HIGHWAYS bosses have been criticised for starting work on a £140,000 road improvement scheme in advance of a decision on whether a developer would meet 50% of the costs.
Mining firm Banks Group offered to pay half the cost of upgrading a local road junction in return for getting planning permission to extend its opencast coal mine at Shotton near Cramlington, Northumberland.
The company’s application was approved by the county council’s planning committee on Tuesday night. However, highways officials at the authority decided to ‘take a risk’ and start work on the Blagdon Lane junction improvement scheme on Tuesday morning – several hours before the planning decision was made. They went ahead despite being warned by a planning officer that Banks’ £70,000 contribution would be lost if permission was refused.
Yesterday, Cramlington Conservative county councillor Wayne Daley said he was angry that work had started before councillors decided whether the opencast extension would be allowed.
“This is blatant disregard for the planning committee, and basically pre-determining a decision of the planning authority.
“If permission had not been granted the council would have been left to pick up the entire cost of the scheme,” he said.
“If the council is prepared to take a risk with a major scheme like this, then we should also dual the A1 on the basis that we might get the money in the future.”
Jack Walton, from the council’s strategic transportation unit, said the Blagdon Lane junction improvement had been an aspiration for the local community for many years. This year the council managed to secure half of the cost through its Local Transport Plan, but on condition that the money was spent in the 2010/11 financial year. In addition, the Blagdon Estate agreed to dedicate the land required for the improvement work free of charge.
Mr Walton said: “With these offers on the table, a decision was taken to start work on site before the remaining Banks Group funding was formally confirmed. There was a slight risk that this funding would not be secured, but it was felt it was a small and measured risk.”