Highways England has confirmed that it will fight a legal challenge to its plans for a £250m link road through a country park after a local council applied for a judicial review.
The Government-owned company said it would formally defend its decision to opt for a bypass to the Port of Liverpool, rather than a tunnel, which it said could cost £1.5bn – roughly the same cost as the planned tunnel at Stonehenge.
Sefton Council is opposing the plans on the basis that a tunnel option was not included in the public consultation.
In August Highways England announced that it had decided to take forward the design of a new bypass through Rimrose Valley rather than try to improve the existing A5036 between the port and Switch Island junction where the road meets the M57 and M58 motorways.
Confirming that Highways England would contest the judicial review, chief executive Jim O’Sullivan said: ‘The considerable cost and disruption of constructing a tunnel and ongoing maintenance and operational costs meant it was never going to be a viable solution.
‘A bypass will provide similar long-term benefits to a tunnel – an almost junction-free link between the port and motorway network – at a significantly lower cost with less construction disruption and a much shorter delivery time when pressure on the existing road is increasing all the time.’
He added: ‘We want to continue talking to the council and local people to ensure we deliver an A5036 Port of Liverpool route which can support the local and regional economy.’
Tim Gamon, Highways England’s regional delivery director for the North West, said: ‘The tunnel simply does not provide value for money. Furthermore, the impact of delivering a tunnel through the park would mean the whole of the Rimrose Valley would potentially be “out of bounds” for recreational use – including the sports pitches – for up to six years due to the scale of the construction and safety zones required.’
A spokesman for Sefton Council confirmed that it had applied for judicial review.
In October council leader Cllr Ian Maher said the ‘ridiculous’ decision to build a road through Rimrose Valley would ‘remove much loved and vital green space provision in Sefton…cause air pollution and threaten the environmental and ecological systems which local people enjoy and which supports their health and wellbeing’.
Highways England said it is working on ideas for a package of mitigation and environmental improvement measures including landscaping, planted screening, noise barriers, improved leisure facilities and pedestrian and cyclist links through the valley.