Controversial Barnsley ring road scheme back under pressure as Lib Dem’s influence increases

Fresh demands to scrap a controversial ring-road scheme in Barnsley will be put to the council following local election results which saw the town’s official opposition switch from Conservatives to the Lib Dems.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 06 May, 2019, 09:07
Coun Pete Fielding and Coun Hannah Kitching

That group now has four councillors, the same number of seats previously held by the Conservative party which lost one seat in the Penistone West ward, making it the principle opposition party and it is to call on the council to “go back to the drawing board” to look for alternative solutions to creating the gyratory – effectively a large roundabout – on Penny Pie Park, an urban green space between the M1 at junction 37 and the town centre.The development comes as the scale of Labour’s defeat in last Thursday’s Barnsley Council elections has become apparent, accounting for seven of the 82 seats lost by the party nationally.

According to the Lib Dems, that accounts for around 35 per cent of the seats which were contested in Barnsley, a much higher percentage than the party's national loss.The Lib Dems now believe their elevated status provides fresh authority to call on the council to abandon the project, which was agreed last year by the ruling Cabinet and has since been granted planning permission.Only final legal processes stand in the way of work beginning.Among the successful Lib Dem candidates was Pete Fielding, who stood in the Dodworth ward where he lives and where the Penny Pie Park road scheme is due to go ahead.Coun Fielding was heavily involved in a campaign against the road scheme, which is regarded by Barnsley Council as the only workable option to help cut rush hour journey times and prevent the prospect of traffic eventually backing up onto the M1 in the next few years as vehicle numbers increase.Lib Dem Coun Hannah Kitching, who was vocal in opposing the development last year, said: “It is time the scheme was scrapped and taken back to the drawing board.“The election was a very clear message, not just from the people of Dodworth. You cannot keep going on not listening to residents, ignoring residents, treating them with arrogance and contempt,” she said.Coun Fielding said he remained concerned that the impact of the new road would be to increase nitrogen dioxide levels in the area around Horizon Academy, an increasingly important problem in the light of recent research into the damaging effects of road pollution on the health of children.Barnsley Council have insisted from the point it announced plans to make road changes last summer that there is no viable alternative to the Penny Pie Park scheme.The authority has accepted it is a ‘least worst’ solution, because it will have an adverse effect on air quality and noise, but only in restricted areas and will resolve a growing problem with traffic delays in the area.Journey times between the town centre and the M1 have increased significantly since 2000 and are projected to get worse if nothing is done to remedy the situation, with the prospect of traffic heading to town backing up on the M1 southbound, something the council insists would not be tolerated by Highways England on safety grounds.Potential improvements are hamstrung because Dodworth Road is single carriageway and heavily urbanised, leaving no space for the conventional solution of a dual carriageway.Highways experts examined more than 30 alternative schemes for the project, with others rejected because they would have involved the demolition of homes or seen residents lose their gardens.Although the ring road as planned will take up much of the park, an island of open space will remain in the centre and further land will remain undeveloped outside the ring road, with the intention of re-siting outdoor play equipment there.There are also plans to upgrade other open spaces in the neighbourhood to provide alternatives to Penny Pie Park.

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Labour leader Sir Steve Hougton conceded the party had its worst night in Barnsley for 15 years after the election, but blamed dissatisfaction with Brexit as the main reason for the backlash.