Councillors raise concerns after cash-strapped Derbyshire council puts £166m Staveley Bypass project on hold
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Disappointed Chesterfield and Staveley councillors have raised concerns after learning that Derbyshire council is putting the proposed £166m Staveley Bypass project on hold as part of cost-saving plans due to the county council’s forecasted multi-million pound budget deficit.
The Chesterfield-Staveley Regeneration Route project hopes to open up disused former industrial land for housing including 1,800 new homes, create an estimated 3,400 jobs from new businesses, and reduce congestion and pollution for Brimington and Staveley, with plans for a growth corridor with a 150 hectares of brownfield land developments.
However, Conservative-controlled Derbyshire County Council which had forecasted a £46.4m budget deficit, in September, has now announced that this forecasted overspend has been reduced to a £33m figure after a number of drastic actions one of which includes pausing work on the planned 6km Chesterfield-Staveley Regeneration Route project.
Liberal Democrat Chesterfield Borough Councillor, Paul Holmes, feels pausing the Staveley Bypass project could be a false economy and a ‘counter-productive decision’ because he believes the development is necessary to reduce congestion and to develop the brownfield sites in that area to bring in jobs, investment and economic recovery.
He said: “It’s a very short-sighted view [to pause the project] but cutting this sort of thing is what councils do. You cannot do anything to regenerate all that area with steel and chemical works and a brownfield site until that road is put in so it is really short-sighted to cut things because it stops investment over the next ten years.”
Cllr Holmes also argued that in economic terms the bypass project is a ‘no-brainer’ and in environmental terms it is also good for Brimington and Staveley to also help reduce congestion.
He had also hoped that after the Government scrapped plans for the northern leg of the HS2 high-speed rail link beyond the East Midlands due to spiralling costs there would be more support to ensure other transport schemes in the area like the Staveley Bypass would continue to fruition.
The long-awaited 3.7mile Chesterfield-Staveley Regeneration Route scheme which is being overseen by Derbyshire County Council is hoped 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.
It was reported as the county’s most expensive infrastructure scheme after its costs increased to £166 million last December and it had been hoped that a Government decision about the funding would have been announced soon and a formal planning application was due to be submitted by the end of the year followed by a public consultation.
Derbyshire County Council had put in a bid for Government funding to support the proposed project with a grant of up to 85 per cent which amounts to £141m, and a local contribution of £25m was also be required to fund the overall scheme – which would have brought its grand total cost to £166m.
Chesterfield Borough Council Chief Executive Huw Bowen had also announced in September that he was buoyed by the prospect of the Staveley Bypass project as part of the wider Staveley Vision Master Plan which features the Government-backed £25.2m Staveley Town Deal regeneration scheme.
However, even though Derbyshire County Council has now announced that it has been able to reduce its estimated £46.4m budget deficit to a £33m figure it has stated that this has only been made possible by taking a number of immediate actions including pausing the proposed Staveley Bypass project.
Its latest finance report due to be considered by the council’s cabinet on Thursday, November 23, reveals that September’s forecast budget overspend has now been reduced to £33m following a number of actions taken by the council including introducing strict cost-control measures across the authority and pausing work on the proposed bypass.
The council has said it also aims to stop all non-essential spending and implement a hiring freeze due to the forecasted overspend on its budget for the end of the 2023/24 financial year, in March, 2024.
County Council Leader, Cllr Barry Lewis, has stated that the council is already working very hard and is looking at essential and non-essential services, aiming to lobby Government for support and it is looking at staffing and overtime.
Council cost-control measures include: Freezing recruitment except for essential jobs, and 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 forecast overspend has also been reduced by departmental savings, the use of reserves and the receipt of additional grant funding.
Derbyshire County Council’s new finance report also says the council is now looking at rethinking its community library project, announced in 2018, which aimed to hand over 20 of its least-used libraries to volunteer-run groups.
The council has argued that many local authorities across the country are experiencing similar external, financial issues due to the impact from exceptionally high inflation rates, Covid-19 and the cost-of-living crisis all of which are placing a heavy strain on local authorities.
It has also stated that the council’s 2023/24 pay award for staff has placed an additional strain on the council’s finances.
Liberal Democrat Staveley Town Cllr Paul Jacobs believes the county council decision to put the Staveley Bypass project on hold will impede the area’s development.
Cllr Jacobs said: “Talking about the county council’s immediate decision to put it on hold, I am very concerned that it’s going to hinder much-needed development in the area and the corridor.”
He explained that he also remains worried that if the project eventually goes ahead he is concerned that it may only go as far as Hall Lane, in Staveley, and it may then be reduced to one lane and this may actually cause congestion at Lowgates, Mastin Moor and Woodthorpe.
A Derbyshire County Council spokesperson said: “Chesterfield-Staveley Regeneration Route is a stated priority in our Council Plan. Close working with Chesterfield Borough Council has resulted in an outline business case being submitted to Government seeking £141m grant funding to support delivery of the project.
“This business case has been under consideration for some time by the Department of Transport and we haven’t yet received confirmation of its conclusions.
“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.”
Independent Staveley Town Cllr Paul Mann also raised concerns that he would hope county council leader Barry Lewis and NE Derbyshire MP Lee Rowley would join him in pushing for Government funding which may now be available from the Government’s decision to abandon plans for the northern link of the HS2.
Cllr Mann said he would also like Cllr Lewis and NE Derbyshire MP Lee Rowley to consider his proposal for a Staveley travel hub and a Staveley to Chesterfield Park link with tram, canal, road and rail links.
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.
Conservative MP Lee Rowley, who has previously stressed the importance of the Staveley Bypass project to the Government, and Chesterfield Labour MP Toby Perkins were both asked for comments but had not yet responded by the time of publication.