Thornbury Town and District Residents Association

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copy of email to Metro Mayor sent on 10th January 2022

Jan 10, 2022

Good Morning,

Changes to Thornbury High Street being imposed by South Gloucestershire Council (SGC)
Thank you for your interesting and encouraging email sent to us on 24th December 2021, which was in response to our earlier email of 6th December 2021 and subsequent email & attachments of 12th December 2021

Response by SGC to our first Freedom of Information request
On 24th December 2021 we eventually received a response to our Freedom of Information request which we had submitted to SGC on 28th October 2021 (SGC had extended the period to respond from 20 to 40 days)
Our belief is that the information we requested under this FOI should have been readily available to SGC before conducting the various stages of the Consultation and certainly before writing of the Reports on 7th June 2021 & 17th November 2021 and Submission of the Business Case to WECA on 19th November 2021

6th June 2020 Introduction of Temporary Traffic Regulation to close Thornbury High Street and Divert traffic
21st July 2020 Start of Survey & contact with some local groups
7th February 2021 Completion date for public to submit the Survey
7th June 2021 Publication of Report (High Street Vision)
6th to 13th September 2021 Consultation on TROs at Turnberries (by appointment only)
17th November 2921 Report and signing off of TROs
19th November 2021 Submission of Business Case to WECA
29th November to 10th December Occasional Drop in Consultation at Thornbury Library
24th December 2021 Partial response to TTaDRA Freedom of Information request made on 28th October 2021 (20 days extended to 40 working days)
Last week of January 2022 Anticipated response to TTaDRA Second Freedom of Information request made on 26th November
January 2022 – Be advised by SGC Anticipated continuation of Drop in Consultation and first invitation to Thornbury Residents to a group meeting
June 2022 or maybe even later Completion of information requested in FOI. Even then several questions will remain unanswered
So, just partial completion of the information needed will have taken two years since closure of the High Street
By any stretch of the imagination this should have been more than sufficient time for SGC to have prepared an unbiased survey, held proper consultations and investigated all of the necessary background information to back up their plans and then prepared unbiased reports. Unfortunately, we do not believe that SGC have or will have undertaken a full, fair and thorough consultation at any point during the 2 year period

As described in out FOI requests these responses should have included:
a. Traffic Surveys in both the High Street and Diversion Route for the periods before and after the introduction of the High Street closure
Unfortunately. the only information they have is for a Traffic Survey held in May 2015 for just part of the diversion route
b. A robust Business & Financial Case using real time information from local traders for the periods before and after the introduction of the High Street closure
Our understanding is that the Financial Case is once again based upon a National High Street which of course bears no relation to the trading conditions in Thornbury. Thornbury is an ancient market town with a large hinterland of surrounding villages & hamlets which rely upon Thornbury for many of their needs. It is by no means a traditional High Street with National chains that would be encountered in Urban towns and consequently standard national data is unsuitable for use in the Business Case

Unfortunately, the SGC responses to the questions asked in the FOIs show that SGC did not, and even now do not, hold the relevant information for them to make informed decisions on the future of Thornbury High Street. More worrying is that they still do appear to be taking steps to gather the appropriate information

Very few of the questions received direct and comprehensive responses and certainly do not give any credibility to the consultation process
This a typical response to one of the FOI questions:
“At this time, the Council is applying the relevant exemption in the Environmental Impact Regulations 2004, Reg 12(4)(d) – material that is in the course of completion. In respect to the application of the public interest test, this exemption has been applied as the information requested (where such information is held by the Council) is not in a completed form and may be subject to further revision and amendment, hence the benefit of retaining this information at this stage outweighs the public interest of disclosing incomplete information. In accordance with Reg 14(3)(b) it is estimated that the information will be in a completed format ready for disclosure after May 2022 (subject to change)”

We note that much of the information will not be available until after May 2022 by which time SGC are no doubt hoping that the Funding Application submitted by SGC in November 2021 will already have been granted by WECA!

Funding of Experimental Traffic Order
We note that SGC received £220,000 through Department of Transport’s Active Travel Fund
In response to one of our questions SGC confirmed that they have spent £636,575 so far
This would appear to be a very significant overspend, presuming they are like for like
During the Drop in Sessions held at the Library in December 2021 there were few definitive plans or layouts available and officers relied upon artists sketches. Specifications for materials were not defined and features still a figment of imagination
It is difficult to imagine how an accurate Cost Plan and consequently Business & Financial Case could have been brought together within such fluid parameters, particularly bearing in mind the inability to keep within the earlier budget

Much fanfare was given by Luke Hall and Toby Savage on 17th November (by coincidence the same week that the TROs were signed off and the Business Case submitted to WECA) *** to the announcement that buses would return to Thornbury High Street
This would appear to be a hollow promise
At the Drop-in Sessions in December, we established that SGC had still not agreed which buses would return and when. It seems that not all buses will be allowed access and SGC appear keen that the new travelling market takes precedence every other Saturday. We believe that all buses, coaches & taxis should be encouraged on each and every day of the week
It is apparent that SGC prefer a new location for a central bus stop instead of the two previously located in the High Street. The existing bus layby has been converted into 3 bays for blue badge holders. It will be several months before SGC agree the position of the bus stop, which buses may return and carryout the necessary construction work to install a raised kerb, alter the signage, white lines and street furniture etc.
It is very likely that Thornbury High Street will not see the return of buses for several months whilst SGC continue to procrastinate
In the meantime, the High Street continues to suffer
*** One wonders how the Cost Plan & Business Case could have been completed in such a short time following signing off of the TROs and announcement about the buses
The response by SGC to our first FOI requests are inadequate and show that SGC have had, and continue to have, little or no interest in establishing relevant information on which to base Consultations and Decisions on the future of Thornbury
The response to our second FOI request has been extended by SGC and will not be received until the end of January 2022
SGC do not anticipate being able to complete their response ready for disclosure until after May 2022
We believe South Gloucestershire Council have not conducted a full and respectful consultation
We do not believe that SGC have researched the necessary background information to support their Business Case and Financial Case submitted to WECA for £4,600,000
Since by their own admission Consultation is to continue well into 2022 and that much information will not be available until after May 2022 we request that WECA reject SGC Business Case until such time that they have conducted a full, fair and respectful consultation

Meeting Up
We would very much welcome the opportunity of meeting up with yourself and/or WECA, should you believe this to be useful

We note that stakeholders and members of the public will have the chance to make statements on the Business Case and any recommendations
Please keep us informed of the anticipated date for Publication of the Business Case, period to be allowed for comments & recommendations by Stakeholders and Meeting dates/agenda/reports by WECA