New hope for port as road plan moves step closer

A MASSIVE upgrade of one of Yorkshire’s most notorious bottlenecks has taken a vital step forward after the Government agreed to begin planning work on the construction of a new city centre underpass.

Business leaders, MPs and councils across East Yorkshire were celebrating yesterday after the Department for Transport (DfT) gave the green light for pre-construction work to begin for an upgrade of the A63 Castle Street in Hull, a key highway which connects the city centre and its docks to the wider motorway network.

While a final decision will not be made until 2015, Transport Ministers have made clear the three-year planning process now under way will leave the A63 in pole position when the next round of funding is handed out.

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The announcement comes at a critical time, with Hull City Council’s planning committee meeting later today to decide whether to grant permission for the £230m Green Port Hull development at the city’s Alexandra Dock.

The development centres around Siemens’s proposed offshore wind turbine factory and is widely seen as vital to the future of the city and the wider area, as efforts continue to develop a turbine manufacturing ‘hub’ around the Humber that could support 10,000 jobs across Yorkshire.

The A63 is the main arterial route serving the docks, and the bottleneck has long been highlighted by local businesses and politicians as a huge constraint on growth.

In a clear sign the Government is finally recognising the importance of investing in the Humber ports, the DfT said yesterday that preparatory work will also begin across the river on a major upgrade of the A160 - the key route serving the Port of Immingham, where major green energy projects are also planned.

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Roads Minister Mike Penning said both schemes “will be in a good position to be selected for start of works in the early years of the next spending review period,” which runs between 2015 and 2020.

“We are committed to tackling congestion, keeping traffic moving and supporting the UK economy, putting in money where it’s most needed and where the public will get a good return on investment,” he said.

The decision to begin planning work on the A63 marks a key milestone for business groups and politicians in Hull who have lobbied for investment for years.

The Castle Street bottleneck is a mile-long section of dual carriageway running east-west just south of the city centre, constrained by a narrow fly-over across the River Hull. The Government’s proposals would see a new underpass constructed in its place.

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Councillor Martin Mancey, in charge of transport at Hull City Council, said: “I welcome today’s announcement, as the Castle Street scheme is a vitally important improvement to the road infrastructure. This is good news for future growth for the port and renewables sectors.

“It is essential the detailed design of this scheme allows the city centre to be reconnected with the waterfront area, and I will continue to work with the Highways Agency to achieve this.

“I would like pay tribute to all those who have lobbied with us for this scheme to be made a priority.”

Central to those efforts have been the local Chamber of Commerce, which has argued for years that an upgrade of the A63 is needed to help the city move forward.

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Chief executive Dr Ian Kelly said: “After much lobbying, the Hull and Humber Chamber of Commerce is pleased to hear the that funding has been allocated for preparation work.

“Improvements of the A63 are vital for the future economic growth of the region, particularly with future developments in the pipeline, so we are hopeful this is a positive sign that the scheme will get the go-ahead in 2015.

“Moving developments to this next stage is a clear sign Ministers are recognising the importance of this road for our city.”

Across the Humber, the decision to begin planning an upgrade of the A160 was met with equal delight.

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The Government said it wants to make the road a dual carriageway for the entire three-mile stretch between the Port of Immingham and the A180 Brocklesby Junction. At present, parts of the road are only single carriageway.

“This is fantastic news,” said Liz Redfern, leader of North Lincolnshire Council.

“The A160 scheme is crucial to opening up development on the South Humber Gateway and creating jobs for local people.

“It has long been needed and will greatly improve infrastructure to the ports at Immingham.

“This news has come at the right time and I really welcome it.”

Comment: Page 12.