A CAMPAIGN group has made an official complaint to a spending watchdog after alleging the council has 'wasted' hundreds of thousands of pounds on consultancy fees to pave the way for a rail freight terminal in Widnes.
The Friends of Halebank group (FoH), which has fought freight park proposals earmarked for open land behind the village, has told the district auditor that more than £500,000 has already been spent to pave the way for a project the group claims is doomed to fail.
The residents took action after learning the council is to commit a further £150,000 for a 'master plan'.
FoH believes millions more will have to be spent on compulsory purchase orders before it even gets off the ground.
But Halton council has defended its expenditure as 'essential investment', claiming such a major project requires detailed feasibility and technical studies.
Bernie Allen, an FoH spokesman, said the project was a 'pipe dream'.
He said: 'The project is not commercially viable. It faces massive environmental and logistical challenges, and it is highly significant that no other public agency has thus far committed funds to this never-ending cycle of studies.
'The burden has fallen entirely on Halton's Council Tax payers.'
A council spokeswoman said: 'The costs incurred by the council on consultants cover the costs of preparing and presenting the council's case for the rail freight park to a public inquiry into the borough's local plan, and also subsequent refinement of the proposals into a master plan. The rail freight park is a technically complex proposal that requires much advice from specialist firms.
'An informal consultation on the master plan took place over the New Year, and the comments received are being closely studied. That consultation and others to come on the formal planning guidance for this proposal, will enable local people to express their views and ideas further.
'Proposals of this size and regional importance must be supported by detailed feasibility and other technical studies and assessments before they can commence.
'This is an essential investment, and certainly not a waste of money.
'The rail freight park could make a major overall saving in the release of harmful emissions into the atmosphere, create as many as 5,000 new jobs over a 10 year period and encourage much needed improvement to the existing industrial areas in Ditton and their surroundings, to the overall benefit of borough, including the residents of Halebank.'