The petition to keep Patchway’s Highwood Road open to general traffic suffered a setback at last month’s meeting of South Gloucestershire Council’s (SGC’s) Planning, Transportation and Strategic Environment (PTSE) Committee, which decided to endorse an officer recommendation to close the road, albeit for a trial period of 18 months.
However, there remains hope amongst the petition’s proponents that it may still succeed, after Labour Councillors invoked a constitutional mechanism to suspend the decision and refer it for consideration at the next meeting of SGC’s Full Council on Wednesday 18th July.
In a report prepared prior to the PTSE Committee meeting, SGC’s officers had recommended that the road closure go ahead as originally planned but be subject to a review after five years. In a further concession to the petitioners, the recommended trial period was reduced to 18 months prior to the Committee debate.
In a surprise move, Patchway Town and SGC Councillor Brian Hopkinson (Conservative), who is not a member of the Committee, exercised his right to speak at the meeting. He claimed that the wording of the petition had been misleading and said that rat running had been a problem in Patchway for many years and would continue to occur, even if Highwood Road remained open as a single carriageway.
When it came to a vote, Councillors on the 13-strong Committee split along party lines, with six Conservatives and four Liberal Democrats voting “for” closure of the road (for a trial period of 18 months) and the three Labour Councillors (two from Patchway and one from Filton) voting “against”.
Immediately after the vote, Cllr Roger Hutchinson (Labour, Filton) exercised his constitutional right as Labour Lead on the Committee to “suspend” the decision and refer it to Full Council.
Speaking to The Journal after the meeting, Cllr Hopkinson admitted he had been against the proposed closure of Highwood Road when it was discussed at a public meeting in 2008 but said he could only support the road remaining open as a dual carriageway, which is not an option currently on the table. He claimed that the petition was being driven forward by “new” Labour Town Councillors and that some of their more long-standing party colleagues had previously supported the closure.
In a press release put out by SGC after the meeting, Committee Chair Cllr Pat Hockey said:
“These plans were agreed in 2002 after several workshops and exhibitions. At that time local people appeared to welcome the opportunity to put an end to traffic heading for The Mall cutting through Patchway.”
“The general view was that the new development should be part of Patchway and not grow as a separate community. Shared facilities such as the library should bring the new and longer standing residents together. Instead of a busy intrusive road a pleasant open area is planned for people to enjoy. The closure of Highwood Road to general traffic is a key part of achieving this.”
“The Council appreciates that local people now feel that these proposals will cause problems for them that far outweigh the benefits. For this reason the final decision has been referred for the Full Council to make in July.”
Patchway Labour Party gave the following statement to The Journal:
“We would like to thank the 4,000+ residents of Patchway who have caused a re-think of the bizarre and ill-thought out proposal to close Highwood Road.”
“At the PTSE Committee this Wednesday councillors were presented with the choice of closing the road, or a trial closure for 18 months (this was a last minute recommendation), or to listen to the residents of Patchway and keep the road open.”
“Whilst the committee voted for the second option, we are grateful that Labour Councillors representing Filton and Patchway have moved that the Full Council should make the decision as to whether Highwood Road becomes a bus lane or not.”
“This gives another four weeks for all Councillors to hear the case that we support, that the road should remain open to integrate the new and existing communities of Patchway and promote local economic growth in small and medium size Patchway businesses.”
“It is important to state that no matter what the outcome, the re-think of the decision and the proposed recommended change from closure to trial closure is a significant step and proof that your local South Gloucestershire Labour Councillors are standing up for local residents unlike the previous SGC Liberal-Democrat incumbents who let this pass.”
“We are however disappointed that not all Patchway Councillors could support the 1,000’s of residents who signed the petition.”
The decisive meeting of SGC’s Full Council meeting takes place on Wednesday 18th July at Kingswood Civic Centre, starting at 7:30pm.
Related link: Highwood Road Linear Park (The Journal)
Photo: Protesters campaigning in March to keep Highwood Road open.