The session at Thornbury Library on 29 November was staffed by two officers from South Gloucestershire Council and a Traffic Engineer. The officers admitted that the timing of the sessions, when working people would not be able to attend, was not ideal and that evening sessions would also be scheduled.
It was disappointing that the detailed layout plans for the High Street were not available for examination on the day; only “artists’ impressions”. Not a well-organised start. It was also disappointing to discover the extent to which firm future plans for the centre of Thornbury had not yet been formulated.
What will be the cost of reversing all the changes to the High Street if Dan Norris, the Regional Mayor, does not agree the funding for what he is calling “vanity projects”? South Glos Council says that it will not reverse any of the changes. One assumes from this that the U-turn by the Council over the bus routes does not constitute a reversal of a key element of the Council’s plans.
Where will the bus stop be located? There did not seem to be any dispute over this, with both the Council and the Accessibility Group wanting the bus stop to be located centrally. Seating would, of course, need to be installed.
How many bus services will be involved? This has yet to be settled with the bus operators, but there are other concerns still to be addressed, such as whether single- or double-decker buses will be involved, and whether only gas-powered buses will be allowed. What this means for diesel-powered buses and whether their stop will remain on Rock Street is not clear.
How soon will the buses start running in the High Street? That depends upon discussions between WECA and the bus operators. The latter have a 4-month timetable schedule, so that the agreement could take 6 or more months to implement. Which means that there is no hope of a convenient bus service for elderly and/or disabled shoppers in time for Christmas 2021. Another blow for High Street trading.
The Council will not change the existing 2-way through traffic by bicycles, but changes to the road layout near The Malthouse, where the road narrows, will be necessary. Cyclists will be slowed down by “the geometry of the layout” and “suitable signage and landscaping” will alert cyclists to the entry into a two-way traffic system at the northern end of the closure area. Nothing definite, however, has yet been decided on the details.
Will the proposed changes to the junction of the High Street with The Plain cause the buses to encroach onto the other side of the carriageway when turning in? This scheme would also remove parking outside Savery’s shop and create a very sharp left turn into Castle Street from the High Street. The intention of the change, it was said, is to slow traffic down and let drivers know that they are entering a different space.
Will this proposal be subject to public consultation? No, it will not. The Council will listen to feedback and then design the junction according to its plan.
There was overwhelming public rejection of four of the five Traffic Regulation Orders for the High Street (the exception being the 20mph speed limit). Why then were all the Orders agreed by the Council? Were there other, more heavily-weighted factors being considered? No, there was no loading behind the decision, all the reasons for which are shown in the report. Traffic Regulation Orders would normally be passed regardless of public opinion anyway, since they would evolve further over time.
Isn’t this lack of consultation precisely why we are in the current situation over disagreement with the Council’s changes? Isn’t it diktat by remote control from Kingswood? The Council’s position is that it has conferred with community groups over the proposed changes. The feedback comments made by the public were not votes or a referendum, and so did not affect the Council’s decisions.
In all of this, there has been much attention given to the High Street changes, but no similar level of public recognition by the Council that these changes have significantly affected the surrounding roads. The Traffic Engineers have now had ample time in which to assess the traffic flow in Thornbury, to collate data on the number of vehicles using the roads in the centre of Thornbury at various times, and to gather real-time data on kerbside pollution levels at peak times on weekdays. So far, however, there has been no evidence of a co-ordinated plan designed to reduce the traffic congestion caused by the diversion of all traffic onto the only viable alternate route via Rock Street.
The Engineers are, however, fully aware that the Rock Street/Midland Way problems are linked to the High Street closure, but have no exact figures for traffic numbers pre- and post-lockdown. They admitted that the consultation period for Thornbury had been much shorter than usual, because of the need for the Emergency Traffic Orders during Covid, and that they had not been able to talk to the public more widely during the shortened consultation period.
It is difficult to see how the Traffic Engineers, with no comparative traffic figures to consult, can be expected to formulate a meaningful and effective plan based on factual information. Guessing what the answer might be is not an acceptable solution.
One key issue put to the Council officers was that, after declaring a Climate Emergency, the Council’s closure of the High Street to through traffic has resulted in traffic having to take a longer diversion route, causing more atmospheric pollution as a result. The answer was that this scheme, being dealt with under Highways legislation, did not require a full environmental assessment.
It is increasingly obvious that the Council’s plan for the centre of Thornbury has become snared on a narrow and half-formed vision for the High Street alone, with scant regard for the consequences. Should the whole plan be scrapped and re-thought, this time with full and transparent public consultation?