Transport blueprint agreed despite attempt to shelve BRT
A regional transport blueprint was approved at a council meeting last night.
An attempt to remove controversial elements of the Bath Transportation Package from the Joint Local Transport Plan was made at a full meeting of Bath and North East Somerset Council.
But the document – which sets out proposals for the whole of the former Avon – ended up being approved amid passionate arguments on either side.
The issue was given extra spice by the council’s Tory cabinet’s plans to axe nearly £8 million of work on bus lanes and shelters, and to put an extra £9 million into the package in order to cut the Government’s contribution.
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But the Conservatives and independents combined to outvote the opposition groups to approve the JLTP, which is at the centre of bids to the Government for investment in the area’s transport infrastructure.
Council leader, Councillor Francine Haeberling (Con, Saltford), said: “Bath and North East Somerset, and the West of England as a whole, has missed out on vital transport investment for too long. This strategy aims to address this by detailing the infrastructure improvements our area’s transport system needs – from better trains and buses to new cycle routes and park and rides. This plan is crucial to securing our area’s share of £600 million of Government transport investment, which will in turn unlock billions of pounds of business investment in our economy
“If we do not take action then Bath’s congestion will continue to get worse, we will not be able to generate the new jobs our area needs, and Bath will end up mothballed. If we fail to secure this funding, then our loss will be Bristol’s or other areas’ gain.”
She said she was shocked that Liberal Democrats and Labour tried to remove the Bus Rapid Transit scheme from the Bath Transportation Package within the plan document.
“This strategy has received the backing of all the other councils in the West of England, so we are shocked that Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors have acted to try and throw it out, turning down this vital investment in our area. Lib Dem and Labour councillors are failing to look at the wider benefits of these plans for residents.
“This is petty political point-scoring at its worst, because it would mean that our area misses out on vital investment once again, leaving us with no way of tackling congestion or boosting our area’s economy.”
The regional plan also includes work on improving bus services along 10 routes including the A4 between Bath and Bristol and the A367 between Bath and Midsomer Norton.
Labour first proposed an amendment cutting out the whole Bath Transportation Package, which the group then withdrew in favour of a joint opposition one taking out the BRT and reviewing park and ride provision. This was rejected, although Conservative Councillor Ian Dewey abstained while the rest of his party voted against the amendment.
Liberal Democrats accused the Conservatives of secrecy, wasting money and refusing to listen to residents.
Group leader Councillor Paul Crossley (Lib Dem, Southdown) said: “The Conservative leadership tried to suppress details of the new version of the BTP, as they knew residents would be furious about their proposed cuts and the extra cash they’re offering the Government. They came up with the new plan in secret and refused every single offer to work together on a cross-party basis.”
Councillor Nicholas Coombes (Lib Dem, Bathwick) added: “The Conservatives have got the wrong priorities – they’re willing to dedicate millions of local taxpayers’ money to preserve the BRT bus road, whilst cutting important, useful and popular elements of the package. I called on the cabinet to renegotiate the deal with government, but they refused.”
Councillor Caroline Roberts, whose Newbridge ward includes part of the BRT, said: “At the bottom of all of this is the Conservatives’ point-blank refusal to listen to what Bath residents want. They seem more concerned with attracting more cars to the Bath area and concreting over fields and back gardens.
“For years the Conservatives insisted that the Bath package couldn't be altered. Now they are making changes to protect their bus road, but they still aren't listening to Bath residents. It is the Conservatives’ stubbornness and mismanagement of the Bath package which is putting the government funding at risk.”
Labour group leader Councillor John Bull (Lab, Paulton) said: “The BRT lacks popular support. The costs to the local taxpayer of the entire transport package for Bath have escalated beyond anything originally envisaged. Even at this 11th hour, the council could have said ‘enough is enough’ and turned its back on this deeply unpopular scheme. But sadly, the Conservatives running B&NES chose not to take this opportunity to throw out the plans.
“At a time of deep cuts, we simply cannot afford to fund increasingly costly schemes that lack public support and have dubious benefits.”