Rainford Action Group

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Press Release – 14/09/2017

Road to nowhere: Windle Island delays “for nothing” as revamp ignores impact of council’s planned development 
 
A multi-million pound revamp to one of the busiest traffic junctions in St Helens will “all be for nothing” if St Helens Council’s controversial development plans go ahead.

Rainford Action Group has learnt the £7m scheme to ease traffic congestion at the Windle Island Junction on the A580 East Lancashire Road was put together using figures that are already at least three years out of date.

And the scheme, which is part funded by the Liverpool City Region, doesn’t take into account the council’s plans to build thousands of new houses and several giant warehouses near to the junction.

Work at Windle Island is due to start this month and will cause significant disruption and delays along the Rainford by-pass and into Windle towards St Helens town centre. The work is expected to last 18 months, meaning drivers face long delays well into 2019.

Rainford Action Group say any improvements will be overwhelmed by the thousands of extra vehicles that would need to use the junction if the council’s housing and warehousing plans are approved.

The campaign group asked St Helens Council in a Freedom of Information Request if the new housing and warehousing developments had been factored into the Windle Island scheme.

The council replied that the scheme was based on 2014 figures and there had been no update since the controversial development plans were produced last year.

Rainford Action Group say that “short-sighted decision” means St Helens drivers could face months of delays for no benefit at all.

Since the council came up with the Windle Island scheme three years ago, it has announced plans to allow developers to build at least 1,140 houses on green belt land in Rainford. The overwhelming majority of vehicles leaving the village do so via Windle Island meaning there could be an extra 2,200 cars using the junction.

The council also wants developers to build 2,500 extra houses in Eccleston, close to Windle Island. That would increase the local population there by more than 50 percent and have a huge impact at Windle Island junction.

And St Helens Council wants developers to build hundreds of new houses in Billinge, Moss Bank and Haydock, close to the East Lancashire Road.

The council has already approved plans to build a giant warehouse on green belt land on the A580 in Haydock and another huge warehouse looks set to be built by controversial property firm Peel Holdings on green belt land next to Haydock racecourse. These developments would add hundreds of extra vehicles to the existing traffic already using Windle Island but haven’t been factored into the Windle Island scheme either.

Rainford Action Group says the council risks creating gridlock on the borough’s roads, which would deter business investment in St Helens and cause misery for thousands of St Helens residents.

James Wright, chair of Rainford Action Group, said: “We were astonished to learn St Helens Council hadn’t factored its planned housing and warehousing developments, and the already approved warehouse in Haydock, into their Windle Island traffic congestion scheme.

“That short-sighted decision effectively means the months of delays and disruption St Helens drivers face will all be for nothing. If these development plans go ahead, Windle Island will inevitably need another upgrade and that will mean even more delays for drivers in the future.
“The scheme is already out of date even though work hasn’t begun. Drivers face months of delays for no gain and taxpayers’ money will be squandered on a scheme that will never be fit for purpose.”
The St Helens Local Plan proposed releasing land from the green belt in Rainford to allow developers to build at least 1,140 new houses. That would expand the village by a third.
Rainford Action Group says the impact on traffic in the village is one of the main reasons the plan has faced such opposition.

James Wright said: “Rainford is a rural village. Building large housing developments in communities where there is poor transport links makes no sense, especially as the developments would have such a negative impact on traffic congestion, road safety and air pollution.

“St Helens Council should focus on building new housing on brownfield land close to sustainable transport connections. That would bring genuine benefits to the whole borough.

“The planned developments around Windle Island risk blocking one of the borough’s major junctions and entry points, putting off business investment, causing terrible air pollution and creating misery for St Helens motorists and residents.
“St Helens needs a strategy for growth not a plan for gridlock, which is what the council’s current proposals risk creating.”

The council’s business case for the work at Windle Island junction is outlined in a report called the Improvements to Windle Island Scheme – Economic Impact Assessment. It was produced three years ago by consultants Mott MacDonald.

The report clearly states the population of St Helens has fallen. That directly contradicts claims in the St Helens Local Plan that the population of the borough is growing and therefore green belt land is needed for housing development.
Rainford Action Group has also learnt that St Helens Council has paid Mott MacDonald nearly half a million pounds in just six years.

A Freedom of Information Request showed the firm has been paid £478,667 by St Helens Council since 2012. That includes a huge payment of £212,120 in 2014, the year the Windle Island report was written.

James Wright said: “The expensive work carried out for St Helens Council by these consultants shows in black and white that the borough’s population has fallen and seen a long-term decline.

“This proves the population growth the council uses to justify green belt development doesn’t exist. There is simply no proof, and no legitimate reason to believe, that St Helens’ population will grow in the way the council claims in its Local Plan and therefore green belt land should be protected.
“The council cannot with any credibility continue to claim that population growth justifies the destruction of so much green belt land across St Helens.
“And nor can they credibly claim that the work at Windle Island will bring long-term benefits because they have failed to factor into the scheme the huge increase in traffic their development plans would create.”