Long-awaited revamp of Newton Bar junction in Wakefield to be debated after campaigners forced halt

A £9.5m redevelopment scheme of one of Wakefield's busiest junctions will be publicly debated next week, after its start was delayed by protests.

Campaign group Just Transition Wakefield have opposed the revamp, which was originally signed off in 2019.
Campaign group Just Transition Wakefield have opposed the revamp, which was originally signed off in 2019.

The Newton Bar roundabout, to the north-west of the city centre, was due for a long-awaited revamp in a bid to make it better for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.

But Wakefield Council put the scheme on hold ahead of its scheduled start before Christmas, after environmental campaigners, Just Transition Wakefield, attacked the plans.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Central to the group's concerns were the loss of trees of the western side of the junction and the prospect of more cars taking to the road.

The group says the redevelopment would have a negative impact on emissions by encouraging cars to take to the road.

But a report published this week has outlined the council's desire to crack on with the works, with planning permission for the venture due to expire later this year if no progress is made.

As a compromise however, a piece of land around an old council office next to the junction could be rewilded, which the report suggests would mitigate the scheme's impact on the environment.

It said: "This would return this site to nature and provide enhanced biodiversity and wildlife habitat in an area of current low ecological value.

"This proposal would provide community access to greenspace and connectivity to the city centre, schools and local amenities."

The major junction is used by commuters travelling between Leeds and Wakefield.

But Just Transition spokesman Stuart Boothman said he remained far from convinced by the amended plans.

He said: "I'm frustrated and disappointed that it's still scheduled to go ahead.

"We feel it's a missed opportunity, because yes, we need better pedestrian and cycling routes, but we don't need to increase road traffic to do that."

Asked if he thought the newly proposed wildlife area would be effective, he said: "I don't think it's a legitimate trade off.

"It's better than nothing, but if you commit to improving traffic flows you're committing to encourage traffic growth.

"Therefore you're still increasing emissions at a time you're supposed to be trying to cut them."

Mr Boothman was also critical of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA), who are funding the scheme, for putting Wakefield Council "under economic pressure" to carry out the improvements.

In response, a spokesperson for WYCA said: “The Newton Bar improvement scheme is part of the Corridor Improvement Programme funded through the West Yorkshire Plus Transport Fund.

"Wakefield Council is the scheme sponsor, designing and delivering the scheme.

"The Combined Authority is responsible for ensuring the scheme has a robust business case which demonstrates value for money for tax-payers, improvements for public transport and walking and cycling, as well as promoting inclusive growth and contributing towards our commitment of creating a net zero carbon West Yorkshire by 2038 at the latest.

“This scheme will make it easier for people to walk or cycle whilst also easing traffic congestion leading to more reliable public transport, lower carbon emissions and improved air quality.”

Senior councillors will decide whether or not to approve the amended scheme at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

The extra cost to the taxpayer if the rewilding is approved would be £450,000.

Local Democracy Reporting Service