‘CAUTIOUS’ officers will examine whether a new mass public transport system in Warrington will need to use a new crossing over the Manchester Ship Canal.

Speculation over a new multi-million pound bypass along the disused railway embankment in Latchford sparked widespread concerns in 2017.

There is still uncertainty over what the area will be used for but the council says disused rail corridors have the potential to be used for transport purposes in the future.

As part of work on the draft local transport plan, LTP4, the council has started to investigate a new mass transit network for Warrington.

A study has considered two possible modes for a mass transit solution – light rail/tram and bus rapid transit.

Town Hall bosses say they do not have a preferred option for the disused Latchford rail line ‘at this stage’.

They added that the ‘preferred’ transport strategy, as set out in the draft LTP4, includes a conceptual mass transit network for the borough, which proposes a ‘high quality, frequent public transport network’ across the town.

A spokesman said: “The proposals include a cross-town route linking the garden suburb area to north west Warrington via the town centre and an orbital route from the garden suburb to Birchwood.

“The exact form, mode, alignment and deliverability of such a mass transit network will be subject to further work, study and detailed consultation in the first five years of LTP4.

“This further work will examine whether this mass transit network needs to use a pre-existing or new crossing of the Manchester Ship Canal.”

The council confirmed it does not propose to construct a further new road for motorists across the Ship Canal using the disused Latchford rail line, or sections of the Trans Pennine Trail.

It comes after transport modelling identified that a new road crossing of the Ship Canal is ‘not critical to the delivery’ of the growth proposals set out in the local plan.

“However, a number of issues will require further study and assessment over the first five years of the local plan and LTP4 to understand what further transport improvements are required,” said the spokesman.

“The draft local plan also includes provision to protect any disused rail corridors from development which would prevent them from at a future date being brought into use for transport objectives, including the provision of public transport and sustainable transport schemes and/or corridors to support the sustainable growth of the borough.

“Any proposals for the future use of the rail line will be subject to detailed and thorough public consultation and the council commits to fully consider all representations made as part of such processes.”

Cllr Bob Barr, leader of the town’s Liberal Democrats, is not underestimating the task ahead for officers in the transport team.

And he took the opportunity to raise fresh concerns over the borough’s long-standing traffic woes.

He said: “To reduce congestion, improve air quality and make a growing, or even current, Warrington a more liveable town, residents must be persuaded to abandon their cars and walk, cycle or take public transport more.

“This is the principal problem the local transport plan needs to solve.

“However, residents dislike change, particularly if it restricts use of their cars or generates additional traffic where they live.

“Having learnt the lesson of the furore generated in Thelwall by the merest hint that the abandoned Latchford high level railway bridge might carry a road, the transport team are now very cautious.

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“However, the re-use of the bridge and its embankments, the route of the line and the Trans Pennine Trail as transport routes for walkers, cyclists, guided buses, rail or trams is not being ruled out.

“This will be controversial and the public will have to be consulted and have their say.

“No change is not going to be an option, so it is inevitable that the re-use of existing former transport paths will be considered.”