David Parkinson and Brian McLean, residents of Queen Elizabeth Drive South (QED) in Taw Hill, have written to Swindon councillors with a document, in advance of the debate on the 2014/15 budget on 24 February, saying Swindon Council is proposing to spend £100,000 on unnecessary changes to the road.
On behalf of 78 households in the Queen Elizabeth Drive (South) (QED South), Swindon SN25 area, we write to respectfully request that you oppose the plans to spend £100K on QED South at the SBC Budget Meeting on Monday 24th February 2014.
The reasons for this are:
1. That Councillor Keith Williams (SBC Cabinet Member for Transport) has stated that the proposal to carry out any work on QED South would be put out for public consultation and that no such consultation has ever taken place thereby denying:
(a) The Public of QED South a say in this matter and,
(b) Council Members the benefit of the Public’s views before being asked to approve a budget for the proposed work.
2. That the proposed spend of £100K is an ill-conceived and miss-targeted waste of public money. It only seeks to prevent grass verge damage being habitually caused by buses on QED South. Such damage is only one symptom of much more serious Road Safety problems arising from road narrowness (caused by the overall effect of repeated speed reduction bends on large vehicles) and a defectively constructed junction (namely, the Thetford Way mini-roundabout which fails to meet minimum standards laid down for such junctions by the County Surveyors Society and the Department of Transport).
Any rectification action and expenditure of valuable and limited Public resources by SBC on QED South should surely be targeted at the true Road Safety problems rather than just a symptom of them; thereby allowing the underlying problems to remain.
3. That the proposed spend of £100K will actually see SBC nonsensically using public money to legitimise and sanction 14.4+T buses and other HGVs habitually mounting kerbs, grass verges, dimpled pedestrian crossing points and residential driveway entrances in a modern housing estate.
That this is no way for a responsible Highways’ Authority to behave as it should be seeking to promote Road Safety through preventing rather than legitimising such ‘undesireable’ acts.
4. That the true Road Safety problems on QED South result from buses and other large vehicles:
(a) Habitually travelling:
• Down the centre of the road due the narrowing effect of repeated speed reduction bends;
• North through the Thetford Way mini-roundabout totally the wrong way (i.e. anti-clockwise) in circumstances of restricted visibility because the mini-roundabout fails to meet the Government Guidelines for the construction of such junctions;
• South through the same junction habitually swinging out into the path of oncoming vehicles once again in circumstances of restricted visibility; with all of the above frequently causing other vehicles of any size travelling in the opposite direction, on their own side of the road, to be either forced off the road, have to significantly alter their path or brake to avoid colliding with them.
(b) Frequently driving over dimpled pedestrian crossing points (a Road Traffic Offence of driving on the pavement!).
(c) Using residential driveway entrances, which are visually indistinguishable from pavements, to pass each other.
And that the proposed £100K spend will not remove any of these Road Safety issues.
5. That the above Road Safety problems only exist because, in September 2011, SBC Officers forgot that SBC had already decided that the road was unfit for use by buses, after its defective construction by developers, and had planned, arranged the construction of, and published to the Public, a bus route to avoid QED South.
6. That SBC Officers, having failed to enforce the SBC planned bus route avoiding QED South, then negligently approved buses to run on QED South in full knowledge of the problems with the road and failed to carry out any risk assessment whatsoever or make any improvements to render the road suitable for such use.
7. That the planned £100K spend would be totally insufficient to tackle the real Road Safety problems on QED South; this would, in fact, require the road to be widened along its entire length and the Thetford Way roundabout to be totally rebuilt; assuming that sufficient space could be found to allow this to be done.
8. That the real Road Safety problems on QED South, directly resulting from the errors of SBC Officers, could be easily corrected, without any cost whatsoever to the Public, if the buses serving Taw Hill were re-routed to run on an available, alternative, safe, efficient and effective routes which avoid QED South:
(a) As they did for many years before September 2011 and,
(b) As originally intended by SBC.
9. That such re-routing of buses would be entirely in line with the wishes not only of the 78 concerned households of QED South, but of the Swindon Public in general who, in the production of the SBC Local Transport Plan (LTP) 2011-2026, were asked to take part in a survey. In that LTP survey, the Swindon Public prioritised five criteria laid down in the Department of Transport’s ‘Developing a Sustainable Transport System (2008)’. The Public of Swindon voted ‘Safety’ as their top priority. Next came ‘Quality of Life’, then ‘Reducing Carbon Emissions’, then ‘Economic Competitiveness’ and finally ‘Equality’.
10. That re-routing buses back onto their safe pre-September 2011 route serving Taw Hill, on grounds of road safety, would not significantly inconvenience any existing passengers. That the distances involved in walking to the Garsington Road or Tawny Owl bus stops from anywhere in Taw Hill are not great. That the LTP recognises that a healthy amount of exercise is good for people and that the interests of non-users are of equal importance to those of users. That the residents of Taw Hill managed to catch buses at the above stops for many years before September 2011, and that our school children still do.
That it is only passengers from Taw Hill that will be affected by this change and for many of those there will be little or no difference in the distance they have to walk to a bus stop. That passengers from outside Taw Hill will actually benefit from the change as their journey times will decrease. That such journey time reduction will lead to a decrease in carbon emissions and will be a step towards creating a Rapid Transit Route into central Swindon from the North – once again, in line with the Public’s wishes in the LTP. That, at the end of the day, the Swindon Public voted ‘Equality’ last and ‘Safety’ first and this fact should not be disregarded in any decision by SBC. That a small sacrifice and a little extra walking by a few existing bus passengers in Taw Hill will see Safety and Quality of Life for the majority improve and that this has to be a good thing!
Further to the above, while considering your stance on the proposed £100K spend on QED South, we would also like you to take into account the following important and relevant administrative matters which we consider that Swindon Councillors, as a whole, need to be made fully aware of:
A. That Councillor Keith Williams has, over the last 14 months, been repeatedly asked to correct the error of SBC’s Officers and has been provided with incontrovertible evidence of that error and a constant stream of evidence fully demonstrating the above Road Safety issues which have been caused by it. Both he and Councillor David Renard have to date chosen not to correct that error.
B. That, in making their decision not to bring in a Traffic Regulation Order to re-route the buses, Councillor Keith Williams and Councillor David Renard, while acknowledging that the Road Safety issues caused by buses running on QED South are all ‘undesirable’, are simply ignoring, but not denying nor challenging, in any way, the existence of SBC’s previous plans for a bus route avoiding the road.
C. That Councillors Williams and Renard are now actually unreasonably seeking to benefit from the fact, that after 7 months of our repeatedly asking for them, it was discovered by SBC that the original plans for a bus route avoiding QED South (which the Public were invited by SBC to view) had been negligently lost from the SBC archives along with other important documents such as Road Safety Audits for Thamesdown Drive covering the entrance to QED South via Junction 10 (at the Tawny Owl) and all of the Road Adoption documentation for QED South – documents which would have undoubtedly served to show how unfit QED South was and is for regular bus traffic!
D. That in making their decision, Councillors Williams and Renard are now remarkably seeking to rely on a 1995 Framework Document for QED South, written by developers, well before the road was ever built, which states that the road was ‘intended’ to be a ‘Distributor Road’ suitable for buses. In doing so, Councillors Williams and Renard are ignoring the amply demonstrated ‘reality’ that QED South is unfit for buses and that SBC had planned, for good reasons, a route to avoid its use by them. This convenient prioritising of the ‘intention’ of developers over accepted and proven ‘reality’ and past SBC decision with respect to QED South, is both unreasonable and completely irrational.
E. That, in making their decision, Councillors Williams and Renard are ignoring the following facts that have been repeatedly presented to them:
(a) There are residents who viewed, at Premier House, the planned SBC bus route avoiding QED South (Councillor Williams has personally heard evidence from such a resident).
(b) There are residents who remember there being a bus stop on Aiken Road and that this bus stop is still available to be seen on Google Maps of the area. This stop was part of SBC’s originally planned bus route avoiding QED South.
(c) There is a, now redundant, bus-sized roundabout, built specially by Bryant Homes at the request of SBC, at the junction of Aiken Road with the Boulevard which was destined to form part of SBC’s planned bus route (locally christened the ‘Taw Hill Folly’).
(d) There is a resident who sought to buy a house from Bryant Homes on the above roundabout and who decided not to do so because she was made aware by Bryant Homes that the roundabout would be part of a designated bus route.
F. That having made their decision not to stop buses from using QED South, Councillors Williams and Renard are now repeatedly refusing to answer our 18 reasonable questions seeking to establish their reasons for making what, in the light of past SBC action on the road, outwardly appears to be a completely irrational and unreasonable decision.
G. That the repeated failure of Councillors Williams and Renard to provide such reasons is a clear breach of the SBC Members’ Code and their duty of openness and accountability.
H. That, prior to the above decision being taken by Councillors Williams and Renard, it is known that Councillor Williams and/or SBC Officers had approached Thamesdown Transport (TT) about removing their buses from QED South and that such enquiries generated a response from TT indicating that they would seek compensation from SBC if any restriction was imposed on their use of QED South.
That by making the enquiry to TT, SBC clearly demonstrated that it was, at one stage, clearly seeking to persuade TT to remove its buses from QED South. That SBC have since reacted to the threat from TT to seek compensation by ignoring its past decisions on the road and bowing to the wishes of the bus company in preference to enforcing the needs of Road Safety. This begs the question of who is in charge of maintaining Road Safety on our roads – is it SBC as a Highways’ Authority or a bus company?
I. That it is known that there is a significant conflict of interest at the hub of this matter because Councillor Keith Williams (SBC Cabinet member for Transport) and other SBC Councillors sit on the Board of Thamesdown Transport, a private company wholly owned by SBC, as Directors. For obvious reasons, this clear conflict of interest is unacceptable at any level and does not inspire confidence in the quality of decision making by SBC in this matter.
J. That having initially lost important documents such as the original SBC bus route plans avoiding QED South, the Road Safety Audits covering Thamesdown Drive and the Road Adoption documents covering QED South, SBC have now been less than cooperative in our recent FOIA request to seek disclosure of minutes of meetings and correspondence between SBC and TT.
In the first place, we were given a disclosure which was incomplete. When we challenged this, we were expressly told that the documents we sought did not exist. When we pressed the matter with evidence proving that the documents we sought actually did exist, we have now been informed that it is not possible to disclose the information we require in the interests of ‘good public governance’.
That losing important Road Safety documents, claiming that documents do not exist when they do, hiding behind Public interest immunity to avoid disclosing them, failing to consult the public and failing to give reasons for decisions, we submit, puts the cumulative actions of SBC in this matter in an extremely poor light and considerably wanting indeed.
K. Finally, the full Council needs to be aware that that by making and then irrationally and negligently forgetting to enforce and maintain a positive act taken under s.39 (2) RTA 1988 to secure Road Safety on QED South by preventing its use as a bus route, SBC have created and are now consistently in breach of their duty of care to the public by failing to eliminate (as planned) the clear and obvious risks which result from allowing buses to run on the road. Should anybody sustain injury or loss as a result of that breach, SBC will be liable for such loss or injury in damages (as per the decision of the Court of Appeal in Yetkin v London Borough of Newham ).