Minister’s decision flies in the face of Inquiry
Grantham Canal Partnership ‘baffled’ by A46 outcome
Transport Minister Mike Penning has refused requests to modify £350 million plans to rebuild the A46 in Nottinghamshire despite the outcome of a major inquiry, government guidelines and common sense.
The Grantham Canal Partnership says his decision fails to protect a beautiful waterway whose restoration is a model for the new Prime Minister’s ‘Big Society’.
It also threatens to waste £7 million of private and public money already spent elsewhere on the canal by making future restoration next to the current road widening work prohibitively expensive.
The new high-level A46 has a bridge over the canal at Cropwell Locks, enabling their future navigable use. The controversy began when it came to light that, just 900 metres away, the Highways Agency had made a catastrophic omission in their design and planning by NOT providing for the raising of the smaller Joshua Mann’s Bridge over the waterway – in contravention of Government guidelines.
In a letter to the Grantham Canal Partnership, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State gives only two reasons for rejecting its request:
A new bridge to take Stragglethorpe Road over the Grantham Canal is not [currently] part of the A46 Improvements scheme, as the canal is beyond the boundary of the scheme at this location
The A46 scheme does not prevent restoration of the canal or the construction of a new bridge in the future.
Peter Stone, Secretary to the Partnership, says ‘these explanations are baffling and quite unacceptable. The Highways Agency’s thinking was criticised by the Inspector at this year’s Public Inquiry and, as anyone can see, they’ve since done roadworks way beyond the boundary!’
‘As for the HA’s new A46 Stragglethorpe Intersection not preventing restoration of the canal, constructing a navigable bridge in the future may be technically feasible but it would be extremely difficult to achieve, highly disruptive and horrendously expensive. The problems have been made worse by the Agency failing to honour commitments it made to an earlier 2007 Inquiry.’
The Partnership proposed inserting a simple culvert to carry Stragglethorpe Road over the canal and its popular towpath, at a cost of less than £500,000 – and saving money on the nearby £2.2 million bridge to help fund it. The Government-appointed Inspector himself has stated ‘the Highways Agency should fund the works needed to bridge over the canal now, because its scheme causes the substantial extra costs that would be involved.’
The Government’s own planning guidance requires agencies to avoid doing anything that will frustrate active canal restoration schemes. Turning the Grantham Canal into a 33-mile country park is the agreed policy of all six local authorities and volunteers have recently reopened 4 miles of the canal near Belvoir Castle. No lesser people than the Chairman of British Waterways and Lord Chancellor and local MP Rt. Hon. Kenneth Clarke have lobbied the Ministry of Transport to make these simple changes to the A46 Improvements programme before it’s too late.
The Inspector states ‘In effect, should the Highways Agency not agree to carry out the necessary Stragglethorpe Road works now it has to be concluded that the A46 dualling scheme has stopped the restoration of the Grantham Canal and therefore would run contrary to a series of Government policies set down by Ministers.’
‘It’s as if Mike Penning isn’t yet aware of Government policy and hasn’t bothered to read the Inspector’s report’, Peter Stone concludes.