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Sunday, 16 May 2021

M1/A6 link road business case submission labelled “reckless” by Central Bedfordshire councillor

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Submitting a business plan for a controversial link road between the M1 and the A6 “without knowing the full cost” has been branded “reckless” by a Central Bedfordshire councillor.

The 2.75-mile project connects junction 11a of the motorway with Barton Road, north of Luton, and includes a rail freight interchange.

A decision to forward a full business case was deferred until later this month by Central Bedfordshire Council’s executive on Tuesday (13 April 2021).

But a report was presented by Conservative Caddington councillor Kevin Collins to its sustainable communities overview and scrutiny committee yesterday (15 April 2021).

He described it as “the principle that we’ll be submitting a business case, rather than the actual business case“.

It’s very much a tabulation of data and information prepared by external consultants,” he explained.

The Department for Transport’s (DfT) local growth funding will be released via the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership when it’s approved.

The paper going to the executive will seek permission to send the M1/A6 link road full business case to the Secretary of State for formal sign off.

That will include a commitment from CBC to forward fund the cost of delivering it beyond the £32.75m DfT allocation.

CBC is in advanced talks concerning a legal agreement to secure the recovery of forward funding from the rail freight interchange and housebuilders.

Any project of this size and complexity comes with an inherent risk, but that risk is prudently allowed for within the financial calculations and will be tightly managed.”

Independent Toddington councillor Mary Walsh was pleased “it escaped the clutches of executive and came to us first“, saying: “Very few of the conditions of this road have been signed off.

Highways England needs traffic monitoring reports, which aren’t yet available. There’s a proposition about compulsory purchase of land.

It’s a fair gap between the £61m budget overall and the £32.75m funding, and that gap could grow.

There are massive areas of expenditure which are unconfirmed, so how anyone can make a business case for it I don’t know.

Councillor Collins replied: “That £61m allows for inflationary increases in the tender and building costs, and for general risk.

There has been a fairly prudent approach to the overall budget and what the exposure is.

Submitting a business case doesn’t permit us to spending the money. It just releases the funding from the DfT.

We’re still to award the contract. The commitment of the council is a future decision.

We need to supply the information in a timely manner, as requested, to release the £32.75m balance.”

Councillor Walsh warned: “A long time ago, the costing of this road was £64m. I think things have gone up, not down.

It affects the whole of my ward. Only a few people in Streatley village, the council and the developers have supported this.

Why would we put ourselves out there without knowing the cost, and agree it not knowing whether we can deliver it in full, with all the mitigations required, in cost, in budget? I think it’s reckless.”

Conservative Dunstable Icknield councillor David McVicar, who chairs the committee, said: “This was always going to be a contentious issue.

Our job is to see whether we pass this through to executive, which will make the final decision.

Councillors agreed to send the report to the executive, which only councillor Walsh opposed.

Euan Duncan, Local Democracy Reporter
The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) is a public service news agency: funded by the BBC, provided by the local news sector, and used by qualifying partners. It’s like a franchise: different companies with different approaches, but using common editorial standards and all publishing into the same system.

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