Chesterfield MP says Derbyshire council’s decision to put £166m Staveley bypass scheme on hold is a ‘major blow’
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Conservative-controlled Derbyshire County Council has been overseeing The Chesterfield-Staveley Regeneration Route project which hopes to reduce congestion, create new jobs and open up a growth corridor for businesses as part of a series of regeneration schemes for the region tied-up with the Staveley Vision Masterplan.
But after the council forecasted a £46.4m budget deficit for the 2023/24 financial year it has this month announced this forecasted overspend has been reduced to a £33m figure following a number of actions taken by the council.
These actions include pausing work on the planned 6km Chesterfield-Staveley Regeneration Route project while the council awaits confirmation of any Conservative Government funding for the scheme.
Labour Chesterfield MP Toby Perkins who recently expressed his disappointment at the Government’s decision to scrap plans to extend the northern link of the high-speed train railway line HS2 beyond the East Midlands due to costs is now concerned to see the Staveley Bypass scheme being put on hold.
Mr Perkins said: “The decision to pause the Staveley Bypass is a major blow for the area and for the wider Staveley Vision Masterplan. This decision would mean that the two most significant infrastructure projects for our area this century will have been ‘cancelled’ within a month or so of each other.”
The Chesterfield MP added that the decision might deny Staveley and Brimington people of a bypass that has been spoken about for 60 years and Mr Perkins stated ‘it is beyond disappointing’ that the council could jeopardise the scheme which could be supported by potential Government funding.
Even though Derbyshire County Council has announced that it has been able to reduce its estimated £46.4m budget deficit to a £33m figure it stated that this has only been made possible by taking a number of immediate actions including pausing the proposed Staveley Bypass project.
The proposed 3.7mile Chesterfield-Staveley Regeneration Route scheme has been earmarked to run from the roundabout, at Sainsbury’s supermarket, on the A619, in Chesterfield, to the Heritage Green Estate before finishing at Hall Lane, in Staveley.
Connected plans include opening disused former industrial land for housing potentially including 1,800 new homes, creating an estimated 3,400 jobs from new businesses, and reducing congestion and pollution for Brimington and Staveley along with plans to introduce a growth corridor with 150 hectares of brownfield land developments.
The scheme has been earmarked to be tied in with the wider ten-year Staveley Vision Masterplan which features the Government-backed £25.2m Staveley Town Deal regeneration scheme.
But as the council awaits news on a grant request for the bypass of up to 85 per cent of the cost amounting to £141m from the Government, and as it has been seeking a local contribution of £25m to fund the scheme, it has opted to pause work on the proposed bypass as part of cost-control measures in its latest finance report to be considered by its cabinet on November 23.
Mr Perkins now fears that the Conservative Government’s potential funding for the bypass scheme may be in jeopardy alongside any further contribution that was expected from the council.
He said: “It means that the Government’s ‘£140m’ potential investment in our area will disappear, alongside the much smaller contribution the cash-strapped county council was expected to make.”
The bypass plan was reported as the county’s most expensive infrastructure scheme after its costs increased to £166 million last December but it had been hoped that a Government decision about the funding would have been announced soon and a formal planning application would have been submitted by the end of the year following a public consultation.
Mr Perkins said the ‘root cause’ of the county council’s budget shortfall was down to the Government’s ‘under-funding of councils’ which is leaving ‘councils of all colours on the brink’.
He added that the county council’s decision to pause the bypass scheme because it cannot find the extra funding to supplement the Government’s potential investment epitomised a ‘false economy’.
Mr Perkins said: “It will damage our economic prospects in a key regeneration area as well as leave local people continuing to live in a traffic congestion blackspot.”
He also cited Junction 29A, of the M1 motorway, at Bolsover, as an example of a successful highways project which Mr Perkins claims has brought ‘thousands of jobs’ to the area after it was built under a Labour Government and a Labour-controlled county council.
Mr Perkins added: “I will be writing to Derbyshire County Council to ask them to reconsider, but I will also see if ministers at the Department for Transport or Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities can intervene to save this crucial project.”
The council has argued that many local authorities across the country are experiencing similar external, financial issues due to exceptionally high inflation rates, Covid-19 and the cost-of-living crisis, and it has subsequently stopped all non-essential spending and implemented a hiring freeze, except for essential jobs.
Other council cost-control measures which have been introduced include: Reducing the use of agency staff; Reducing overtime; Stopping non-essential conferences, travel or training; Reducing print, IT equipment and stationery spending; Only carrying out health and safety repairs on properties; Ceasing or delaying procurement for supplies and services and postponing projects still in the planning stage, where expenditure is non-essential.
The council’s forecast overspend has also been reduced by departmental savings, the use of reserves and the receipt of additional grant funding, according to the authority, and its new finance report says the council is looking at reshaping its community library project which aimed to hand over 20 of its least-used libraries to volunteer-run groups.
Liberal Democrat Chesterfield Borough Councillor, Paul Holmes, has stated that he believes pausing the Staveley Bypass project could be a ‘counter-productive decision’ because he believes the development is necessary to reduce congestion and to develop the nearby brownfield sites to bring in jobs, investment and economic recovery.
He had also hoped that after the Government scrapped plans for the northern leg of the HS2 high-speed rail link there would be more support to ensure other transport schemes in the area like the Staveley Bypass could progress.
A Derbyshire County Council spokesperson has said the Chesterfield-Staveley Regeneration Route is a ‘stated priority’ in the Council Plan and it has been working with Chesterfield Borough Council to outline a business case which has been submitted to the Government requesting £141m of grant funding for the project but they have still not received any confirmation from the Department for Transport.
The spokesperson added: “We’ve already spent a significant amount on getting the project to this stage which is a clear statement of our commitment to progressing it, but given our current financial situation, the best way to minimise financial risk – and to make sure tax-payers’ money is being spent wisely – is to pause any further work until Government confirms that grant funding will be made available.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has previously announced further plans to reinvest an originally earmarked £36.5bn for the HS2 scheme into other transport projects under a Network North plan for rail lines, roads and tramlines.
Labour-controlled Chesterfield Borough Council and Conservative MP Lee Rowley, who has previously stressed the importance of the Staveley Bypass project to the Government, have not yet responded to requests for statements.