Isham bypass project loses all of its funding

Traffic in Isham.
Traffic in Isham.

A long-awaited project to build a bypass around Isham is back at square one after £25m set aside for the scheme was withdrawn.

Villagers have campaigned for decades for a bypass but, despite Parliament approving the plan, the amount needed to fund the scheme has never been met.

More than half of the £41m needed had been secured by Semlep through £25m of Local Growth Fund money.

But today (Wednesday) a joint statement by Semlep, Northamptonshire County Council, Wellingborough Council and Kettering Council announced the money would no longer be used to fund the bypass.

Isham bypass campaigner Graham Rait said he was massively disappointed.

He said: “It’s just been one disappointment after another.

“I’ve got letters from the county council saying work will start in six months or work will start in nine months but it’s never happened.”

The joint statement from the authorities said local partners had been working hard to find a resolution to the £16m funding gap.

But because the spending timetable for the Government’s Local Growth Fund programme only runs until March 2021, the funding can now no longer be used to fund the scheme.

Wellingborough MP Peter Bone said the decision not to fund the bypass was ‘not on’ and that he felt let down over promises made to him.

He said: “Since I came to Wellingborough in 1999 they’ve been talking about it and for it to be twice at the top of the list and twice for it not to happen is just not on.

“It is not fair on my constituents and I was promised that this money would be used for the bypass.

“It’s important for the housing and you can’t do the whole of Wellingborough North until the bypass is complete.”

He added that he would be writing to ministers over the decision.

Cllr Ian Morris, county council cabinet member for transport, highways, environment and public protection, said: “The Isham bypass remains a high priority scheme for the county council, and we will continue to work with key partners to explore alternative funding to ensure the scheme happens at an early future date.

“We will also explore the opportunities for re-engineering the project to see if it can be done for less money but we have to recognise that this may require resubmission of the planning approval.

“There are a number of potential future funding streams which are likely to become available in the next few years, although the details of eligibility and timescales for these funds are not yet clear.”

Cabinet papers due to be discussed by councillors next week, which recommend the scheme to be paused, say making the bypass a single carriageway rather than a dual carriageway has been explored.

This, the council says, would reduce the overall cost of the scheme by £4.7m or £3.7m if provision was made for future dualling.

Mr Rait said such a move would be akin to “throwing money away” and Mr Bone said this suggestion was “nuts”, saying it should be built properly.

Cllr Martin Griffiths, leader of Wellingborough Council, said: “I understand why this project cannot go ahead at this time and I know efforts have been made for a number of years to identify funding, but it is a blow for many local residents.

“I will be working closely with our colleagues in Semlep and the government to revisit funding options at the earliest opportunity as this is a key route for uniting the north of the county and will become a priority project as we move towards unitary status.”

Given the proposals for local government reorganisation, it is likely that delivery of the scheme will be the responsibility of a future unitary authority.

The £25m secured by Semlep will now be re-allocated to other projects in the south east midlands.

Hilary Chipping, chief executive at Semlep, said: “The Semlep board is committed to this important project, having agreed to put the project forward for further funding through Semlep’s Local Growth Fund programme and, having received outline approval from government in March 2017.

“The Semlep team will continue to work closely with the local councils and other partners, including the Department for Transport, to source suitable funding so this important project can go ahead successfully.”