The several public bodies involved in the Whaley Bridge Regeneration Partnership have been forced to abandon their long-held ambitions to build a new bridge over the River Goyt.
Led by High Peak Borough Council, the project was intended to ease traffic congestion and address serious highway safety concerns in Whaley Bridge town centre. However, the Council had no choice but to call time on the scheme last week after a third party declined at the 11th hour to sell at a realistic price a vital piece of land needed for the bridge.
The decision by United Utilities not to sell the piece of land means that the Council is unable to meet the grant requirements of a major funding body.
Tony Kemp, High Peak’s Executive Councillor for Regeneration, commented: “It is a huge frustration that after more than 10 years of hard work by the Council and its partners we find ourselves unable to proceed because United Utilities (who own this vital piece of land) have indicated they will only release it for a sum in the region of £1million.
Aside from the fact that we have no chance of finding so much more cash at this stage, to proceed with this scheme by paying greatly over the underlying value of the land in question would contravene state-aid rules that govern the public sector.
“We have been working to bring forward this vital scheme for many years and we and our partners have committed considerable resources in both cash and officer time to make it a reality. Now, when we were within a “whisker” of success in resolving all the difficult funding issues all our plans have been shattered. We have long recognised that the project would greatly improve the quality of life for people living and working in the town centre and been the key to the regeneration of the historic canal basin zone.
“It would have made Whaley Bridge more attractive to visitors and potential investors. However, as we cannot complete the necessary land acquisitions, we’re unable to move forward.
After long negotiations, late last year the Council finally secured the land on one side of the river necessary to build the bridge, and had also obtained a grant commitment from a major funding body. The council had developed detailed proposals for the scheme and had established costs, as well as developing a master-plan for the area in partnership with the Town Council to ensure that the bridge brought wider benefits for the area.
“We had also gained a lot of support and financial concessions from our colleagues at Derbyshire County Council. After many years of suggestions from United Utilities that they would also co-operate in either gifting the remaining strip of land (to unlock value in other land they own) or selling it at a reasonable price, it took us completely by surprise when they recently came back and demanded such an inflated value.”
Borough Councillor Linda Leather, Chairman of Whaley Bridge Regeneration Partnership, thanked the Borough Council and Whaley Bridge Town Council for working so hard with the partnership to get the bridge built. However, the breakdown of land acquisition talks meant that the project was now a non starter.
Councillor Kemp and Borough Council Executive Director Dai Larner explained the background to this situation at last Wednesday’s (June 10) meeting of the Regeneration Partnership.