End of the road for southern link to Melton bypass?
There is ‘significant doubt’ over a southern link being built to Melton’s approved partial bypass after County Hall said today (Monday) it had finally rejected government funding for it following a long-running dispute with Melton Borough Council.
Funding and planning approval is already in place for the northern and eastern sections of the £63.5million Melton Mowbray Distributor Road (MMDR) and it is expected to open to traffic in the early summer of 2024.
It was hoped that a link to the south of the town - connecting Burton Road with the A607 Leicester Road - would be built at the same time after Homes England offered £15million towards the £28million cost, with the remaining money coming from developers building hew housing in that part of Melton.
To secure that grant, Leicestershire County Council would need to forward fund £55million towards the building of the south section, the cost of two new schools and other infrastructure, and it said last year it could not afford to underwrite those costs because of challenges in its budget and to fairly allocate its resources across the county.
An angry war of words broke out between both councils as County Hall called on the borough council to shoulder some of the forward funding costs.
But after a period of discussion involving both authorities, developers and Homes England, the county council has today pulled the plug on the funding.
County Hall leader, 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.
“On top of the £55million, another significant contribution is required for the northern and eastern legs, plus a further £22million for schools.
“It’s clear that the county council’s budget is becoming increasingly stretched.
“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.”
The decision sparked further anger at the borough council, which accused the county council of being ‘disengenuous’ in explaining why the funding wasd being rejected and saying the decision was ‘casting significant doubt over the southern section of the relief road’.
It has now launched a petition calling for residents support a call for County Hall to accept the grant for the southern link for the good of the town.
Borough council leader, Councillor Joe Orson; “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.”
The rejection of the £15million funding will be discussed at a county council meeting on June 22, with a report to go before councillors blaming a failure to reach agreement with the borough council on covering the costs of the road and the schools.
The borough insist these are issues that County Hall is reponsible for and that it is a far greater budget.
Councillor Orson continued; “Their report is so disingenuous this must be some kind of joke.
“Are they seriously looking to blame us for something they are responsible for?
“They have a budget of £500million, our budget is £5million.
“They are the highways authority, we are not.
“How can we have failed to reach an agreement when they’ve not asked us to do anything for over three months?
“We had not walked away but have had radio silence back from them.
“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.”
After the borough council’s angry response to the decision, the county council hit back with another statement, which reads: “The county council has always wanted to see the road built.
“The problem is affordability of the highway and education infrastructure required by new housing development in Melton.
“The cabinet report makes clear that county council was prepared to take a risk on funding the road, the grant for which only covered part of the cost.
“That, however, was dependent on the borough council ensuring that the county council would not be out of pocket through funding the extra schools required by the housing development the road would serve.
“Melton is the local planning authority and it would be possible for Melton to provide that assurance through the consequences of its own decisions on the financial contributions from developers.
“It was not possible to reach agreement with Melton on that important point.”
Melton Borough Council’s newly-launched petition is one last throw of the dice to build public support in a bid to get County Hall to accept the funding.
Councillor Orson added: “Today I am launching a petition which asks the people of Melton to show the local strength of feeling and to call upon the county council’s cabinet not to walk away from the borough and to accept the funding so we can see the southern section of the relief road built.
“We must unite to convince the county council to uphold the promise they made to our residents.
“We have seven days to save the road.”
Go to http://chng.it/hbWZKv6Crv if you would like to sign the petition - you have just seven days to sign it before next week’s County Hall meeting on the bypass funding.