1,400 have now signed Melton bypass funding petition
Nearly 1,400 people have now signed a petition calling for Leicestershire County Council to accept £15million in government funding towards the cost of a planned southern relief road in Melton.
It could be the end of the road for a vital part of Melton’s long-awaited bypass if county councillors go ahead next week with their threat to refuse the money.
County Hall made the bombshell announcement after a long-running dispute and a very public war of words with Melton Borough Council over forward funding for the scheme.
County councillors are expected to ratify that stance at a meeting on Tuesday, prompting the borough council to launch a last-ditch offensive to get the county council to change its mind, including the setting up of a petition calling on residents to show their support.
Hundreds have already signed the online petition just days after it was set up.
Every other district council in Leicestershire and Melton MP Alicia Kearns are also backing the borough council’s campaign.
Here are all the issues affecting the southern link and what it will mean to the overall bypass scheme if funding is rejected next week, plus a link to the petition:
What is the funding and why is the county council planning to reject it?
The Government has offered a £15miilion grant from the Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) towards the £28million cost of the proposed south section, which would link Burton Road with the A607 Leicester Road.
Leicestershire County Council says it cannot afford to forward fund the £55million it would need to pay out for schools and infrastructure as part of the south section development. And it is blaming the borough council for not putting proper plans in place to ensure it could recoup the outlay in contributions from developers building homes in that part of town and for not offering to shoulder the cost up front.
County Hall leader, Councillor Nick Rushton, said: “Put simply, there is too great a financial risk to the county council if the £15million HIF grant were to be accepted.
“We’re committed to economic growth and building strong communities – but there is a finite amount of money for the whole county and we have to be fair.
“Leicestershire is growing and demands for infrastructure across all districts will rachet up this financial pressure – taking the risk to such a level it compromises our ability to invest in other parts of the county.”
How has Melton Borough Council responded this week?
It is furious that the county is intending to pull the plug on the funding and said the decision would cast ‘significant doubt’ over the south section ever being built.
Borough council leader, Councillor Joe Orson, said: “This is a hugely disappointing decision by the county council.
“As the highways authority they have a responsibility to deliver the roads that Melton needs.
“When they submitted this funding bid, they raised everyone’s expectations and now, after having secured the money, incredibly, they are choosing to hand it back.
“They are displaying a shocking lack of ambition for Melton and at the moment it feels like they are turning their back on our borough and soon they won’t even have an office in our town.”
What does the borough council think about being blamed by County Hall for the likely loss of the funding?
The borough refutes the allegations and points out that its budget of £5million is dwarfed by the £500million the county council has at its disposal.
Councillor Orson raged: “Why don’t they just say what has really happened, that this is down to their failure to reach an agreement with Homes England?
“Rather than admit that’s the reason for handing back the cash, they are shamelessly deflecting the blame.
“It’s ridiculous and we need to persuade them not to turn their back on Melton, accept the money and build the road, like they promised they would.”
Is it too late now to make the county council change its mind and how can residents have a say?
County councillors will decide on the funding at a meeting on Tuesday, with a recommendation that they refuse it for the reasons outlined above.
Residents who want to see the southern section built are urged to sign a petition launched by the borough council.
Go online at http://chng.it/hbWZKv6Crv if you would like to sign the petition before next week’s meeting. Nearly 1,000 people had already done so yesterday (Wednesday).
How does the rest of the county feel about the issue?
All five leaders of the other district councils have written a joint letter to County Hall backing Melton’s case and calling on county councillors to accept the funding.
Leaders of the councils – Terry Richardson (Blaby), Jonathan Morgan (Charnwood), Phil King (Harborough), Stuart Bray (Hinckley and Bosworth) and John Boyce (Oadby and Wigston) – say in their letter that the county council’s stance is ‘completely unacceptable’ and damages Leicestershire’s reputation.
“Instead of taking responsibility, as the highways authority, for failing to secure the HIF money that you bid for, you are seeking to transfer blame to a borough council that has a budget 100 times smaller than your own,” their letter states.
“This is completely unacceptable and whilst it may be Melton today, it will be the other districts in time and we stand united in saying this is unacceptable and no way to secure the infrastructure needed.
“Furthermore, your approach is doing serious damage to Leicestershire’s reputation and potentially our ability to secure funding in the future.”
What does Melton MP, Alicia Kearns, think about the county council’s threat and the possible loss of the vital funding?
She fully supports the borough council and said she was ‘aghast’ to hear the county was intending to reject the money.
Mrs Kearns has written to county council leader Nick Rushton and chief executive John Sinnott calling on them to accept the money.
She points out in the letter that the south section was included in the Melton Local Plan and the proposed 1,500-home Melton South Sustainable Neighbourhood.
Sympathising with the financial pressures on County Hall’s budget, particularly since the pandemic started, Mrs Kearns wrote: “However, I do not accept that rejection of the HIF grant is the right decision for Melton or for Leicestershire.”
“It is not too late. I urge you and your cabinet to accept the HIF funding and deliver for the people of Melton on your promises and the needs of our communities.”
How will this impact the rest of the Melton Mowbray Distributor Road (MMDR) scheme? Will that still go ahead as planned?
The funding and planning permission is already in place for the North and East sections of the £63.5million MMDR and it is expected to open to traffic in the early summer of 2024.
It was hoped the South section would be built at the same time, although funding and planning approval are still required.
If the £15million HIF grant is rejected, the money will need to be sourced from elsewhere, probably through contributions from further development in the town.
What has been the response within the Melton community to the likely loss of the south link funding?
Many residents have expressed concern about traffic congestion in the South of the town if that part of the relief road is not built.
With hundreds of new homes due to be built, the South link was intended to be a way of filtering vehicles around Melton rather than through it.
Georgina Halliday said she bought her home in September 2019 on Shrew Close, off the A607, on the premise that the southern section of the MMDR would be built.
She told the Melton Times: “I am absolutely furious that this road may not now be built.
“People on our road are all angry because we were sold thsese properties with a promise that the bypass would come down here. If they are building the road in one part of town they should be doing it down here as well.”
Stuart Bartram commented on our Facebook page: “Someone needs to sort the county council out. They want the taxes from all the houses in Melton, think building schools and roads to support them will cost too much.”
And on our Twitter page, the Rutland and Melton Labour Party branch posted: “If the Southern Bypass is not built, it will be a monumental and unforgivable failure of the Conservative Party in Melton and Leicestershire - councillors and Alicia Kearns must get round the table and do the job for which they were elected.”
“Time is running out.”