Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Prince Street Bridge - More Evasion

At last the Bristol Evening Post has picked up on the story about the proposed closure of Prince Street Bridge to cars as part of the Bus Rapid Transit plans of the West of England Partnership. Despite the obvious evidence of their own published plans the West of England Partnership are still trying to pretend that nothing has been decided with this extraordinary comment from spokesperson Julia Dean-
"The idea is at a very early stage. Just because this idea has been put forward does not mean it will happen. We don't work out all the details before putting a bid in because you would never put in a bid."
So here we are with details published and a bid submitted for Government funding with the prospect of construction within a few years and they actually expect us to believe that it's still just a rough, back-of-the-envelope idea and they haven't even decided on such a key element and major cost item as whether a new bridge will be required at Prince Street.

Fellow blogger Stockwoodpete has also looked into this same issue in his more thorough and painstaking way and highlighted the contradictory position of the Conservatives on this issue. Their leader Richard Eddy has been a prominent opponent of the closure of Prince Street Bridge to cars over many years and confirmed for the Post -
"I would strongly oppose any design solution that would banish private traffic from using Prince Street Bridge."
Yet his Conservative colleague Cllr Barbara Lewis cancelled the Scrutiny Committee of the West of England Partnership which was due to sit yesterday and which could have asked pertinent questions.

The truth of course is that there is absolutely no chance of a new bridge at Prince Street and the BRT bendy-buses will have to use the existing bridge, possibly with some strengthening to take the weight and with the east side footway removed but otherwise unmodified. To allow BRT buses relatively free movement on the approaches to Prince Street Bridge, including stops on the north side and egress from the planned busway behind the new Museum of Bristol, requires that most other traffic is displaced. But of course in true Bristol Fashion that simple truth must be kept from the public for as long as possible, especially in the run up to local elections.

Later edit (12 noon) - Mark Bradshaw has kindly supplied a link to the report to Bristol City Council on 2nd February, item 7, which gives the general background, although on Prince Street Bridge it says little more than "the existing bridge will need to be modified or replaced to provide a crossing for Rapid Transit whilst retaining local access".

However the report on the initial consultation refers to concern expressed over the impact on Prince Street Bridge by English Heritage, Redcliffe Community Forum, Bristol Urban Design Forum, the City Urban Design Team (BCC Planning), the Harbour Master and an assortment of 'Environment Goups'. In addition the Broadmead Board favoured the removal of traffic from along The Cut and Prince Street Bridge.


Farcicle said...

"Cllr Barbara Lewis cancelled the Scrutiny Committee of the West of England Partnership which was due to sit yesterday and which could have asked pertinent questions."

Impertinent questions is no doubt how they see it!

Am I being naive, but effectively blocking scrutiny on WoE seems very dodgy, even for Bristol.

Surely we need to keep asking questions about this. How often are the scrutiny meetings held anyway? When would be the next one?

"The scrutiny arrangements on WOE are ludicrous. Considering the amount of large scale business that is being done there it is farcicle that there is an attempt for 1 committee to cover everything and now we have it being postponed at a crucial time.
Bristol and other Lib Dems pointed out the need for specialist scrutiny of waste,planning and transport issues but the Tories ,with Labour support stitched it up to put Barbara Lewis in the chair and this has curtailed any effective scrutiny.

Yes there is a need for cross Avon working on a number of matters ,notably transport,but there is a clear government agenda to get rid of local democracy and use WOE as a means of handing down their central policy." Gary Hopkins, 10th April.

"When I saw your blog on 09:35 am on Wednesday I emailed a senior WoE officer for an urgent response. That officer opened my email at 16:40 pm on Wednesday, but today, Friday, has still not responded to me." Jon Rogers, 10th April.

So what is happening about this Gary and Jon? Are these unelected bureaucrats ever going to be properly called to account?

Or did I miss something?

Cllr Mark Wright said...

In addition the Broadmead Board favoured the removal of traffic from along The Cut and Prince Street Bridge.Eh what? What on earth does that mean and why are the Broadmead board having an opinion on traffic by The Cut?

Personally I am very concerned about the prospect of closure of Prince St Bridge to cars, because of the knock-on effect it will have at Redcliffe Hill and Temple Circus Gyratory (also known as "The Island Site").

There has long been an aspiration that I support to restore St Mary Redcliffe to a piazza. This can be done by downgrading Redcliffe Way and shifting the buses and rapid transport there to another line (possibly on The Portwall) further from the church, ripping out Redcliffe Roundabout and making it a normal junction. This then allows building frontages to the roads and the piazza inside facing the grand church.

Having done that, Redcliffe Hill no longer needs to be a dual carriageway (and effectively a barrier across that part of Redcliffe), so one carriageway of it can be ripped up and given back to a row of shops/housing/etc.

Lots of capital value released, everything's sweet...except of course that the displaced traffic has been sent to Temple Gate and other routes instead. If Prince St is closed as well this all becomes impossible because the displacement is too great.

Traffic flow on Prince's St Bridge cant be looked at in isolation. If there is a real problem with BRT and cars on Prince St Bridge at the same time, then I suggest implementing single-direction flow - north in the morning, south in the afternoon, to get better phasing of lights.

As for Lab/Con stitching up WoE scrutiny, you wouldnt believe some of the stuff we're hearing now. It's perfectly clear that Lib Dems are not invited to the party in case we spoil it, even when the Govt is involved!

Jon Rogers said...

Evening Farcicle, Chris and all

I tried to speak to Cllr Barbara Lewis about cancelling the West of England scrutiny yesterday. She refused to speak to me and went off to speak instead with Cllr Helen Holland.

The next joint scrutiny meeting is now not until JULY! The cancellation was by a Conservative chair who is an elected member, not by "unelected bureaucrats"

The officer (A) I contacted 09:35am was on leave. The officer (A)'s mail was opened in his absence by a colleague (B) at 16:40(thus looking like it had been opened) who forwarded to a third officer (C) who did not respond. The officer (A) has apologised for not setting his "out of office" message on. I apologised to officer (A) for accusing him of ignoring my message - it was officer (C).

I spoke last week to the Evening Post who published a bit of my frustration today.

I have now had various responses from officer (A) and officer (D) who has also returned from leave.

Sometimes getting information, even as executive member seems like drawing teeth. It will change! To become truly effective we must be much more open with ideas and information sharing.

I'll post separately the replies.


Jon Rogers said...

I have had a lengthy response from Officer A who returned on Tuesday last week

In summary, Officer A disputed that the partnership had (1) "seemed most anxious to scotch our suggestion that the BRT buses would use Princes Street Bridge" and (2) "quietly published the BRT plans".

Officer A concluded, "I understand that, following amendments to the scheme as a result of consultations, consequent cost pressures resulted in necessary revisions to certain aspects of the RT Scheme. This included retaining and modifying the Prince Street Bridge rather than financing the cost of a replacement bridge and associated harbour wall modifications. Before finalising the change in the case of the bridge, an independent surveyor's report was also obtained to assist in costing the bid.

"Whilst the cost pressures and cash limited funding means there is unlikely to be finance to change this proposal I understand the general traffic management issues could be further considered as part of developing the Transport and Works Act Order which is to be submitted by December 2009."
To which I replied,

"The plans have clearly changed.

"The plans have changed without alerting the Executive Members to the major impact on the Prince Street Bridge, which is known to be politically controversial.

"(1) The Nov 2008 press release said unambiguously, "The current bridge is not suitable for rapid transit." This was despite the repeated questions at that time "will the BRT cross the Prince Street bridge". I cannot be surprised that people don't believe what we say.

"(2) "On 2nd April 2009 you (and others) received an email from Officer E referring you to the bid on the Partnership's website." - This is not the same as letting the general public know. They discovered it perhaps a week or so later. Why didn't we press release the publication on the web (or better still "twitter" it)?"
Officer A responded yesterday with

"(1) The November press release did say "The current bridge is not suitable for rapid transit". This meant that the current bridge would at the very least need to be strengthened and the Programme Entry bid costings provide for this.

"(2) I take your point; our February press release couldn't go that far because the bid was not finalised. When Officer E wrote to some 45 stakeholders, plus Councillors and MPs a further press statement would have been appropriate."
There is a further response from Officer D who is also back from leave.


Chris Hutt said...

Mark, the reference to the comments of the Broadmead board is as reported in the Committee Report. I thought it odd too and therefore of interest.

I understand your concerns about traffic displaced from PSB but I think we need to be mindful that when traffic capacity is reduced a certain amount of the traffic 'disappears', i.e. it is not displaced to other routes. This makes sense if you consider that traffic levels are in any case suppressed by congestion.

We are also hoping to encourage a modal shift from cars to walking, cycling and public transport. Surely reallocating capacity from cars to the other modes is precisely what is required to achieve this.

PSB is to my mind an excellent opportunity to test this out, given that an experimental scheme is already under way and can presumably be modified towards complete closure for say the second half of the trial period.

The changes you describe around Redcliffe Way (or should that be via della scogliera rossa, to go with the Piazza) are illustrated on the BRT plans linked to - http://tinyurl.com/cokgsv

Jon Rogers said...

The definitive response from Officer D said, "Further to the correspondence last week, following a briefing this morning from Partnership officers and the opportunity to read your correspondence and the response you received last Tuesday from Officer A my observations are as follows:-

The statement that the current bridge is not suitable for rapid transit remains true. The proposals as shown for Programme Entry require the existing bridge to be rebuilt to accommodate the increased loading from BRT vehicles. Heritage considerations would mean, however, that the rebuilt bridge would look very much like the old one.

For BRT and Prince Street Bridge, three options were considered:-

· Rebuild the existing bridge to accommodate additional loads (this could include or exclude general traffic).

· Replace existing bridge with a wider bridge to provide segregation for BRT whilst allowing for general traffic.

· Install separate bridge for BRT alongside existing structure.

Following consultation and a review of costs, the first of these options was chosen and subsequently agreed by the Rapid Transit Project Board when approving the Programme Entry Bid.

I accept that it would have been helpful to have shared the revised plans with members. Unfortunately, the pressure of the bid deadline and also the change in administration reduced the opportunity to do this.

Having said that, Officer A is right to refer to the further public consultation that will be necessary as part of securing the Transport and Works Act order which authorises the powers (including planning issues) to implement the scheme. This provides further opportunities to review what is set out in the plan in the bid.

Any such changes that are considered will need to take account of their impact on the overall scheme objectives including their impact on adjacent parts of the network. In other words, additional or different engineering solutions at the bridge or in nearby locations may need to be considered.

There is a wider point. I would expect Programme Entry bids to be as near final as possible, but detailed design work and public consultation in the period up to conditional approval does provide the opportunity for change. In this case, that would be against the backcloth of serious cost pressures and the further value engineering that is envisaged.

I also understand that you and others are also concerned about the potential route options for Rapid Transit into South Bristol, particularly Hengrove. Work on this future phase of the Rapid Transit network is underway but route options are still being formulated and prioritised. Public consultation will take place; I think you are aware that we have already met with representatives from the Windmill Hill area to explore options for the alignment in that area."
In conclusion, these ways of working were under a previous administration. My colleagues in this new administration are keen that our ways of working and our decisions should not just be open to scrutiny afterwards, but should encourage comment and debate BEFORE decisions are taken, wherever possible. This is not easy. It is good to see my predecessor, Cllr Bradshaw contributing so positively.


Gary Hopkins said...

The way that WOE governance was set up is completely unsatisfactory.
Although there are reasonable people in both of the other parties the structure leads to the worst kind of unaccountable hand me down way of doing things.
Although Jon and I and our colleages are executive members representing the largest council there is a clear sense of shock whenever we ask the difficuilt questions that have clearly not been asked before.
Persistency will produce an improvement in the culture but our hand will be further strengthened by a clear majority after June on the city council.

Chris Hutt said...

Jon, thank you for taking the trouble to post details of your enquiries.

I think your second posting shows that there is real substance to the criticisms made of the process. In particular the November press release said "The current bridge is not suitable for rapid transit. We may need to build a new bridge instead, either for the rapid transit, or for other vehicles as well as cyclists and pedestrians."

This clearly gives the impression that PSB would not be used and even the report to members in February said "the existing bridge will need to be modified or replaced..." yet we now know, thanks to the responses posted by Jon, that a replacement bridge was not an option (which I've been saying all along of course).

Cllr Mark Wright said...

via della scogliera rossa - Hehe, very droll ;-)

Thanks for the plan link, I hadnt seen that one before. Why am I not surprised it was on the WoE website? I really need to spend less time in the Council House and more time checking the WoE website...

Interesting that WoE seem to think that removing Redcliffe roundabout and moving Redcliffe Way is compatible with closing PSB to cars, as this seems to contradict the results of a piece of work by Halcrow on Temple Circus Gyratory and Portwall Lane.

Maybe they've managed to square the circle, in which case great - but I havent been told that despite all the relevant officers knowing that I have an interest in the area...

Chris Hutt said...

Mark, I've copied your comment into the latest blog post.

On Redcliffe Hill it is still shown as a dual carriageway whereas you suggest it could revert to being a single carriageway. I guess they don't want to cross too many bridges in one go (groan).

snafu said...

"The proposals as shown for Programme Entry require the existing bridge to be rebuilt to accommodate the increased loading from BRT vehicles. Heritage considerations would mean, however, that the rebuilt bridge would look very much like the old one."

"· Rebuild the existing bridge to accommodate additional loads (this could include or exclude general traffic) ...

Following consultation and a review of costs, the first of these options was chosen and subsequently agreed by the Rapid Transit Project Board when approving the Programme Entry Bid."

blah blah blah ...

Rebuilding a listed structure to higher specs while taking care to retain the heritage nature is, like any kind of retrofitting, a notoriously expensive process, isn't it?

Far more sensible to leave the old bridge as it is and build a new one for the pesky brt, if they must insist on buying into that white elephant, surely?

Chris Hutt said...

Snafu, I suspect that "rebuilding" is an exaggeration of what is required. Essentially the bridge deck will need strengthening and the work will be similar to that carried out on the bridge a few years ago. That's probably about it, since if the footway is removed from the east half it will be wide enough to take buses as it is.

It's worth noting that when the bridge is at rest the weight is taken by abutments at each end and in the middle and not by the swivel mechanism itself, which only takes the balanced weight of the bridge during a swing.

The weight of a bendy-bus, although substantial (30 tonnes?), will be distributed over its 19 metre length so the weight at any point on the 13 metre bridge span will be limited.

McD said...

And elsewhere we've been told that for the pavement to be removed on the East side or widened on the West a complementary balancing change must be made to the other side so that the pivot mechanism continues to function. Hope they don't forget to include in the strengthening costings!

Lady Farcicle said...

Jon Rogers wrote that 'The cancellation was by a Conservative chair who is an elected member, not by "unelected bureaucrats"'

Clear. In speaking of a calling to account I was referring, however, to the WoE board listed below in a comment on a prior post:


"But the real question is who's pulling Wagstaff's strings?"

One or two of these unelected members perhaps?

Partnership membership – Jan 2009
Social, Economic & Environmental Partners:
Steve Grainger, Avon Biodiversity Partnership
John Savage, Business West
Rachel Robinson, The ChangeUp Consortia
Sonia Mills, North Bristol NHS Trust
Ian Ducat, South West Trade Union Council (SW TUC)
Prof. David Clarke, Deputy Vice Chancellor, University of Bristol

Well done for maintaining persistence and asking questions Jon, even if the answers do have the familiar deadly ring of official gobbledegook about them. A critical reading does still seem able to expose some of the obfuscations.

Bit by bit ...