Planning officials at South Gloucestershire Council (SGC) have recommended that a 4,137 signature petition to keep Highwood Road open to general traffic be ignored for at least five years.
In a 12-page report prepared for next week’s meeting of SGC’s Planning,Transport & Strategic Environment (PTSE) Committee, officers repeat their reasoning for closing the road and present three options for responding to the petition:
- Continue with the scheme as originally proposed, on a permanent basis.
- Implement the scheme as originally proposed for a five-year trial period.
- Open the proposed bus-only lane to general traffic, as demanded by the petitioners.
Summing up their analysis, officers say their preferred choice would be to continue with the scheme “in accordance with the approved planning permissions” (option 1) but they observe that this “would not respond positively to the concerns raised by the local community through the petition” and so recommend option 2, which will involve a revised Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) to be advertised at a cost of £10k.
According to the report, implementing option 3 would cost the Council up to £1.25 million, broadly itemised as: the cost of implementing an alternative bus priority scheme for the North Fringe to Hengrove Package (NFHP) bus rapid transit scheme (£775k), cost implications relating to the Charlton Hayes and Highwood Road Linear Park planning permissions and S106 agreements (£232k) and the cost of reinstating Highwood Road to two-way general traffic (238k).
In arriving at the latter figure, the report points out that Birse, the contractor working on behalf of Bovis Homes, has already completed 90% of the physical works required to implement the currently agreed Highwood Road scheme.
Under new constitutional arrangements now in force at SGC, decisions on transport matters are now made by the 13-member PTSE Committee rather than a single Executive Councillor, as would have previously been the case.
Patchway District Councillor Sam Scott had previously said he would call for the PTSE Committee to defer its decision until after the petition has been discussed at SGC’s Full Council on 18th July, but principal petitioner Cllr Chris Mills, recently nominated Chair of Patchway Town Council, told a meeting of the Town Council on Tuesday that he has “agreed to have it discussed at the Committee meeting”, adding: “if we don’t get the answer we want, we can still take it to Full Council”.
With reference to the report published ahead of next week’s Committee meeting, Cllr Mills told The Journal:
“Having looked at the options the officer has put forward, any option that closes Highwood Road would appear to be a slap in the face to the residents of Patchway who have presented a petition of over 4100 signatures to keep Highwood Road open.”
“For an officer to present a option that states the NFHP will not be open until 2017, and a way forward is to have a experimental temporary TRO to close Highwood Road for five years and review it in 2017, the very year the NFHP is running, seems a complete and utter nonsense. The recommendation should be to keep Highwood open and review it in five years when the NFHP scheme is running, only then will you see if the two are compatible. Not to close Highwood Road, build the NFHP scheme, and then see if it’s the right thing to do.”
Explaining his decision to allow the PTSE Committee to consider the petition prior to the Full Council meeting, Cllr Mills explained:
”As a consequence of the size of the Highwood Road petition (4,137), we were given the option of deciding whether it was Full Council ot the PTSE Committee that would host the debate, and make the decision.”
“Under the new constitution, there is a provision that allows a decision that has just been made at a Committee to be made at Full Council. This is done through either a Lead Member, or a number of Councillors. As such, we feel that it would be benificial to give the Committee the chance to support the ward of Patchway.”
“If the Committee decides it is unable to support the ward of Patchway, we would ask that Members support the decision being made again in the next Full Council meeting.'”
Next week’s PTSE Committee meeting will also discuss the two formal objections raised against the traffic order required to implement the bus-only lane on Highwood Road. In a separate report, officers dismiss the objections on a number of grounds – including a claim that “the planning applications were subject to extensive public consultation over a number of years”.
Related link: Highwood Road Linear Park (The Journal)
The Editor comments
The concept of converting this stretch of Highwood Road to a bus-only corridor goes back as far as 2002 but it took until November 2010 before a formal planning application was made to convert the road into a ‘linear park’.
SGC’s planning officers say that, over the years, “extensive public consultation” has been carried out “including a number of public exhibitions which were attended by the community and supported by Patchway Town Council”.
Noting that only two objections were received to the November 2010 planning application (one being from Mr Chris Mills), how is it that we now find ourselves in a situation where more than 4,000 people oppose a major component of the scheme?
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Bovis Homes and SGC failed to to effectively communicate the full details and implications of this project to the residents of Patchway and give them accessible and appropriate ways of providing feedback on it.
Even since planning permission was granted in February 2011, SGC has continued to show contempt for the people of Patchway, e.g. by beginning construction work before a second round of consultation on the traffic management measures had even started. And then when the consultation was complete, it took a Freedom of Information request to get the Council to reveal the results (which included 45 objections) – more than five months after the consultation had closed.
To add insult to injury, the Council has consistently failed to properly publicise road closures and diversions associated with the Highwood Road construction works, giving residents (and the Council’s own employees working at the Severnvale Hub) no advance warning of alterations.
Finally, presented with an overwhelming number of signatures calling for changes to the scheme, the Council tasks the very people who conceived the bus-only ‘linear-park’ concept, i.e. its own planning and transport departments, with authoring a response!
Photo: Protesters campaigning in March to keep Highwood Road open.