A £1 billion road tunnel under the Pennines will slash journey times from Sheffield to Manchester – boosting the city’s economy and creating jobs.
Highways England has unveiled five options for the ‘Trans-Pennine Tunnel’ – all involving a road under the Peak District – which connect the M1 in South Yorkshire to the M60 around Manchester.
Martin McKervey, lead for transport on Sheffield city region’s local enterprise partnership, said the plans were ‘critical’ to boost the fortunes of the city.
He said: “This is very a positive step forward for the Transpennine Tunnel project which will be hugely beneficial for businesses in the Sheffield City Region, boosting our economy and creating jobs.
“Business people and residents know that for our businesses to grow our great city regions must be better connected and improving travel times between Manchester and Sheffield city region is critical to this.”
But Highways England admitted in its report that funding for the project – which would cost ‘well in excess of £1bn’ – was ‘not guaranteed’, and the tunnel may not be chosen as a priority by Transport for the North, a group comprising councils and local enterprise partnerships.
It also anticipated a ‘strong risk of objection’ due to the ‘sensitivity of the area’.
Among those to welcome the update was Sheffield Council leader Julie Dore, who said: “Better connecting Sheffield and Manchester will help make a step change for our city regions, the north and the UK as a whole.
“We have been advocating for this project for a long time, alongside other crucial connectivity improvements such as 30 minute city centre to city centre rail travel.
“This is another step forward towards delivering these ambitions and we will continue working as part of Transport for the North to make sure they become a reality.”
Some were more guarded with their reaction. Sheffield Chamber of Commerce and Industry chairman Peter Kennan said: “Identifying and announcing these routes is a welcome step, although still a long way short of us seeing the financial backing required – the ‘show us the money’ stage.
“But progress is being made which we welcome as this could revolutionise travel from parts of Sheffield city region to Manchester.
“We also still need to be convinced, however, that Sheffield city centre would directly benefit without the addition of a new fast link road to the tunnel. A journey to the new route via junction 33, 34 or 36 of the M1, with already severe congestion and major air quality issues at Meadowhall, would take not much less time than the present route over the A57 Snake Pass, despite all its numerous problems – and also involves considerably increased mileage with the CO2 and fuel use consequences that entails.”
The five proposed routes run through three ‘corridors’, joining the M1 at different spots between Sheffield and Barnsley. The tunnel under the Peak District could be as long as 20 miles - although may be just half that.
The options report said it was ‘reasonable to assume that construction, for any corridor, could take approximately 10 years’. It said it was ‘not possible’ to come up with a figure for the cost, but it was safe to assume it would be ‘well in excess of £1bn’.
The report highlighted several ‘key risks’, such as the fact ‘funding is not guaranteed’, strong objections are expected and the tunnel may not be chosen as a priority by Transport for the North, a group comprising councils and local enterprise partnerships.
Barnsley Council’s cabinet spokesman for place Roy Miller said: “This ambitious Trans-Pennine Tunnel project will contribute to the aspiration to maximise economic benefits in the Sheffield city region by providing better transport links in the north.
“Not only would it provide a safer, faster, and more resilient road connection between Manchester and Sheffield, but it could lead to better access to labour markets and wider employment opportunities for our residents.”
But Bridget Fox from the Campaign for Better Transport was critical of the project. She said: “Building new roads generates new traffic, adding to pollution and congestion in communities at either end, undermining the good work done to make Manchester and Sheffield city centres more liveable.
“Constructing multiple ventilation shafts in the Peak District National Park would be hugely damaging, and there are many safety and security questions still unanswered.
“Few commuters would want to make this journey twice a day. While for freight, Trans Pennine Rail for example, making use of the existing Woodhead Tunnel, is a much more practical option.
“This extortionate scheme is a folly too far. The enormous sums of money and expertise being spent on this speculative exercise would be better used on proven solutions and improving everyday travel.”
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