Hatchet Road bus lane plan scrapped amid concerns of overspend on ‘MetroBus 2’

Cribbs Patchway MetroBus Extension route map.

A controversial plan to construct a new southbound bus lane on Hatchet Road in Stoke Gifford, as part of a scheme to extend the currently under-construction North Fringe to Hengrove Package (NFHP) MetroBus network, has been scrapped after South Gloucestershire Council’s Conservative-led administration announced a “change of policy”.

The move appears to have been driven by a fear that the Cribbs Patchway MetroBus Extension (CPME) project may already be heading for a significant overspend before a spade has even touched the ground.

The CPME will provide a MetroBus route between The Mall at Cribbs Causeway and Bristol Parkway Station. It will also serve the new developments planned for the former Filton Airfield site.

The Hatchet Road bus lane had formed part of the scheme since its inception, yet was overwhelmingly opposed during a public consultation exercise in winter 2015/16. In their responses, many local residents criticised the plan to uproot mature hedgerows and trees from both sides of Hatchet Road and there were calls for an alternative route to be used along Winterbourne Road and Great Stoke Way, accessing Parkway Station from the east.

When the proposals first came to an SGC committee for approval in May 2016, a report prepared by officers showed that the Hatchet Road bus lane would cost £2m to implement and yet save only 29 seconds on MetroBus journey times (and this at just one time of day). One alternative option involving the implementation of lay-bys at bus stops instead of a bus lane, came out cheaper and more effective, but officers insisted that the bus lane option was better because it offered “consistently reliable” MetroBus journey times.

A decision was deferred until a further meeting in July 2017, when Conservative councillors out-voted Liberal Democrat and Labour colleagues to force through the bus lane.

Local campaigners responded by forming an action group and starting a petition, which attracted over 3,300 signatures, allowing them to force a further council debate in July 2017, where it was decided to ask officers to produce a further report that would be presented to Cabinet.

By the time this came back to the latest meeting in December 2017, the average time saving claimed for the bus lane had risen to 93 seconds (based on “more accurate” traffic data) and all other options, including the lay-by alternative, had been dismissed on technical or cost grounds.

However, a press release put out by the Conservative group ahead of the meeting talked of a possible “change in policy” on the CPME scheme. Noting that the council is already having to find almost £10m to cover its share of the overspend on the main NFHP MetroBus scheme, it stressed that it was “imperative that the CPME project stays within budget”. A vague reference to the possibility of additional costs “upwards of six figures” being incurred should Network Rail have to delay construction of the new railway bridge on Gipsy Patch Lane, which forms a major part of the £35 million CPME scheme, was given as a potential justification for “making savings elsewhere”.

On being asked how voting to scrap the bus lane could be reconciled with the contents of the officer report, which made no concrete reference to a need for cost savings, a Conservative group spokesperson told the Journal there had been a “divergence of views between councillors and officers”.

At the Cabinet meeting, a council officer took less than a minute to read out a summary of the two options available to councillors: continue with the bus lane or scrap it. Three local residents and Cllr Brian Allinson were then allowed five minutes each to have their say. Then, without any of the speakers’ concerns being addressed by members, council leader Matthew Riddle reiterated the vague concerns about “financial risk” associated with “remodelling the Gipsy Patch Lane bridge”, before proposing a motion to scrap the Hatchet Road bus lane.

Following some largely irrelevant discussion about issues with the main MetroBus project, the motion soon moved to a vote, in which it was passed by four votes to two, with one abstention. Notably, one of the two voting against was SGC’s transport lead Cllr Colin Hunt, who had told a public meeting held in Stoke Gifford last November: “One way or another we’ve got to put a bus lane down there.”

SGC Cabinet meeting on 4th December 2017.

Photo: SGC Cabinet meeting on 4th December 2017.

Hatchet Road U-turn: Reaction from the campaign group

Photo of Paul Tanner.

Timeline: Early 2017 – Heard in Stoke Gifford, “It can’t be done!”; “You’re wasting your time”; “They don’t take any notice”. All comments some people were making about our plight to get the decision to impose a bus lane along part of Hatchet Road for the Cribbs – Bristol Parkway MetroBus service reversed.

Fast-forward to the news headline following the December 2017 South Glos. Cabinet meeting: “Hatchet Road bus lane SCRAPPED by a majority vote”.

What happened in the intervening nine months? Well, a lot of people from Stoke Gifford and the surrounding area made a big effort to achieve the seemingly impossible. We set up an Action Group and quickly had, from all age groups, 50 willing volunteers. Our Group mailing list was used to communicate with members and ask for help with various initiatives for our campaign.

A petition (electronic and paper versions) was launched, setting out why we objected to the bus lane proposal and why our preferred option of bus lay-bys was better. A leaflet was written and delivered to every house in Stoke Gifford and nearby neighbourhoods – 25 members delivered over 4,500 leaflets in a week. A fantastic start, and generated more support.

Signatories grew steadily with the community getting family, friends and work colleagues to sign up. Further support was obtained by collecting signatures at “Little Tesco’s” in Stoke Gifford and the Willow Brook Centre – over 400 supporters added at each event. It was gratifying to all those involved to see how willing people were to sign our petition and wish us well with our campaign.

Numbers continued to increase with enthusiastic members dropping off completed petitions daily. Over 200 signatures were collected at both Smart Fish Bar in Stoke Gifford and Concorde Medical Centre in Little Stoke.

Another positive feature of our campaign was the willingness of people to attend or speak at South Glos. Council meetings. At the May meeting, I presented the petition with over 2,700 signatures – over the 2,500 required to trigger the rule for our objections to be debated by Full Council.

An important issue for our campaign was that the council should be open, transparent and we could see how a decision had been made. Sadly, that was not the case in our dealings with council officers. For example, I had to make seven requests under the Freedom of Information Act; reports to council contained recommendations that did not follow on from the main text of the report (i.e. were not evidence-based) and no ‘options appraisal’ was carried out and reported.

Finally, I want to thank all the Action Group members who gave so much to secure the desired outcome. A special mention must go to Sue Bandcroft, my chief ‘partner in crime’, for her support and determination throughout and to our three district councillors, Ernie Brown, Brian Allinson and Keith Cranney, who stood alongside us and did so much behind the scenes.

A tremendous community effort, well done to all of you.

Paul Tanner
Hatchet Road Action Group

Campaigners opposed to the construction of a bus lane along Hatchet Road, Stoke Gifford.

Photo: Campaigners pictured near the Ratcliffe Drive Tesco Express store on a petition signature gathering day in March 2017.

Comment by Stephen Horton (Journal Editor)

The decision by SGC’s all-Conservative Cabinet to scrap the Hatchet Road bus lane is quite remarkable, given that councillors from the controlling party group (with the notable exception of the three ward councillors for Stoke Gifford) have consistently supported it and, indeed, insisted that it is essential to the success of the overall CPME scheme.

Local campaigners were right to feel aggrieved when councillors at the July 2016 committee meeting unquestioningly followed the officers’ recommendation to support the bus lane option, despite it being clearly unjustified by the data given in their report.

But now, cost pressures on other elements of the overall CPME scheme have come to the campaigners’ rescue, and given them the result they were looking for. Understandably, they probably feel no compelling need to question councillors’ reasoning for reversing the original decision (albeit one made by a different committee), but the same question about evidence-based decision making (see Paul Tanner’s commentary, above) does need to be asked.

Why weren’t the newly arising “financial risks” mentioned by Cllr Riddle quantified in the latest officer report?

Why was no consideration given to the possibility of achieving any necessary cost savings on other elements of the CPME scheme, instead of the Hatchet Road bus lane?

Furthermore, given the previous unanimous support from Conservative committee members for the Hatchet Road bus lane option and the strengthened technical case for it presented by officers in the latest report, why was no consideration given to the possibility of obtaining additional external funding (e.g. from local developers or the West of England Mayor’s transport budget)?

Whilst this U-turn will be viewed locally as a victory for ‘people power’, it does not inspire any confidence at all in the decision making process at SGC.

POSTSCRIPT: Cllr Riddle has kindly provided responses to the points raised in the above editorial and these will be included in a follow-up piece in the February issue of the Bradley Stoke Journal magazine, along with an overview of the latest schedule for the CPME project.

This article originally appeared in the January 2018 issue of the Bradley Stoke Journal news magazine (on pages 14, 15 & 16). The magazine is delivered FREE, EVERY MONTH, to 9,500 homes in Bradley Stoke, Little Stoke and Stoke Lodge. Phone 01454 300 400 to enquire about advertising or leaflet insertion.

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