Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Prince Street Bridge - At Last The Truth

Following my post yesterday morning about continuing evasion on the part of the West of England Partnership over their plans for Bus Rapid Transit and Prince Street Bridge a series of comments by Executive Member Jon Rogers has revealed the truth. As pointed out here repeatedly over the last 6 months and contrary to the claims of WoEP, the intention is to use Prince Street Bridge as it is, subject only to strengthening to take the heavy (30 tonne) bendy buses.

The comments, which give a detailed account of email exchanges with senior officers, can be read in full and in context here but the salient points posted by Cllr Jon Rogers are as follows -
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 (Jon Rogers) 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."

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.
So there we have it. Prince street Bridge will be used by the BRT bendy-buses, as first reported here back in October! I'll leave it to you to decide whether the obvious need to strengthen the bridge justifies the claim in WoEP's November Press Release that "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."

The WoEP officers continue to be evasive about the need to close Prince Street Bridge completely to general traffic, as well they might in the run up to the elections in June. Conservative leader Richard Eddy is already pledged to oppose any plans to close the bridge to cars and it is very likely to become an election issue.

The plan is to have BRT bendy buses passing over the single lane bridge at 2 minute intervals, to accommodate two BRT platforms just to the north of the bridge and to keep the area of Wapping Road by the Museum of Bristol clear for access to the busway running behind the museum, plus to accommodate heavy flows of cyclists and pedestrians. All that is simply incompatible with the continuing use of Prince Street Bridge by general traffic. For a start where could traffic queues be accommodated if the whole area from the Grove junction to the back of the museum needs to be kept clear for bendy-bus movements?

Here's another comment just posted by Cllr Mark Wright (Cabot) which is very pertinent.

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 haven't been told that despite all the relevant officers knowing that I have an interest in the area...
Finally let's consider the comment posted by Bristol Dave on 11th April.
I have it on very good authority (and am waiting for proof to publish on my blog) that the designs for BRT over Prince Street bridge, from the very start in 2007, have always been to run the BRT over the existing bridge and these plans have never changed, despite WoEP press releases. There have also been no official plans or designs drawn up for a seperate bridge - despite what they said they were never even toying with the idea.
He hasn't published his "proof" yet but doesn't it ring true, considering all that has now been revealed? Let's remember whose watch all this happened under and note the commendable efforts of Cllr. Jon Rogers to change the culture in favour of openness and honesty.


snafu said...

the phrase quart into pint pot leaps to mind. Sir humphrey lalaland strikes again.

Lizard Watcher said...

I can't make much sense of the arguments coming out from the officers... maybe they've been earning money on the side testing some new and unusual mind altering chemical for a large pharmaceutical company? I suspect that Jon, despite any good intentions he may have, is going to either:

1) fail in his attempts to produce more openess,

2) go nuts, or,

3) both of the above.

At the end of the day, officers will do as they see fit, and, we the general public can go hang!

On a lighter note, who is the attractive lady we see cycling over the bridge in the top photo on this post?

SteveL said...

Chris, I fear that you may now take one of the venue top three web-site awards this year, with this little bit of journalism. I am truly impressed. I am also appalled by either the naivety of the WoEP BRT team, who didn't seem to recognise that BRT on the railwaypath would be trouble, or BRT on prince street bridge was something they could gloss over. Explains the fuzzy bit in that video that James picked up though.

I think the WoEP team are becoming politically adept enough to recognise the value in issuing misleading press releases, and, here, in not telling the councillors in Bristol what is happening. Either they are planning on another change in council leadership come May, or assuming that the WoEP consortium will have enough of a majority from the other councils to push this through.

1. There's no VAT on modifications to listed buildings -makes the upgrade cheaper.
2. How does this match to the cycle city works? Do they get their money back? Or is the cycle city money being spent readying the bridge for BRT?

SteveL said...

Incidentally, looking at the redcliffe way plans you've linked to
-there's no signs of pedestrian/bike access to/from queens square. No straight on-lane from redcliffe bridge, no markup of bike lights from the square. Otherwise, it looks fairly pedestrian friendly, and better for bikes than the existing roundabout.

McD said...

Am I missing something or if this is a swing bridge doesn't it sometimes have to swing and won't this be rather disruptive to a 2 minute frequency schedule?
Great bit of blogging - so sad that is necessary.

Chris Hutt said...

Good point McD. I'd rather forgotten about the bridge swings since there don't seem to have been any since last year.

Most of the boats for which the bridge is swung are only marginally too high to pass under it (most go on to pass under the fixed bridges further upstream). If the bridge could be raised by even as little as 100mm it might obviate the need for most of the swings.

I wonder how long a swing takes? I'd guess about 5 minutes but it could be longer. If it's 5 minutes and the swings are confined to off-peak times when buses are passing at an average of 3 minute intervals (6 minute interval in each direction) it might be possible to minimise disruption to services.

Forest Pines said...

I've been stopped by the bridge swinging in the past, and I'd estimate that it would be closer to ten minutes than five. Bridges don't move very fast.

(here's a photo of the bridge mid-swing, if anyone's interested)

McD: if you read the surveyor's report on the BRT bid documents, they did query the issue themselves, but were assured by the WoEP that bridge openings are infrequent and that therefore it would not be a problem.

Martyn Whitelock said...

"officers will do as they see fit, and, we the general public can go hang"

Since engaging with a few issues in Bristol I've realised this is an enduring problem for the city. I do sympathise with the Council and think they feel they try to offer a degree of stability amid the ever-changing political disruption. We need a better system which accomodates the city's development (and conservation) whilst delivering an improved civis life - chiefly better education, travel and public transport. The present system is not working!

Martyn Whitelock said...

Chris - forgotten its a swing bridge! My gosh you've really surpised me as an admirer of your detailed local knowledge.

These plans are ridiculous. They simply serve the influx of non-resident commuters. The best solution is to pedestrianise the bridge (include cycling) and make the traffic go round Redcliffe Hill. Though, I'm sure we'll end up with another one-way bus lane which messes up the car flow and is redundant of buses for most of the time.

Chris Hutt said...

I think there's little demand for the bridge to swing in the winter months, but I think one of the regular up-river cruise boats requires a regular bridge swing on summer evenings.

Nothing special about my local knowledge for someone who's lived in Bristol for almost 50 years!