Four hour marathon at St Swithins
After four hours of listening and talking about transport at the conference organised by the Bath Alliance for the Public Realm I was ready for a beer in the Star with the only other Camdenite still standing. Unfortunately my pre-lentern resolution stopped that happening!
I’m not sure what, if anything, from yesterday is going to get published more widely. So this is a tiny personal piece with a slight Camden slant. Very happy to receive feedback from other people associated with the CRA, of which there were at least seven present at the start. 7 out of about 100 – that’s indicative of the high level of interest we’ve got in Camden.
All seven speakers got 15 minutes and about 10 minutes of questioning.
1. Tim Bowles
First up was Tim Bowles, Tory WECA Mayor. Most of us know little about the West of England Combined Authority, but B&NES on our behalf asked for a devolved authority and apparently we voted for him as mayor. It’s probably quite a good idea to have a body joining together South Glos, Bristol and BANES, as it is quite an economic hub. Here are its objectives:
As with all these things it is better to engage with them and get the best deal for Bath rather than show disinterest and let the others get more than their share of a very large amount of the funding they receive. His photo shoot with Chris Grayling didn’t really do it for me right now.
2 Richard Samuel
Richard Samuel, our current Walcot LibDem councillor was next. Near the start is a tough place as it is the later speakers’ ideas you ‘take away’ with you at the end. He had no pictures – they can often save one speaking a 1000 words. The main emphasis was on delivery rather than pontificating. However, everybody else said that too. More positively they intended to deliver stuff by completing the much unfinished business and being accountable for its successful implementation. To me, that is either going to be really good or will get unstuck because they will hit the same obstacles as the previous administration encountered which simply made it too hard. On this subject there do seem to be some longstanding ‘elephants in the room’ which rarely get mentioned by speakers or included in their strategies, even in the beautiful St Swithin’s last night. More on this later…
Under questioning he was dismissive of electric cars which was quite a nasty surprise – we have quite a few in Walcot already and they don’t need to run on fossil fuel produced juice and are quieter. As for particulates from tyres and brakes, unless you’re going to ban all vehicles then they are inevitable. They’re still a force for good.
3 John Bull
Next up was the gentle John Bull, from Labour who was rather different from his namesake the eponymous, larger than life, 17th century farmer. Another ‘no pictures’ man and frankly, whilst he was delightful to listen to I can remember very little of what he said. He was generous to questioners and talked a lot about buses. Tea and coffee at last…
4 Stephen Taylor
Stephen Taylor, from Bath Independent Group started the second half. He certainly livened up proceedings with his zany slides and gungho ideas. But it all seemed a bit wafer thin under scrutiny. Despite me pointing out that only 3 of the 9 routes into Bath even had a P&R option, BIG were against an Eastern P&R solution which would deal with several of these. On deeper questioning he would be ‘for’ it, provided that inner city parking was restricted further to make the P&R option more appealing. I didn’t buy that entirely – if that was a good reason then all the existing P&Rs would be empty which they’re not. Bath needs to offer drivers a decent alternative to driving in from any direction, especially the N,NE,E,SE,S to keep traffic out of NE and E Bath – click here for more on this. The London Road has some beautiful architecture and the lovely Cleveland Bridge – something that could be an amazing bit of the public realm.
5 Mark Shelford
Mark Shelford, soon to stand for the full time Local Police and Crime Commissioner role, certainly talks a good talk and understands his subject well, from big picture to detail and has thought a lot of it through. He makes a lot of PR mileage (over 2000 miles of it) from how much cycling he does and how he now claims to have saved several times his body weight in CO2 from fossil fuel as a result. He’s a big technology man, suggesting (note my word) bringing army type satellite technology onto buses so that the bus stop arrival time predictors will be pinpoint accurate. The questioners were each trying to unpick aspiration from firm undertaking. Some of us were left thinking how much of his content was hard fact and how much was nice sound bites. If he does disappear to fight crime and the Tories do get back in then I hope his successor doesn’t start all over again with the strategy. He was fortunate not to get challenged about the CAZ C, climb down.
6 Jon Lucas
There was also a gentleman from the Greens, Jon Lucas, who read out his slides, word for word, which were very methodically organised to suit his opening premise which was the adoption of the recent Climate Emergency motion promising Carbon neutrality by 2030. He talked though how the Greens would prioritise walking and cycling and deter commuting into the city by car, van and lorry. He missed out transiting traffic, particularly freight. On questioning him on this, the HGVs, like the Home Bargains lorries from their new distribution centre in Amesbury, will be banned. There was no opportunity to question him further on the powers needed to do that or onto what other routes he would displace this type of traffic.
7 Van DuBose
Our host, Van Dubose offered the Alliance’s mock manifesto, as if it was a political party. The good bits included the need for a body, albeit voluntary, which had an influence and long term guiding hand over the direction of successive council administrations and was also able to help with funding bids to augment the sorry sounding mantra from the leader of the council that the council only has 18% of the budget to play with after paying for burgeoning social care costs.
A lot of what was said made sound economic sense and even the Greens backed much of it. However, where was the people touch? Not a word I can remember about the low income workers who are needed in Bath and often work anti-social hours.
ps – always please to correct the record – thanks Van.
I was left thinking, was it just me or could anyone else see some rather large elephants still lurking in the room.
Living in a hilly city
A few people mentioned the hilly surrounds to the centre of Bath. This must narrow down some of the solution ideas when talking about other modes of personal and public transport. Too often ideas are suggested which suit a flat city but are untested in a hilly one.
The eye catching yellow autonomous bus in Neuhausen am Rheinfall, Switzerland, cited by BIG, travels at 15mph for four hours a day on a 300 metre flat route, so it’s some way from being a practical proposition.
We also are not looking at how other hilly cities are coping. Even Victorian Bathonians had a go at addressing this with gravity fed funicular railway propositions. What about a cable car to the Bath University? Cable cars helped transform parts of Medellin in Columbia.
The most glaring but unacknowledged truism is the lack of a ring road. York gets mentioned as an exemplar with its continuous, fast ring road around the outskirts linked together with roundabouts greeting all the drivers entering on arterial roads into the city. Is this applicable to Bath? No, not easily, it has an unofficial ring road around the city centre which has the well understood air quality hotspots on it and no outer ring road opportunity – at least which anybody is prepared to speak about.
Bristol Bath Corridor
Everyone talks about the Bristol Bath corridor being busy and requiring more buses. Not sure I get this.
- The train takes 11 minutes or 18 minutes. The bus takes an hour
- The bus has very limited capacity – a train accepts many more passengers through many more doors
- Even off peak there are roughly five services an hour in both directions. Average interval = 12 minutes. First Bus provides four services an hour
- Granted – the train is over double the price.
However, which would you choose?
On top of this:
- 40% of the train services stop at Oldfield Park and Keynsham, perhaps more should?
- If so why would you need buses to go the full way? Wouldn’t they be better directed, ferrying people to and from the stations on the train route between Bath and Bristol?
- Maybe we need stations at Saltford and Brislington?
- WECA keep talking about Severn Beach, and sometimes Corsham and Frome but what about Saltford and Brislington?
Not enough stick
The carrot and the stick – a few people mildly alluded to this, as too they did with leadership. Talking just about the carrots is not enough. To sort out the mess we’re in will require change for all of us – not just the oppressed poor; not just those just getting by, but the rich and powerful too.
So what!, that there were plenty of vehement objections in the 8400 responses to the CAZ C which would make non-euro 6 cars chargeable – that is to be expected as a first knee jerk reaction. No one likes change especially when it infringes our liberties. Competent change leaders take the populus beyond all that by setting out the bigger picture and how we all should have to ‘give and take’ according to our means and needs.
A great change leader would not shirk this – even if it was at a difficult time in the electoral cycle.
Three lessons for me in the future are:
to prepare a list of things I want to hear come up. I found myself warming up and linking into the subject towards the end when the later speakers were in action and then feeling I had a real question worth asking.
Have my phone charged up so that I can reference our CRA web-site which has so much stuff on it to refer to – sorry about the plug, but it certainly made my questions more assured as I had evidence to offer from the 87 posts and other pages and reports we’ve written and made public over the last sixteen months.
Another plug warning. Sir Peter Hendy chaired the meeting very well. We will need to do likewise with our Camden Husting to be held close to the local elections on May 2nd. Make sure you subscribe to our web-site to get the latest news on this and anything else Camden related.