will be addressed.”
An Ikea spokesman said: “We are currently awaiting the outcome of this application and will share any updates in due course.”
County Councillor Michael Green said: “This project will happen, it’s been talked about for many years.
“It will be a big boost for the local area and the whole of South Ribble, but let’s get it right.
“Let’s do this properly and put our residents first.”