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Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by R Michael Ratcliffe (NT 16)

  What is a New Town, sustainability, car dependence and social exclusion. I know because, I worked on the Master Plan and construction of Runcorn New Town. I have lived here since then.

  In 1964, a Civil Engineer with traffic prediction experience I was appointed by the Development Corporation for traffic analysis of an experimental scheme for a planned balance between public and private transport. In other words, unlike other towns, public transport, walking and cycling were to be viable alternatives to private transport. Planned control of the use of private transport was needed.

  The Buchanan Report, "Traffic in Towns" had been recently published, which clearly demonstrated the likely effects of uncontrolled motorisation.

  The plan for Runcorn was to provide a dedicated route for buses, which would compete in travel time with the private car. It had tortuous routes to the ring expressway. Parking control was envisaged at workplaces.

  In the swinging sixties, the motor car was becoming affordable, especially for long commutes on the New Motorways.

  The busway town was greeted with derision. The Nation wanted greenfield housing within commuting distance of work.

  Runcorn is sited on the south bank of the River Mersey, upstream from Liverpool, with heavy chemicals as basic industry. Widnes a like town is sited on the north bank. For the twin towns to have no road joining them was unthinkable, and in 1961 the Runcorn-Widnes Road Bridge was opened across the estuarial section of the River Mersey.

  A road map shows Runcorn, and its Busway together with the Motorways M62, M6 and M56 which serve the Mersey Valley. Major construction has taken place over the last half-century, the Manchester Ship Canal is now redundant, railways are of minor value, transport now is Motor Vehicle. The time has come to build ourselves out.

  The White Paper "a new deal for transport" firmly grasped the matter, with unitary transport schemes, leaving the implementation to the regions and local authorities. Greenfield housing is a planning matter. Trunk roads are national priority routes.

  Runcorn and Widnes have been joined as the unitary Borough of Halton.

  I have two comments

  1.  The Runcorn Busway with a capitalised value of £40 million, built as an experiment, is not being followed through to its conclusion.

  2.  The Runcorn-Widnes Bridge now overloaded, has become a problem needing an integrated traffic solution.

  At the moment a second bridge, we are told, is necessary to maintain the vitality of the area.

  The second bridge costing £150 million will merely create a North-West traffic corridor through the New Town and impinge upon the trunk road network of the Mersey region.

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Prepared 16 April 2002