High bridge across the Goyt Valley

Feasibility Study faults

Goyt Valley SOS! submitted this analysis of Bypass Feasibility Study Stage 1 to Stockport councillors in February 2017.

The A6-M60 Feasibility Study Stage 1 should be cause for concern whatever one’s views for or against a new road from the A6 to the M60. It is a sub-standard piece of work making troubling proposals and inaccurate statements.

As you know, the A6-M60 Bypass would go from the Crookilley Way Roundabout of Junction 25 of the M60 at Bredbury to join the Airport Road – now under construction – at Simpson’s Corner, Hazel  Grove.

These are the main points of our analysis of the St udy which we go on to explain in more detail:

  1. The Study contains misleading and erroneous statements and surprising assertions. Councillors ought to be concerned that the same contractors (WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff) are producing the Stage 2 Study.
  2. The Study departs from the road’s previous intended function as a “local Bypass”. The Study emphasises strategic connections. The previously accepted view was that the more the Bypass becomes effectively part of the strategic road network, the more likely it is to be overwhelmed – forcing local traffic back on to local roads such as the A6 and A627 which the Bypass is meant to relieve.
  3. Apparently confirming departure from the “local Bypass”, the Study talks about motorway-style “merge/diverge” junctions. Previously, in the 2004 plan, all junctions were to be traffic-signal controlled to discourage traffic cutting through from the motorways.
  4. The proposed modelling will be seriously deficient. Modelling carried out before the opening of the A6-Airport Road should not be used as the basis for decisions to progress the Bypass.
  5. The Study proposes further investigation of a high-level bridge (ie a dual carriageway on a viaduct) across Stockport’s wonderful Lower Goyt Valley. Such a suggestion is shockingly inappropriate and mocks claims elsewhere in the Study that environmental impacts will be mitigated.
  6. Extraordinarily, the Environmental Review chapter of the Study makes no mention of Stockport’s Goyt Valley other than to propose a high-level bridge. There is one other tucked-away reference to the valley in another chapter.
  7. Likely negative impacts on local roads, such as in Offerton and Stepping Hill, are entirely ignored.
  8. The Study supports its case for the Bypass by reference to the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework. The details were apparently not known when the Study was written. Now we can see symmetry between taking green belt from High Lane to Heald Green for housing development and taking green belt from Torkington to Bredbury for road building.

Basic SEMMMS concept undermined

In the late 90s, the A6(M) project transferred from the Highways Agency to Stockport Council, redefined as a “local bypass”. The SEMMMS Report of 2001 presented the case for a relief road from the M56 to the M60 via Hazel Grove in terms of local congestion relief rather than the expansion of the strategic road network.

Thirteen years later we are slipping backwards.  The Stage 1 Study emphasises (Summary, page 128) the new road “will provide much needed connectivity for key strategic routes into the North, the North West, and the wider Greater Manchester conurbation and specifically to Manchester Airport; including traffic from the A6, A523 and A34…” (ie A34 to M62 via the Bypass, etc).

On the same page the Study says “in particular the scheme would provide improved connectivity for freight to Manchester Airport.”

In 2005 the SEMMMS Councils had to prove to the DfT that the Bypass (then the New Relief Road)  would not “induce” traffic on to the Bypass from the motorways. This seems to have gone into reverse. On page 40, the Stage 1 Study notes that Highways England’s 2015 M60 South East Quadrant Baseline Study “recommends the reassignment of local traffic off the M60 through provision of improved alternative routes, such as A6MARR and the proposed A6-M60 Bypass”.  Local in the quoted context is unlikely to apply only to Stockport-based traffic.

The Bypass, as described by the Study, would open up routes for drivers from outside Stockport to cross the borough to continue their journey or to reach the Airport and allied developments by bypassing the bunged-up motorways.

The Bypass would enable motorway drivers to cut through to the Airport via the Airport Road at Hazel Grove. The A6-M60 road would not be much help for Stockport drivers going to the Airport. The south Stockport to Manchester Airport route will be the A6MARR (Hazel Grove to the Airport/M56). The A6-M60 Road’s additional junctions in Offerton would add little.

New roads consistently generate extra traffic, as the official SACTRA report showed 22 years ago. That would be true for both the ‘local Bypass’ and Study Stage 1’s version. However, the Study’s approach positively invites more traffic.

Why is this important? Because residents and beautiful green spaces along the route are being threatened by a scheme that will bring potentially dysfunctional volumes of vehicles through south-east Stockport with attendant noise and pollution. It would be an Extra Traffic Road, as much as a Bypass.

Deficient modelling

The modelling for Study Stage 2 has already been carried out. It will be unreliable because it has been produced before the opening of the A6-Airport Road, which will cause major changes to local traffic patterns. Modelling is not able to precisely predict all traffic changes, so miscalculations of the impact of the Airport Road will be carried forward into forecasts of the A6-M60 road. A decision to progress to full business case and planning application should not be made on the basis of the results. A second issue about the modelling concerns the use of 2009-origin data. The use of data of that age departs from good practice. It is not clear from the scant information in the Study whether a satisfactory way has been found to compensate for the evident problem. SMBC denies access to the study’s Appendices which may contain more specific information.

The study’s misleading statements

Traffic speeds distorted. The Study falsely asserts on pages 10, 89 and 129 (“Summary, Conclusions and Recommendations”) that the Stockport highway network shows “average speeds of below 10mph for much of the day”.  The potency of this misleading claim can be shown by the way in which Councillor Twigg innocently repeated it at the January meeting of the Environment and Economy Scrutiny Committee. On page 70 the Study, in referring to a series of diagrams of traffic congestion, reveals a less exaggerated statement, that speeds “remain below 10mph for much of the day along the A6 between Hazel Grove and Stockport town centre”. The A6-M60 Bypass would not mitigate traffic problems in Reddish, Davenport and Marple, among other places.

Simplistic statements that traffic is worsening.  On page 83 the Study says that Government figures show “there has been an approximately 15% increase in traffic on major roads in Stockport since the publication of the SEMMMS report.” On page 131 it says traffic conditions have worsened since the SEMMMS strategy was published. In fact, traffic may well have got worse a lot, not very much or not at all, depending on how you calculate it. The Study ought to give an accurate picture rather than grabbing the figure most favourable to the Bypass. In fact there was only a 3% increase in traffic on Stockport main roads from SEMMMS report publication in 2001 up to 2015 (latest figures). But from 2000 to 2015 there was a 15% increase; from 2004 to 2015 there was a 1.8% reduction, according to DfT figures.

Congestion-free or reality-free? On pages 7, 8, 24, 28, and 128, it is stated that the A6-M60 Road will be “congestion free”. This implausible claim will surprise anyone who knows the rush hour south of Manchester. When the Stage 1 Study was written no modelling had taken place to validate this claim. The Stage 1 Study itself says (page 95) about M60 Junction 25 “it is possible that traffic queues on the A6-M60 connector road may build-up back to Crookilley Way roundabout which can severely affect capacity and possibly influence the geometry of this junction.”   Back in October 2003, paragraph 6.1 of a report on the “SEMMMS New Relief Road” to SMBC Executive stated that the  combined Airport-A6-M60 road should not be modelled 15 years beyond its opening in the normal way, as the results “would almost certainly require some form of grade separation” (motorway-style junctions)  rather than the planned traffic signal controlled junctions – ie because of congestion.

The study’s dodgy statements

Motorway-style junctions. The Study’s paragraph on Junction Strategies (page 95) is specific about “merge/diverge layout”. Merge/diverge applies exclusively to motorway-style bridge-and-slip road junctions, a form of junction that had previously been rejected for the A6-M60 Road. Merge/diverge would create a faster road, attracting more traffic to cut through from the motorways. Are motorway-style junctions being considered or is this sloppiness of a sort seen elsewhere in the Study?

Wrong about public transport. The Study says: “Stockport is generally well served by public transport” (page  33). This statement would bewilder those local residents whose services are infrequent to non-existent; it carries the implication that significant public transport improvements aren’t needed or relevant to the Bypass plan. But in fact the original SEMMMS Report of 2001 set out a major programme of public transport improvements as an essential complement of new roads. The great majority of the programme, including new tram lines, bus priority and more frequent train services, has not been carried out.

Wrong about 2004 traffic modelling. The Study tells us (on page 84) that a good level of validation was achieved for the 2004 modelling of the combined A6-M60/Airport Road. This is far from the whole story. The SPM programme produced some ‘unexpected model outputs’ before the 2004 submission of an Outline Business Case to the Department for Transport. “The decision was therefore made to undertake the formal traffic forecasting and appraisal for the submission using a fixed matrix approach” (quoted from 2004 Outline Business Case).

Ignorance of route.

  • On page 106 the Study passes on a suggestion for surveys for great crested newts at Styal and West of Poynton (nice idea but actually on the route of the Airport Road not the A6-M60 road).
  • It also says on page 121, when trying to interpret a screenshot map, that there are no Local Nature Reserves along the route. There are two, of which one, the wonderful Poise Brook Valley, is clearly marked on the map. Crookilley Woods was declared a nature reserve in July 2011. On page 117, there is a screenshot  map showing Sites of Biological Importance among other things; in the associated text only Woodbank Park is named (though the Bypass would miss it) while at least three other sites are ignored.
  • On page 103 the Study says that the Road would affect a number of archaeological sites including Norbury Hall farmhouse (actually on the Airport Road route), Norbury Corn Mill (now under the Airport Road) and Foggbrook Mill (now under Foggbrook Close).
  • On page 122, dealing with disruption due to construction, the Study notes “The requirements to cross live rail corridors.” There is only one (the line to Chinley).

Two cases of confusion

Confused about Offerton. On page 109, paragraph 7.3.35 says that in Offerton properties nearest to the route will be “experiencing only a small increase in noise level”. Three paragraphs below, the Study says that in Offeron noise levels may rise by up to 11dBa, ie approximately double!

Retaining wall or tunnel? On page 109 the Study tells us that retaining walls will provide an effective noise barrier in the narrow corridor for the Road through Bredbury.  Five pages earlier the Study says the scheme included the construction of a tunnel south of Stockport Road West. With-tunnel and without-tunnel options were considered by the 2003 Environmental Assessment. Residents of Lower Bredbury would be horrified if the without-tunnel option has returned.

Two surprising assertions

How not to protect the environment. The Study checks the Bypass plans against various policy statements including the Greater Manchester Transport Strategy. On page 32, the Study says the Road meets the Strategy’s aim to protect the environment by, among other things, “a reduction in the damage that transport can do to natural environments”. By taking a busy dual carriageway through the Goyt and Poise Brook Valleys?

A leisure walk along the bypass! A footpath and cycleway would run alongside the A6-M60 Bypass, perhaps merging at times with rights of way displaced by the road. Referring to these roadside developments, the Study says on page 111: “The options also have considerable potential for significant environmental gain in terms of integrated public access within newly created landscaped areas.” Environmental gain? Nine rights of way will be impacted. Previously pleasant, peaceful, unpolluted tracks such as Alan Newton Way will have a very busy road running close by.

Going east to get west?

The Study repeatedly asserts that the majority of traffic on the A6 from Hazel Grove to Stockport is either accessing locations close to the A6 or seeking access to the M60 and therefore public transport is not the answer (eg on page 77). This is illustrated by a plot on page 78 which shows the destinations of traffic passing through High Lane towards Stockport. This demonstrates that most traffic is accessing locations on or to the west of the A6, and would therefore be less likely to switch to a road further east. According to the plot, only a relatively small percentage of traffic is heading for the M60 and nearly all of this is heading west. If this traffic comes on at Bredbury it will add to congestion on the busiest section of the M60 through Stockport, making things worse not better. Of course, this plot only relates to traffic coming from south of Hazel Grove. A lot of the traffic on the A6 is purely local and won’t shift to the new road.

 The study’s alarming omission

Shockingly, the Environmental Review chapter pages 97-131 mentions Stockport’s Goyt Valley only once. Worse still, the chapter’s single reference to the Valley (on page 123) is to suggest there should be a high-level bridge across it. Such a bridge – a dual carriageway on top of a viaduct – would have an even more appalling impact than the existing proposals for a massive cutting (800x120x14 metres maximum) and long bridge. The Study says that there would be so much earth to move from the proposed cutting across the valley that “the option of providing a high-level bridge to reduce the depth of cutting in the Goyt Valley should be investigated”.

Elsewhere, in the Study the Goyt Valley rates another single mention, on page 45 referring to SMBC’s Business Strategy Objective to Safeguard and Improve the Borough’s Environment. The Study comments: “Impacts of the scheme on the Goyt Valley, Poise Brook and at other locations will need to be fully assessed and actively mitigated”. After suggesting a high-level bridge across the Goyt Valley, the Study’s promise of mitigation is laughable.

Stockport’s Goyt Valley is a tranquil area of countryside, wildlife and fine landscape within a mile of Stockport centre. It should be a treasured part of the borough’s heritage. The treatment accorded it by the Study is alarming.