The Metro Mayor, Dan Norris, visited Thornbury Leisure Centre last night, 27 July, to meet with local residents and to listen to their concerns, so that he would be aware of them and take action where possible.
Speaking without notes for the entire session, he started by explaining his responsibilities for housing, transport, the environment and skills, and his role in promoting the West of England nationally and internationally.
The questions and comments from the audience centred principally on the loss of the T2 bus service. This affects how students, including some with significant disabilities, access further education at SGS in Filton, now needing to catch three different buses. The loss of the service also affects workers at Southmead Hospital, who face expensive car parking fees if using their own cars as an alternative; people referred to hospital for treatment and who have no transport of their own; retail workers at Cribbs Causeway shopping centre; and those who need to transfer to other buses at Cribbs bus station.
Dan Norris explained how his hands were tied by government rules over how he spent money on bus services, but promised to be part of a conversation between SGS and parents of disabled students over financing their transport. He was also looking at valid ways in which bus services, such as the T2, could be brought back.
He also revealed that local authorities are responsible for supporting some bus services, and that one school bus from Oldland Common to Pucklechurch, was costing the public £224 per passenger per day to run – far more than any other service in the West. It was in the public domain and not really surprising that this bus service was in the ward of Councillor Steve Reade, whose own performance at the Town Meeting in Thornbury on 25 May left something to be desired.
There was also a question about the rapid development of housing to the north and north-west of Thornbury, which still does not have the healthcare and road infrastructure to deal with the increase in population. Since there is already a declared green belt from Bristol up to the southern boundary of Thornbury, could there be one declared to the north of the town, to prevent eventual linking up with Oldbury and Rockhampton and throw the burden of proof of the need for further residential development onto the developer? Dan Norris thought this was a good question and one which might be achieved, especially since the concept of green belts had been first proposed over five decades ago.
The green belt is a policy matter, however, not one guaranteed by legislation, to prevent urban sprawl and to stop “ribbon” development along roads between communities such as Thornbury and Oldbury, for example. The local authority, in this case SGC, would have the deciding word, but is already opposing the building of 500 more homes on Butt Lane.