Government roads agency Highways England submitted a development consent order (DCO) application for the nationally significant infrastructure project (NSIP).
The plans propose building a second road bridge and a new roundabout on the A19 trunk road at Downhill to expand the capacity of the junction between the A19 and A1290. They also involve the construction of a footbridge to the south of the junction.
A joint local impact report submitted by South Tyneside Council and Sunderland City Council stated that the development would “significantly improve traffic flows at this key junction, relieving congestion and improving accessibility to and from the International Advanced Manufacturing Park and supporting access to new economic development”.
According to the decision letter sent on behalf Shapps, the two councils strongly reinforced the case for the proposed development, indicating that it will contribute to “enhanced economic wellbeing of the local area and the region”.
The proposed development is located within the green belt and the decision letter acknowledges there would be some permanent loss of agricultural land, some loss of habitats and risk of disturbance to wildlife.
But Shapps said these effects would be mitigated by the relocation of protected species before the start of works, habitat replacement, timing of construction works to avoid the most sensitive times of year, landscape planting and pollution control measures, which, according to the decision letter, would mean “limited harm to biodiversity”.
Shapps also acknowledged the potential impact of construction noise and vibrations on local residents in the short-term, with some experiencing “significant noise for short durations”. He concluded that, with mitigating measures, the overall effect would be “neutral”.
As the proposed development is of strategic importance for economic development and can also be considered as a form of “local transport which can demonstrate a requirement for a green belt location” it was “not inappropriate” green belt development.
Overall, the decision letter found that the proposed development “leaves the openness of the green belt unharmed and broadly reinforces the green belt purposes” meaning that “very special circumstances” are not necessary to justify it.
Shapps accepted the view of examining inspectors that the proposal's “substantial economic benefits" together with "the major improvements to the PRoW and NMU network, significantly outweigh the adverse impact on agriculture”.
Highways England project manager, Helen Apps, said: “This major junction upgrade will ease congestion, reduce journey times and support plans for an advanced manufacturing park near Sunderland. This is good news for drivers, the local community and the North East economy.
“We welcome the secretary of state’s decision and look forward to progressing this transformational upgrade.”