Manchester to Sheffield: Is there hope for a £6bn tunnel?
The drive from Manchester to Sheffield through the Peak District is breathtaking, but it can also be a frustrating experience – particularly for those regularly undertaking the sluggish commute. Our meetings certainly take us over the Pennines enough that we’d be keen on anything that could make the journey a little faster! Plans which have been mooted for some time for a £6bn road tunnel once again hit the headlines this week, in anticipation that the proposal would be backed by a Highways England led viability study.
The report, being undertaken by Mouchel/Hyder, isn’t due to be completed until October 2016 but an interim version to be sent to the government is scheduled by the end of this year. A Highways England newsletter has suggested this will say that the link would tackle traffic congestion as well as boosting economic growth in both cities. In this sense, the project would feed into the Chancellor’s Northern Powerhouse agenda, a centrepiece of which is increasing connectivity between major cities in the North of England, as part of a drive to boost regional economic growth.
In addition to almost year-round traffic congestion, two of the most popular routes over the Peaks – Snake Pass and Woodhead Pass – are often closed in poor weather conditions. It is not expected that the entire Pennine crossing would be underground, but it would include long sections of tunnel beneath the National Park.
Unsurprisingly, the proposals have much local support from residents living in the towns and villages along the existing road route, as well as their representatives. This includes the MP for Stalybridge and Hyde, Jonathan Reynolds, who was quoted recently saying, “The traffic between Manchester and Sheffield is terrible. Almost everybody in my constituency has a story to tell about being stuck in it. To improve the connectivity between the two cities while protecting a national park that means so much to us would be fantastic.”
The advocacy group Campaign For Better Transport, however, has previously criticised the proposal as part of its response to the Department for Transport’s Roads and Investment Strategy, which was published in December last year. The Campaign For Better Transport commented that the government’s plans for £30bn of new roads, including the £6bn Pennine tunnel, were based on ‘badly flawed feasibility studies’ which ‘ignored non-road alternatives’ calling for more investment in ‘more sustainable transport options’ and funding for buses.
The viability report is expected to draw up a shortlist of three or four schemes that are most likely to work, both in terms of route and economic viability. If the report concludes a strong economic case for improving road connectivity between the two cities, and there is enough support from communities to put pressure on politicians, could the tunnel become a reality and the answer to many commuters’ prayers?
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