Campaigners fighting against the construction of the Heysham to M6 link road say they will not give up their battle – despite a high court judge throwing out their latest appeal.
Mr Justice Turner announced on Friday that “there was no arguable case that the decision to grant development consent was unlawful” – meaning that work on the £123m road could go ahead.
But protesters said the case against the road being built is so strong that further action is “in the pipeline.”
They have until tomorrow, Friday, to launch a further appeal against the scheme.
Since the high court judge has used as much authority as he has, they can either lodge an appeal to the appeals court or, if that is rejected, they can make a request for an oral hearing at the appeals court.
Should the campaigners fail to appeal, Lancashire County Council expects work to begin by late November.
However, any fresh appeal is likely to push plans back until the beginning of 2014.
Work was due to start on building the three-mile road this summer after transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin gave final permission in March.
But campaigners Transport Solutions for Lancaster and Morecambe (TSLM) took legal action against the decision in a last-ditch attempt to stop the project.
A two-day hearing took place in Manchester in July.
Mr Justice Turner, after a 10-week deliberation, said: “The development consent process is thorough and comprehensive and it is overwhelmingly likely that consent would have been given regardless of the route by which it had been achieved.
“The time, cost and inconvenience of re-starting the process would render judicial intervention at this stage to be wholly disproportionate.”
County Coun John Fillis, cabinet member for highways and transport, said: “The link road was given development consent because there’s such a strong case for it in terms of value for money and the benefits to the economy and local transport it will bring.”
Vicky Lofthouse, manager of the Lancaster District Chamber of Commerce, said: “At long last we can finally see a start to this vital improvement to the whole district’s infrastructure.
“Having dealt with every planning issue imaginable, and proved time and again that the social and economic benefits outweigh any perceived negatives the removal of any uncertainty over the link’s future means businesses and residents can look forward to the project commencement and speedy completion.”
Lancaster MP Eric Ollerenshaw (right) said he was delighted at the news.
“It is such a pity that it has taken since 1948 to get this far, but now with much needed Government support we can finally get a by-pass for Lancaster,” he said.
Coun Eileen Blamire, leader of Lancaster City Council, said: “As well as improving the district’s attractiveness to investors and creating new opportunities for growth, the improved accessibility it brings will also aid regeneration in some of the district’s more deprived areas.”
Morecambe MP David Morris said: “I am incredibly pleased, the Heysham to M6 link road will be the economic backbone of the area bringing jobs and improving our transport links.” A recent survey suggested that for every £1 invested in the road, the region will earn £6.
“The link road will bring 3,000 jobs and will bring jobs to 100 unemployed people, I am delighted the road will go ahead and building can’t start soon enough!”
However, campaigners this week said that while the high court judgement is a setback, it is not the end of legal challenge possibilities.
TSLM chairman David Gate said: “We’re sorry that the courts did not accept our legal case.
“The judge did accept that these were serious arguments, seriously presented, and he considered them seriously.
“We have taken legal advice, and that is that there are errors in the judge’s decision, and there are good grounds for a successful appeal against it. So we shall ask the courts for permission to appeal.
“It is an out-of-date scheme, and evidence continues to mount up against it.
“The council should cut their losses and withdraw the scheme now.”
One of the campaigners, Prof John Whitelegg, said: “The judgement is as full of holes as the original case for the bypass itself but there is still time for common sense to prevail.
“The result of the detailed examination of these issues in front of a High Court judge confirms that the road will not ease congestion problems, will lead to the loss of more than 1,000 jobs, will saddle county council taxpayers with a £12m debt and will destroy the green belt.
“The fact that it took a judge 72 days to make up his mind on this legal challenge shows that it was not an open and shut case and our efforts to scrap the road will be stepped up.”