Good Friday is not normally the time to release statements, but given that our Member of Parliament has issued one today, and figuratively speaking, my ears are burning… I feel I need to make the following statement:
Let’s put things into perspective. Had the Conservatives not lost control of North Somerset Council (NSC) in May 2019, they would have waved through the expansion of Bristol Airport last year (all Conservative councillors on the Planning Committee voted in favour of expansion). The country lanes around Yatton are (or were, prior to the pandemic) constantly used by airport taxis as a ‘rat run’ (yes, a rat run). As I said at that meeting in February 2020, one consequence of expansion to 12 mppa* would be an estimated additional 5,000+ two-way car journeys onto our local road network on an average summer’s day. The impact of that would be off the scale.
Then there is the not insignificant matter of the impossibly high housing target imposed on North Somerset by Whitehall. To Dr Fox’s credit, he has recently spoken out in parliament in support of NSC. But it is government policies and dodgy algorithms that create the conditions for huge increases in road traffic. I would respectfully suggest to Dr Fox – and to his constituency assistant, Annabel Tall – that they quit the blatant political opportunism and first get their own house in order.
Fact: North Somerset Council was recently awarded £474,000 from the Department for Transport to introduce upgraded routes for cycling and walking – in line with national policy. NSC was actually one of a handful of councils awarded more money than we asked for due to the strength of our ambition.
Similarly, I am also part of an administration finally showing some intent to deliver the long-awaited extension of The Strawberry Line from Yatton to Clevedon. (The challenge here is less about funding, and more to do with dozens of different landowners.)
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As to what if any scheme the Council ends up bringing forward for public consultation around rural lanes, I do not yet know myself what this will finally look like.
I have participated in three meetings with neighbouring ward and parish councillors and Cllr James Tonkin (Executive Member for Planning & Highways). Council officers are still busy looking into a toolkit of measures that might address some of the challenges we witnessed last summer with a huge increase in cyclists on these routes mixing with vehicles travelling at the high permitted speeds on these rural lanes. I also want to protect and enhance the important Kenn Moors SSSI which is scarred by littering. (I simply disagree with those who suggest we do nothing at all).
Council officers [have] briefed councillors on some possible measures we might want to consider. There was enough data and interest for us to collectively give officers the nod to work up some ideas we might then ask residents to comment on.
The publication of a rather procedural and technical Traffic Regulation Order earlier this week – without context or any detail at all on what a possible scheme might look like – set hares running. In that sense, I perfectly understand some of the confusion and negative reaction (I have also privately received many positive messages). However, the TRO is not the scheme.
I will listen. Are we there yet? No.
In the meantime, I wish everyone a Happy Easter!
* 12 mppa = 12 million passengers per annum