Closing statements heard at Mersey Gateway public inquiry after just six weeks
Closing statements were read out at the public inquiry into the Mersey Gateway Project today (Thursday 25 June) with Halton Borough Council summing up the plans as a ‘unique opportunity to transform the borough and help secure the future economic prosperity of the north west of England’.
The main phase of the inquiry, which was expected to last up to ten weeks, concluded after less than six as a number of objectors withdrew their reservations, whilst others chose not to have their case cross-examined in public.
Timothy Straker QC summed up the case for the project on behalf of Halton Borough Council at the inquiry. He said: “The evidence presented, in answering the questions set for the inquiry, reveals a strong and compelling case in the public interest for the Orders to be made”
During the public inquiry the inspector heard support for the project expressed by a wide range of businesses and organisations, including The Stobart Group, Peel Holdings, the Halton and Liverpool branches of the Chamber of Commerce, and the Federation of Small Businesses. Cheshire West and Chester Council, local MPs Derek Twigg and Mike Hall also backed the project, as do all political parties at a local level in Halton.
The Environment Agency and Natural England both withdrew their previously held objections, and it was announced that the project had solved issues with a number of local businesses to acquire their land to allow the plans to proceed.
Cllr Tony McDermott, Leader of Halton Borough Council and Chair of the Mersey Gateway Executive Board, said: “We are very satisfied that the inspector has looked in detail at our plans. We believe our plans are robust and are confident that we have put the best possible case for this project to the inspector. This is a unique opportunity to transform the borough and help secure the future economic prosperity of the north west of England.”
He added: “It is the biggest and most important project I have ever been involved in. I believe it will be the catalyst that delivers thousands of new jobs and opens up huge areas of Runcorn and Widnes for regeneration. It will also fund major improvements to our public transport systems here in Halton.”
The centrepiece of the £431million Mersey Gateway Project proposal is a new toll bridge over the Mersey between the towns of Runcorn and Widnes. It also includes or facilitates;
- plans to develop and integrate public transport, cycle and pedestrian links across Halton
- plans to kick start a major 20-year regeneration programme for Halton
- improving regional transport links to encourage new and inward investment and
- road user charges on the existing Silver Jubilee Bridge between the two towns.The project will;
- mean an estimated 4,640 new jobs through direct employment, regeneration activity and inward investment
- generate an estimated £61.9million a year in Gross Value Added from the new jobs by 2030.
Steve Nicholson, Mersey Gateway Project Director, said: “Over the coming months we’ll be continuing to prepare our plans for the procurement phase so that we’re in the best possible position to proceed if the project is given the go-ahead. This will help us ensure that we get the best deal for the people of Halton and regular users of the bridges when it comes to building the bridge and developing discount schemes.”
A potential supplementary session has been earmarked for July to allow the inspector, landowners involved and Halton Borough Council further time to consider technical issues relating to open space.
This relates to an area of open space in Widnes, adjacent to Thermphos and St Helen’s Canal. The land in question is open space that will be acquired for the project and the technical matter that the inspector will address relates to the replacement provision that will be made.
Following this, Alan T. Grey, the inspector conducting the public inquiry, will write up the findings into a detailed report. This will be presented to the Secretaries of State for Transport and Communities and Local Government along with a recommendation as to whether the project should proceed.
A decision is expected early in 2010. If approved, construction work is likely to begin in 2011, with the new bridge opening in 2014.