PUBLIC opposition has forced a rethink on plans to build a £38million Colne to Foulridge bypass.

Lancashire County Council revealed the proposal to construct the long-awaited link road by 2021 along with a preferred ‘Brown route’ in October.

Yesterday, as the overall East Lancashire Highway's and Transport Masterplan passed its first major hurdle, it was revealed that opponents of the scheme had forced highways bosses to look again at alternatives to ease congestion in the area.

In the original plan, six routes for the bypass to remove the notorious bottleneck on Vivary Way and North Valley Road for drivers using the A56 to get on to the transpennine A59 were outlined.

A new ‘Brown route’ was identified as the county’s preferred option, but a consultation produced a wave of opposition to the whole scheme.

Now the plan, for the first time, includes examining how to reduce congestion around Colne without a bypass.

Lancashire county council cabinet member Azar Ali, who represents Nelson South, said: “There was an unusually large amount of opposition to the Colne/Foulridge bypass proposals.

“As a result the county has had a rethink and decided to look at whether we can ease the congestion without building the bypass.

“We will look at tackling congestion in Colne first to see what happens there. There is a lot of opposition in the Foulridge, Higherford and Earby areas.

“We are mounting a study to see if spending £38million on this bypass is justified. If it can’t be justified and the problem can be dealt with without one, there will be no-bypass.”

Coun Ali said the meeting of 400 residents at Colne Library was very divided between supporters and opponents of a new bypass.

Of the 111 people who made written responses to the plan, 50 preferred the 'Brown route', 20 opposed that route and 41 opposed any bypass at all.

Out of 72 email responses received, many opposed either specific routes or questioned the need for a bypass altogether, including a 91 signature petition opposing the scheme outright.

Rachel Boothman, whose Grade Two listed bed and breakfast business at Blakey Hall Farm, in Red Lane, Colne, would be demolished for the county’s preferred ‘Brown route’ said: “This is good news. There is huge opposition to this bypass round here, the written and email responses are just the tip of the iceberg.

“It is a hurrah moment for us but there is still a lot of work to do before we can say this bypass will not go ahead.”

County highways boss John Fillis, who will meet with Coun Ali on Monday to discuss the new study into cutting congestion without a bypass, said: "We're committed to listening to the views of local people.

"Among businesses and our partners there was almost total support for our preferred 'Brown route' . Among the public, responses were more mixed, with a far wider range of opinions as to the merit of any bypass.

"The consultation told us that people want us to carry out more detailed appraisals of the options."

Another major change in the revised masterplan is an agreement to look at reviving the heritage line between Rawtenstall, Ramsbottom and Bury as a commercial rail link between Rossendale and Manchester.

The previous version only proposed looking at improvements to the road in the A56/M66 Rawtenstall to Manchester gateway.

The masterplan also proposes £2.8million towards an estimated £3.2million total cost of vital maintenance to the Centenary Way viaduct which carries the A682 road through the centre of Burnley, improvements to Burnley Manchester Road Rail Station.

Hazel Straw, transport manager, said: "We had a very good response to the consultation on the Highways and Transport Masterplan for East Lancashire and a number of important changes have been made to the version which is to be discussed by Lancashire County Council's cabinet next week.”

The revised masterplan was approved by Blackburn with Darwen council on Thursday night and goes before the county council’s cabinet next Thursday.