A major new road scheme being considered for Heywood town centre to make it more accessible would have the opposite effect and cause gridlock, transport bosses have been warned.

Plans for the project from Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM), which form part of the Heywood Town Centre Masterplan, seek improved journeys for people catching the bus, walking or cycling between Rochdale and Bury, via Heywood. 

The proposals include new signal-controlled pedestrian and cycle crossings, a bus and cyclist-only section of road and a new car park.

There will also be additional pedestrian crossings and widened footpaths to make it easier for people to get around on foot, while existing bus stops will be upgraded across the town centre.

The Greater Manchester boss at the Federation of Small Business (FSB) says this plan has caused alarm bells for local traders due to the potential for  increased traffic.

FSB has now written to transport chiefs at Transport for Greater Manchester to express concern at the proposals, which it says would have significant impact on footfall and businesses in the town centre. 

Image shows proposed highway improvements in Market Street, Heywood (Picture: TfGM)

Image shows proposed highway improvements in Market Street, Heywood (Picture: TfGM)

FSB development manager for Greater Manchester, Robert Downes, said: “I have spoken to a number of businesses located in the town centre who, like FSB, have serious concerns about what’s being proposed.

"While I appreciate nothing has been set in stone, the concept of a system exclusively for buses has triggered alarm with many of the town’s businesses.

“Understandably, the fear is that such material change would cause widespread traffic issues across the town centre, triggering significant operational issues for the shops based there, and ultimately harming their ability to continue trading. 

“Their concerns – which I share – are largely around the gridlock the measures proposed would undoubtedly create, by reducing to zero the number of cars able to freely access the main route through the town centre and shoehorning them onto surrounding roads. They also have concerns about stock deliveries.

FSB research published in March as part of its quarterly Small Business Index report, suggested  one in eight hospitality businesses believe they may be forced to close by year end as a result.

Retail businesses were similarly pessimistic about trading levels with consumer spending power at rock bottom following interest rate rises and energy bills still eroding household budgets.

Stuart Crawford, who runs Crawford Domestic Appliances in the town, said local business owners were fearful of the plans. He said: “We have seen what bus lanes and cycle routes have done to nearby Castleton – it’s killed businesses, and we don’t want it to happen here.

“We don’t even have a congestion problem here at the moment, traffic is usually quite free flowing, but we will have one if they push this through. It will cause gridlock and inevitably shoppers will just stop coming. I can’t imagine why they think this will help the town, it will kill it.”

Robert Downes added: “The measures being proposed naturally reduce the capacity of the local road network quite substantially, rerouting all vehicles other than buses on to other routes and would without doubt cause huge disruption and delay for anyone wanting to either access amenities there, or those simply passing through.

“There also appears to be significant cause for concern among the residents at what this type of disruption will mean for them, from pollution caused by increased standing traffic, to the extra time and cost of having to get from A-B using log-jammed, non-linear routes.”

TfGM say these improvements aim to make journeys quicker, creating a more reliable service along the 471 bus route and improving accessibility.

The transport bosses for Greater Manchester say they are working closely with Rochdale Council and the improvements will be done in conjunction with the aims of the Heywood town centre masterplan to improve the area for people that live, work and visit there.

In response to FSB the criticism, a TfGM spokesperson said: “We recently carried out engagement to ask for people’s views on our draft proposals to improve journeys in Heywood town centre – with residents, business and other stakeholders invited to have their say on the draft proposals.

“We are now reviewing this feedback so we can develop the proposals further. We will be carrying out a second phase of engagement on these updated plans later this year.”

In Heywood town centre, the following changes are proposed:  

Bamford Road roundabout: Removal of the roundabout, installation of traffic signals and pedestrian and cycling crossing facilities

Lance Corporal Stephen Shaw MC Way: Conversion to a bus only access section of highway (known as a bus gate), with access for pedestrians and cyclists, including the installation of additional crossing facility.

Hartley Street: Conversion to a one-way street northbound, north of the market car park access, to support movement around the bus gate on Lance Corporal Stephen Shaw MC Way

Market Street / Hill Street: Installation of a bus stop on Market Street across the junction of Hill Street, closing Hill Street to through traffic and creating a new car park with designated bay parking made accessible via Fox Street.

Additional pedestrian crossings and widening of footways in strategic locations for greater accessibility around the town.

Upgrading existing bus stops across the town centre.