The “experimental” closure of Highwood Road to general traffic will be made permanent following a fractious meeting of South Gloucestershie councilors at Patchway Community College last night (16th October).
Around 500 members of the public packed into the main hall at the school with a further 200 listening via an audio link in a smaller, adjacent hall.
A report produced by council officers ahead of the meeting stated that re-opening the road to general traffic would put at risk millions of pounds of government funding for the North Fringe to Hengrove bus rapid transit scheme (now being marketed under the MetroBus banner) that will link Cribbs Causeway with Bristol city centre and South Bristol. Officers also stated that allowing the MetroBus to share the road with general trafic would lead to a fall in passenger numbers and a consequent increase in traffic congestion.
Around twenty members of the public made use of their right to address the meeting, each for up to five minutes. First up was Patchway town councillor Dave Tiley, speaking on behalf of Mayor Chris Mills, who was unable to attend. He described South Gloucestershire Council’s (SGC’s) 18-month experimental closure of the road as a “sham” used to “cycnically placate” concerned residents.
Other speakers repeated counter arguments that have been widely aired by hundreds of Patchway residents over the last couple of years, which can be broadly categorised as: increased traffic on Coniston Road; rat runs on smaller roads throughout Patchway and extra journey lengths for people living in the ‘birds and trees’ roads.
Two members of the public spoke in favour of the closure: Dave Redgewell of the South West Transport Alliance and a cyclist from Stoke Gifford, the latter claiming that other people in favour of keeping the road opened hadn’t attended the meeting “for fear of being lynched”.
After two hours of public contributions, it was over to councillors to start their debate. Patchway district and town councillor Sam Scott proposed that the traffic regulation orders be “extinguished”, allowing the road to be re-opened to general traffic. An hour of debate followed in which opinions were split clearly along party lines: support from Labour (plus the sole UKIP councillor) and opposition from the Conservatives and Lib Dems.
A ‘named vote’ was then called, in which councillors were individually asked by the monitoring officer whether they were for or against the motion. As it became clear that a majority of the councillors would be against re-opening, members of the public started heckling the councillors, with some leaving their seats to shout and gesticulate in front of the area where councillors were seated. A number of private security guards, from a team of nine which had been hired by the council, then swung into action in an attempt to protect councillors from abuse and calm the situation.
With the vote lost and having been at the meeting for over three hours, around round three-quarters of the public chose to leave the meeting at this point, with many voicing their opinions as they walked out.
Photo: A security guard (standing) keeps watch in the centre of the hall, as councillors continue their debate.
An alternative proposal was then put forward by Cllr Brian Allinson (Conservative, Stoke Gifford), for the road to remain closed and a traffic review to be carried out across the rest of Patchway. Both Cllr Allinson and Cllr Pat Hockey (Lib Dem), who seconded the motion, stressed the importance of the MetroBus project to the “whole of the West of England area”. Cllr James Hunt (Conservative, Emersons Green) also spoke in support, saying how critical the MetroBus scheme was to his local area (which it will also serve) and claiming that Patchway’s Labour councillors had “supported Highwood Road’s closure for over ten years” before a recent change of heart – an accusation strongly denied by Cllr Eve Orpen (Labour, Patchway).
Cllr Allinson’s proposal was duly approved in another ‘named vote’ that once again split along party lines.
How events were reported on the Patchway Journal’s Twitter feed:
7:05pm Packed hall at Patchway #HighwoodRoad council meeting. 200 more in overflow hall
7:18pm At least 700 people at #HighwoodRoad council meeting in Patchway tonight. Waiting for main debate to start…
7:24pm #HighwoodRoad debate now underway. Residents were “cynically placated” by SGC’s experimental closure says Cllr Dave Tiley
7:30pm Decision to keep #HighwoodRoad closed would be “a nail in the coffin of localism” says Dave Tiley. New 2900 signature petition presented
7:33pm Dave Redgewell says #HighwoodRoad bus route is important to whole of Bristol. Not just a “parish” issue
7:39pm Why build a relief road and then close the road it relieves? asks Patchway Town Cllr John Moore #HighwoodRoad
7:41pm “SGC report on #HighwoodRoad is biased. Transparency never looked so murky,” says resident of Patchway
7:53pm Trial closure of #HighwoodRoad has been “an unmitigated disaster,” says Lew Gray. “Why not try a trial period with it open?” he asks
8:08pm A resident who has conducted his own traffic surveys on Coniston Road says council’s own figures are too low and not credible #HighwoodRoad
8:17pm 12 more members of the public still waiting to speak on #HighwoodRoad. Each can have up to 5 minutes. Councillors’ debate will then follow
8:28pm HMC garage in Patchway has had to make 3 staff redundant because of #HighwoodRoad closure, says owner’s daughter. More may have to follow
8:45pm Council argues that #HighwoodRoad closure will benefit bus services but residents say their own no. 75 is suffering delays on Coniston Road
8:57pm Charlton Hayes resident to councillors: “Use your heads and re-open #HighwoodRoad”
9:00pm Cyclist from Stoke Gifford speaks in favour of #HighwoodRoad closure. “More attractive for travel by bike and on foot.” Booed from hall
9:12pm #HighwoodRoad meeting: Public contributions now complete – after 2 hours. Councillors now about to begin debating
9:23pm #HighwoodRoad issue looks like going straight to a vote after Cllr Sam Scott proposes re-opening. Seconded by Cllr Eve Orpen (both Labour)
9:25pm But before a vote, three other councillors want to have their say, starting with Cllr Brian Allinson (Conservative)…
9:33pm Cllr Allinson: 10,000s of residents in other areas of South Glos will be upset if Metrobus project endangered by re-opening #HighwoodRoad
9:38pm Cllr Andy Perkins (Labour) says #HighwoodRoad report presented to council is “misleading
9:45pm Cllr Ian Scott (Labour): In future, bus operators might want Metrobus to use Hayes Way instead of #HighwoodRoad
9:54pm Cllr Pat Hockey (Lib Dem) talks of vision created over 10 years ago. People of Patchway have had chance to comment but not used it
10:13pm Named vote on #HighwoodRoad. Result soon…
10:20pm #HighwoodRoad vote result (on motion to re-open) LOST. Cllr Allinson to make alternative proposal…
10:21pm Security guards have taken strategic positions within the hall. Heckling from public #HighwoodRoad
10:23pm #HighwoodRoad to stay closed. Alternative proposal is to study road safety issues within Patchway
10:30pm Most of public have left. Debate continues. Security guards keeping close watch all around the hall. Extraordinary scene.
11:17pm Alternative proposal from Conservatives succeeds. #HighwoodRoad closure will be permanent. Promise of traffic review for rest of Patchway
The agreed decision:
- To confirm the Experimental Traffic Regulation Orders as Permanent Orders and which in their own right support the MetroBus North Fringe to Hengrove rapid transit scheme;
- To authorise the Head of Legal and Democratic Services to seal the Permanent Orders and post Notices of the decision;
- That officers are instructed to work with Patchway Town Council to undertake further investigations to assess the remaining issues and to report the outcome of the investigations to a future Planning, Transportation & Strategic Environment Committee for consideration.
- Nothing but a sham (Bristol Post)
- It’s simple – keep our road open! (Bristol Post)
- Residents fuming as councillors close Highwood Road for good (Bristol Post)
- Most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make (Bristol Post)
- Council vote means Highwood Road will stay closed to cars (BBC Bristol)
- Green light given to Patchway bus-only route (SGC)
- Video of public unrest at the meeting (PJ Facebook)