A six-lane motorway over the Peaks?
The case for ending our reliance on Snake Pass
Good afternoon members — and welcome to Thursday’s Tribune.
I’m no stranger to Snake Pass. As a Lancastrian I use it about four or five times a year to visit family or when I go home for Christmas. Using the road just a handful of times every year isn’t too bad. In fact it can be quite good fun. But if you have to use it more regularly for work, a single-lane road that is closed for 70 days a year must be frustrating, to put it gently.
Yes, various experts say poor transport links with the largest city in the north is costing Sheffield money. But it’s also a safety hazard — earlier this year Snake Pass was even named on a list of the top ten most dangerous roads in the world. So what can and should be done about it?
Question Coppard: On Monday, The Tribune’s data and policy writer Daniel Timms and I will be interviewing South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard about his first year in office. If you have any burning questions that you’d like us to ask him, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or hit reply to this newsletter.
Editor’s note: I attended our sister title The Mill’s third birthday on Tuesday. It was a chance online connection with its editor Joshi Herrmann in 2020 that ultimately (and happily) led to the creation of The Tribune. Across our three sites in Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool, we now have almost 5,000 paying members. As Victor Hugo once said, nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come. We want to produce high-quality, thoughtful, longform journalism at a local level. To support the renaissance of high-quality journalism in the North and guarantee that we are never forced to write a piece of clickbait about a London-based celebrity to get the maximum numbers of eyeballs on a page, join today.
🏬 Sheffield City Council has failed in its bid to buy a shop on Fargate. The authority hoped to buy the building currently leased to Lush in order to increase the council’s ownership in the area and boost regeneration (they are currently developing the building next door into Event Central, a live music venue, cafe, co-working offices, workshop and exhibition space). However, having set a limit of £500,000 to buy the property, they were outbid by just £1,000.
🚛 Employees have been speaking of their shock after the 109-year-old Sheffield delivery firm Tuffnells went into administration. 2,000 jobs have been lost and many customers have been left without deliveries, including one Kent-based firm which sent its most valuable order ever to a customer in Leeds. The order is now stuck in a warehouse. The BBC also spoke to one warehouse worker who was made redundant on only his third day of work.
🔥 The Guardian’s Country Diary column visits Burbage Moor to write about the huge fire that ripped through the beauty spot two weeks ago. Despite the devastation on view the morning after the fire, it’s a beautiful piece of writing which evokes just how important the moors above Sheffield are to so many people here. “Alas, the dry weeks of May have left the peaty soil parched,” writes author Ed Douglas. “A disposable barbecue has done the rest.”
Things to do
📽️ At the Sheffield Hallam Pop-up Shop on Howard Street, Sheffield DocFest are holding a exhibition to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the first festival. Based on research by SHU academics, the show opens up the DocFest archive to take visitors on a historical journey of the festival and the city’s evolution over the last 30 years, considering where it all started and where it goes next. The free exhibition is open throughout the festival from 11am-5pm.
🎉 Join Migration Matters on Friday, 16 June as they kick off 2023’s festival with a vibrant opening party at Sidney and Matilda in Sheffield city centre with delicious food from Open Kitchen Social Club and music that will make your soul dance. The line-up includes the Sheffield One World Choir, hot-tropical-jazz from Colectiva, Zimbabwean percussionist Milicent Chapanda and DJs. The doors open at 7pm and tickets are priced from £12-15.
🐮 The summer edition of the Nether Edge Farmers’ Market takes place this Sunday, 18 June (12pm-4pm). Expect a bustling atmosphere with 80+ stallholders selling a vast array of local produce. As well as stalls, the market hosts live entertainment too, which can include anything from traditional morris dancers to modern street dancers, choirs and bands. Also returning this Sunday to Grey to Green in Castlegate is the Pollen Inner-City Flower Market.
A six lane motorway over the Peak District?
By Dan Hayes
“I’m always looking for a one liner,” data guru and infrastructure fan Tom Forth tells me.
A few examples. Leeds is the largest city in Europe without a mass transit system. Manchester is the largest city in Europe without an underground system. As he made his way through the great cities of the North, Forth eventually came to Sheffield. In terms of its rail connections, it’s definitely the largest city in Europe which doesn’t currently have electrified trains. However, when he was looking for a pithy way to describe just how bad our infrastructure is, he decided that what was more important — especially for Sheffield, especially with the airport closing — is that Sheffield and Manchester are the two biggest adjacent cities in Europe that aren’t connected by a motorway.
Taking to Twitter, he fired off a (very long) thread on the subject. Juxtaposing a picture of Snake Pass with the I-35 in Texas, he wrote: “The road connecting Sheffield and Manchester compared to the road connecting similarly* sized and distant Austin and San Antonio.” According to Google Maps, the 38-mile drive from Manchester to Sheffield takes 1h 53m. At an average of 20mph. From Austin to San Antonio? The 80-mile drive takes 1h19m. At an average of 62mph.
The flat and wide open spaces of central Texas are obviously not the same as Derbyshire hill country. But closer to home, Amsterdam and Rotterdam were an even better comparison in terms of size and distance, and also have a large natural obstacle between them (the Peak District vs the mostly below sea level Dutch province of South Holland). Journey times between the two? Just 1hr 15m at an average speed of 55mph.
Forth’s provocative thread provoked predictable howls of dismay, even anger. Some focused on practical considerations. “It's hilly and the weather is often bad,” they said. “You’re being unreasonable”. Others went further. “You want to build a motorway over the Peak District, the UK’s first National Park?” was the general tone. “Monster.”
Swatting away the brickbats, he made it clear that he wasn’t saying we should build a six lane freeway over Mam Tor or Kinder Scout, just that poor road connections between Sheffield and Manchester were massively holding Sheffield back. “If you're in Sheffield, if you want to fly to the world, if you want to do business globally, you have to fly from Manchester,” he tells me. “So you either have to get that dreadful train or you have to drive.” And if you want to go direct between Sheffield and Manchester, you have to use Snake Pass.
Opened on August 23, 1821, Snake Pass celebrated its 200th birthday two years ago. The Story of the Snake Road and the Sheffield to Glossop Turnpike Trail by local historian Howard Smith details the history of its creation. At the time it was built, one third of the jobs in Sheffield depended on US trade, meaning a road that could get goods to Liverpool quicker was essential. But it didn't take long before people realised it wasn’t really a road meant for winter travel.
“It’s a famous road. It’s an exciting road but in bad weather it’s a dreadful road,” Smith told the Sheffield Telegraph in 2021 (he sadly died earlier this year). “It’s always the first road in the country to be closed at the first sign of snow. When the road was first opened there was terrific excitement and great optimism. Once people travelled in winter it changed.”
As well as being closed a lot, it also has a reputation for being dangerous. Figures from the Department of Transport show that 137 accidents took place on the road between 2014 and 2018. Earlier this year it was even named on a list of the top ten most dangerous roads in the world alongside the notorious North Yungas Road in Bolivia, a 50-mile-long single lane road known as the “Route of Death” due to its 200 hairpin bends and vertical drops of up to 3,000 ft into the Amazon jungle below.