Once again the trans-Pennine trunk route through Longdendale, between the M67 in Greater Manchester and the M1 in Sheffield is on the Highway Agency’s agenda. So once again our beloved Peak District National Park and the stunning countryside around it are threatened with bisection by a band of tarmac and speeding traffic.
The A628 corridor, one of the ‘most notorious and long-standing road hotspots in the country’ is now the subject of a feasibility study to investigate the problems along the route and is in danger of becoming a dual carriageway or even a motorway if local councils have their way.
A vast amount of work has been done on the trans-Pennine routes over the last 20 years but sadly the majority adopted a ‘predict and provide’ approach towards traffic growth (which has failed to materialise), failed to address freight movements, local journeys or visitor trips to the Peak District National Park, and failed to look at a comprehensive suite of measures or to examine synergy between a number of measures.
We would be prepared to welcome yet another study of the issues but this one is unclear about what it is trying to achieve – is it trying solve local congestion in Mottram Hollingworth and Tintwistle, reduce accident numbers or connect the connurbations on other side of the Pennines with a fast all weather route?
Despite traffic on the A628 interacting significantly with the M62 only 12 miles further north, the M62 is excluded from the study. But most heinously the Highways Agency has virtually ignored the major environmental constraint, the National Park, which has lead the Chief Executive of the Park to express his extreme disappointment.
It is because of the National Park that small scale sustainable measures have to be shown to fail before any grandiose schemes for highways can come into play. To date very little has been done to improve conditions along the route. What is needed is implementation of measures that address the fundamental problems. Every day local car commuters meet long distance lorries within the western villages and create a traffic jam of 36,000 vehicles on the A57/A628 trunk road.
Smarter choice measures that get people using the buses and trains or walking and cycling for short journeys would do much to relieve traffic flows, 30% of which are locally generated. These, coupled with a weight restriction of 7.5t along the route to divert lorries onto the motorway network around the Peak District or a low emissions zone over the whole of the Park, would free up road space. In order to prevent it re-filling with cars some form of restraint based on traffic signals, slower speeds, or average speed control would be required. The £100million earmarked by Greater Manchester for the area would go a long way to covering the costs of all this. And if a fast all-weather route connecting Manchester and Sheffield is the aim then the planned upgrade of the Hope Valley railway line is a more realistic solution.
Hiding the traffic in the Victorian railway tunnels is one suggested option but this would deliver only three underground miles whilst the cost of ‘cutting and covering’ the remaining 10 miles in the Park would be prohibitive.
Over 40 years Friends of the Peak District have fought for the right solution to these traffic problems. With our allies we have seen off a motorway, a dual carriageway and a bypass. We have lobbied for small scale measures before any consideration is given to road building. The Peak District is worth so much more than a few minutes saved by each driver on a faster road.
But we do not need more road space – we need to manage existing road space better with people travelling by more sustainable means.
Anne Robinson, Friends of the Peak District & CPRE South Yorkshire