Devolution worries scupper road improvement scheme

INVESTMENT: Council has long term plans for Barnsley's roads
INVESTMENT: Council has long term plans for Barnsley's roads
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A long-awaited road improvement scheme close to Barnsley town centre has been shelved by the council as it wrestles with the “relative uncertainty” of future funding caused by the unknown factors in the current devolution programme.

A long-awaited road improvement scheme close to Barnsley town centre has been shelved by the council as it wrestles with the “relative uncertainty” of future funding caused by the unknown factors in the current devolution programme.

Barnsley Council only set its budget for the next financial year in the last few weeks, but already it has had to think again about the cash it will have available for new roads projects in the two years ahead, with more than £1.7m which had been allocated to roads work now being spent on other “corporate priorities”.

The council is implementing a new two year programme for its highways work, in an attempt to improve the condition of the town’s roads network, which in itself has meant calculating finances before it has been told how much Government cash will be available in the second year.

However, a report to the council’s ruling Cabinet has now warned of growing uncertainty and told councillors: “Since the approval of the 2018/19 budget papers, emerging significant capital priorities have been identified that require consideration, including a fundamental review of the funding available for highways schemes, given the relative uncertainty around devolution.”

New priorities have been set to take that into account, which means a scheme to improve the A61 at Old Mill Lane has been put on the back burner.

Councillors have been told the decision was to “temporarily defer the scheme until a later date”, a move which releases £3.35m which had been earmarked for the project.

The council states that scheme “still remains a significant council priority” but as it is now out of the current programme, work would appear to be at least two years away.

Old Mill Lane links the town centre with a gyratory traffic system which often becomes congested, impeding traffic trying to get into and out of the town centre on that route.

Work is planned to improve the Dodworth Road and Broadway area, however, with money earmarked for the financial year starting April 2019.

Councillors have been warned the estimated cost of that scheme has “increased significantly since the original proposal was made due to the development of the proposal, though some extra money has become available through Sheffield City Region funding.

Rebalancing the figures means the council has been able to syphon off £1.778m to be “utilised on other corporate priorities”.

In the year ahead, the council will have £8.75m for maintenance work and another £2.27m for capital, or new, projects. The following year it is estimated there will be slightly less than £8m for maintenance but an increase to more than £4m for capital projects.

The plan was approved by Cabinet members and the changes to the finances were not discussed at the meeting, however deputy council leader Coun Jim Andrews BEM praised council staff’s performance in filling in the pot holes caused by recent bad weather.

“They have responded quickly and got them done. While it is only a patch, it saves car suspensions.”