Green light for Melton southern bypass after council U-turn?
There is fresh hope for a southern link to Melton’s approved partial bypass this afternoon (Tuesday) after councillors made a dramatic U-turn over funding for the scheme.
It appeared the Melton Mowbray Distributor Road (MMDR) would only carry traffic north and east of the town after Leicestershire County Council last month rejected a £15million government grant towards a south section.
County Hall said it could not afford to forward fund the remaining building costs of the road and the infrastructure around it - at a cost of £55million - because Melton Borough Council had not done enough to ensure that it would get its outlay back through developer contributions from the thousands of houses due to be built in that part of town.
An angry war of words broke out between the two councils after the borough insisted it had worked hard to put plans in place to make sure the county not be out of pocket.
The county council then agreed to think again about accepting the funding after a borough council petition was submitted with 2,000 signatures in support of the scheme and supportive letters were also written to the county by both Melton MP, Alicia Kearns, and by Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
And at this afternoon’s cabinet meeting, county councillors agreed they would accept the government contribution to the scheme, dependant on the borough council carrying through new commitments it made following further extensive discussions between the authorities.
The borough council has now agreed to increase its commitment to underwrite the costs of the project from £1million to £1.75million.
Melton Council will also revise its development masterplans for both the South and North Sustainable Neighbourhoods by the end of this year and prioritise the plans to ensure developer contributions will be secured.
These documents are important in securing appropriate contributions from developers towards the cost of infrastructure such as schools.
Borough leader Joe Orson addressed the cabinet meeting to confirm his council’s position, commenting on the pledge to underwrite more of the forward funding costs: “As a borough council we want to do all we can to help manage these risks which is why we are prepared to enter into a ground-breaking agreement and stretch our resources whilst ensuring we do not jeopardise our financial future.
“This remains a substantial commitment from Melton Borough Council and one we are prepared to make, given the huge importance of delivering the road to our communities.”
After the meeting, Councillor Orson welcomed the county council’s decision, commenting: “Following the overwhelming public support and representations made by ourselves and many others, I am delighted that the county council have reconsidered their position and are now recommending that they should conditionally accept the Housing Infrastructure Fund grant from Homes England.
“This will certainly help to put delivery of the southern section of the road back on track.
“We have always recognised the significant cost of the infrastructure required to support sustainable growth in Melton, and we have always been prepared to help the county council manage the financial risks they face as highways and education authority.
“Clearly, though, given the scale of our budgets we have to be realistic about what we can contribute and through positive dialogue.
“I am delighted the county council have recognised this and that we are now in a position to agree a reasonable financial cap which demonstrates our commitment but which will not jeopardise our financial future.”
Nick Rushton, leader of Leicestershire County Council, said: “We’re giving this one last push.
“And these are welcome changes the leader of Melton Borough Council has indicated he’s prepared to ask his Council to agree.
“With demand for housing putting growing pressure on councils, we face tough decisions – and our focus has to be reducing the financial risk to our budgets.
“But we’re committed to economic growth and building strong communities and want to get this over the line.”
It is hoped the county council will now be in a position to accept the grant conditionally when its cabinet sits on September 17.
Melton MP Alicia Kearns welcomed the agreement struck between the councils, commenting: “I am very pleased that Leicestershire County Council’s cabinet will be recommending that the council accepts funding for the £15million HIF bid for the southern section of the MMDR, subject to some conditions.
“I know the county council and Melton Borough Council have worked hard on this issue for many months, and I want to thank the borough council for stretching themselves to share some of the cost burdens of this project.
“Central government has also worked extremely hard to see this project delivered, and I know Homes England has watched closely to ensure this process is as smooth as possible.”