Bath operates within a political void

This is a personal opinion piece and does not reflect the views of CycleBath.

It follows on from what I wrote (rather hastily) for the Bath Newseum “Making Roads Work“. Apologies to Richard as I keep re-reading it and coming up with edits I’d like to make to it. It’s very rough. 😦

I’m part of the Save Bathhampton Meadows Facebook group. There was a post on there about the statement Cllr Alison Millar made to the Scrutiny Panel on the 25th of July. It’s powerful stuff and I post it here.

Statement by Cllr Alison Millar to the Scrutiny Committee 25th July 2016

I was very dejected indeed when I read Response 5.5 from Cabinet on page 48 of your papers. No response at all the scrutiny statement that ‘the population has concerns around the meadows proposal’ and, even worse, that they will be “considering how to meet the need for a P&R to the east of the city and this will be discussed at a future meeting”.

There has to this day, never been a clear needs analysis/compelling case put forward to justify a P&R to the East and it is this Panel’s job to have got to the bottom of that. The whole thrust of the Getting About Bath Strategy was that evidence should be provided of the need for a park and ride to the east. Anecdotal evidence or urban myth that it is needed just will NOT suffice. The whole case has been based on wildly differing forecasts from a succession of external consultants presented to Councillors in a piecemeal way, rather than in a single compelling document.

At the time of the consultation last year, it was stated that the car park was required to improve congestion and pollution.

Then there was the CH2MHill report which showed that an Eastern park and ride would lead to a negligible improvement in pollution at times and a worsening of it at other times.

That complicated report appears to have been quietly shelved in favour of Mott McDonald (for a second time), presumably because it did not provide evidence of need. Their report showed an entirely different pattern to peoples’ behaviour than that which we know to be the case. For example, it showed people staying late into the evening in car parks in a way which we know is not the case because the evidence collected from the barriers in the car parks does not support this. At one point we were very loosely told that the justification for this car park was all the new housing that Bath will have to provide , but not knowing as yet where that will be sited!!!

And let’s not forget, not a single person has ever been asked about whether they would use an Eastern P&R. The surveys carried out in 2009 and 2014 were conducted right across the city and didn’t include any specific P&R questions (just start point, destination and whether they paid for parking). BANES still do not, to this day, really know why people are in their cars and therefore cannot be sure of what problem they are solving.

We do know for sure that the school run constitutes a third of Batheaston traffic. Who can challenge the fact that getting around the city at rush hour is a breeze currently compared to term time? And what about the lorries, each of which produces the emissions of 5 cars. Ditto for them.

We do in fact know however that park and rides aren’t well used in Bath (on average 41% full daily) and that planned overspill is what is needed.

Equally if the devolution deal is accepted later this year, then there is a fresh new chance to look at buses, which were beyond the reach of the 2014 transport strategy. Until the impact of potential public bus solutions are understood then there should be no costly and irreversible decision taken on a large-scale P&R.

So there we have it. The Cabinet still desperately juggling sites on which to place a car park which will cost the public purse £10 million when we have no solid slate of evidence that a park and ride would address the issues. But even more meaningful for me is the fact that I, as ward member am accosted on this issue daily, not only where I live but as I travel around the City. I have yet to find ONE SINGLE PERSON who believes that putting a park and ride on the meadows is the right thing to do. Cabinet members – yes. Officers – yes. People living in Bath and beyond – not one. This is borne out by the fact that almost 12 and a half thousand people have signed the petition opposing the concreting of this green space to date. And that is because it flies in the face of common sense. So I would ask this panel to demand a body of evidence, carefully and accurately written regarding the case for a park and ride to the east – and the sooner the better.

I responded to the post on Facebook, but I think it’s worth restating it here.

Bath operates within a political void. We have a cabinet where only ONE member lives in Bath. We have a transport member who lives in Colerne. We have a tory majority council who get their political “power” from wards external to the city. The council will not make transport decisions that would benefit the city if they would impact external wards.

A P&R looks good to people living outside of the city who own a car despite the fact it will destroy rural bus services.

Then we have Senior Officers and their localism.

Best places for P&R sites? Small ones in Wiltshire, one on the outskirts of Corsham, one at the A36 Travel Lodge, Beckington, and a final one in BaNES at the A46/Bradford Road Bath Demolition Site. ALL of these using local existing bus services.

Then you need to divert M4 traffic to Lansdown P&R by moving signs and directing them down gorse lane/freezing hill by fixing the Tog Hill junction dog leg by building two mini connected roundabouts. A fix needed in South Gloucester.

If we really really want to get more people using public transport, we need to find money. There are two “simple” things that are affective.

1) Parking Control:- ALL of Bath to go under parking control. Permits to residents at 90% discount (for 0-2 discounted per household dependent on road capacity/off road parking). Sell permits to commuters. Introduce the Workplace parking levy, as used by Nottingham to deliver their tram system. Using the Nottingham model, permits would cost £334 this year or £33.40 per resident parking permit. Issue a parking control app residents could use to report illegal parking to traffic wardens on e-bikes.
2) Congestion charge:- 90% resident/disabled discount/parking permit, but a congestion charge for driving into the city.

Money would be ring-fenced for transport enabling the steep discounting of bus/train services and investment in train stations (i.e. Saltford and Corsham).

This however will never happen while we have a city with a political void at the heart of it. The only way I can see this being fixed is for the various community forums (e.g. the Bath City Forum) to be given real decision making powers and for the forum to consist of councillors from the city wards. Something the tory led council would be loathe to do. Yet we cannot have a city ruled by people who’s best interests lie outside of the city.

We have a cabinet member for Transport that cancelled an absolutely vital pedestrian/cycling crossing connecting Combe Down to the University on Oakley, Bathwick Hill that was 14 YEARS in the making. 13(if I recall correctly) objections, each countered by an officer stating that the crossing is needed due to the large number of pedestrians and cyclists. He has asked that council officers consider cycling and walking as part of all schemes BUT he has to listen to them.

In my opinion he killed the scheme to gain 13 votes.

I can see a similar approach to London Road Gateway Scheme despite 639 people asking him to keep cycling safe on London Road. The point is, politically, Bath is just a playground for the tory led council. The decisions they make have to pander to their voter base outside of the city. The city itself can slowly suffocate in it’s own pollution.

Parking control and congestion charging have been shown world wide in city after city to reduce congestion and get more people using sustainable transport modes. It even lets you fund tram systems.

Bath will only solve it’s transport problems if we enable decisions to be made by the city for the city. The city needs to be able to make hard effective decisions that empirically have been shown to reduce congestion and get more people using sustainable transport option. Decisions that will negatively impact car owning voting residents outside of the city. Decisions that will enhance and protect the Outstanding Universal Value of the city. Something vital to protecting it’s status as a world heritage site.

For the sake of sustainable transport, roll on the next election. I might even consider standing 😉

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