Confusion surrounds status of massive £69m Cooper Bridge bypass scheme

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Confusion surrounds the development of the massive Cooper Bridge bypass scheme after a leading councillor’s statement on its progress was described as “his own opinion”.

Last month Labour councillor Peter McBride, who is also the deputy leader of Kirklees Council, said the £69.2m project had gone “back to the drawing board” as he was unhappy with design options that involved chopping down ancient woodland along the A644 Wakefield Road.

But his comments were later directly contradicted by the officer spearheading the project, who said no formal decision has been taken to eliminate any of the options developed to date.

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At a meeting of the council’s decision-making Cabinet Coun McBride said “alternative options” were being considered by staff and that “it was always intended we were going back to the drawing board”.

Cooper Birdge in MirfieldCooper Birdge in Mirfield
Cooper Birdge in Mirfield

But Council Leader Coun Shabir Pandor said his colleague had expressed “his own opinion” based on the information he had had.

He added: “We are still looking at all options.”

Pressed by Conservative councillor Martyn Bolt for clarity on whether Cabinet had not taken a decision to withdraw Coun McBride’s comment, Coun Pandor said: “These are opinions that were expressed by Coun McBride. I’m sorry if you’ve misunderstood them.

“For clarity purposes, we are still going through a process. As politicians, we are not robots. We are entitled to our public opinion. And until we get a full set of proposals forward and in black-and-white, we can all express opinions.

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“I don’t think that Peter did anything untoward. He just operated as a human being, which we are. We are human beings.”

Coun Bolt described Coun Pandor’s comments as “a contradictory and damning statement” that undermined Coun McBride’s credibility.

He said: “After several months of seeking answers, and despite having been told in a previous public meeting that the three options for a Cooper Bridge relief road were not being considered, we now have a contradictory and damning statement from the leader of the council that those previously uncontested promises were in fact nothing more than the opinion of his deputy, and not a binding decision.

“The three options are therefore still being developed and it is clear that we can’t place any value or credibility in Coun McBride’s statements.”

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The council unveiled three options for what it dubbed the A62/A644 (Wakefield Road) Link Road in 2018.

The project, conceived as a congestion-buster, involved the creation of a new relief road and viaduct from Bradley to the A644 Wakefield Road, plus a new roundabout.

It meant the purchase and demolition of some homes along the proposed route as well as the buying up of some “virgin” land. Woodland bordering the A644 between Cooper Bridge and junction 25 of the M62 contains the reputed grave of medieval outlaw Robin Hood.

Last year Coun McBride said a scaled-down version of the scheme was being planned, and that a “massive gyratory” had been dumped.

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Speaking after the meeting Coun McBride, who is the council’s Cabinet member for Regeneration, said new options had been developed in addition to those presented in 2018.

He added: “Once we have finalised assessments on the viability of all the proposed schemes both from 2018 and this year, officers will narrow them down to a final preferred option, which will be presented in our outline business case.”

The council hopes to select a preferred option in early 2021 and to present its plans to the public in the spring dependent on the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

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