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As threat grows from A27 expansion plans

Hilary Benn MP with Robin Crane, chairman of the South Downs Campaign holding a signed copy of the Confirmation Order, 12 November, 2009

Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP with Robin Crane CBE, chairman of the South Downs Campaign, holding a signed copy of the Confirmation Order, 12 November, 2009

Brighton & Hove Friends of the Earth (BHFOE) is today celebrating the 5th anniversary of the signing of the South Downs National Park Confirmation Order by the Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP in Ditchling, who was the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in 2009.

This was the final hurdle to establishing the South Downs National Park, which came into existence on 31 March 2010.

BHFOE believes that the National Park has been an important development in safeguarding and championing the South Downs landscape.  However, on this important anniversary, it is clear from the Prime Minister’s announcement on Monday that the South Downs National Park is under threat from the Government’s £15 billion new roads programme.  (Incidentally this about equals the amount taken from local government over the past few years).

Chris Todd from BHFOE said:

“Today is the 5th anniversary of an important milestone in the history of the South Downs.  5 years ago we thought the future of the South Downs had been secured when it became England’s newest National Park.  Yet already, this Government, egged on by many local authorities, seems hell bent on road building in the South Downs.

“The impact of individual schemes at Arundel, Worthing and between Lewes and Polegate is bad enough, but the cumulative impact could be devastating.  It is bound to increase pressure for further road expansion on the A27 as the congestion just moves to other places on the network.  It’s a bit like searching for the Holy Grail.  It will require more and more effort and ultimately we risk destroying an iconic landscape in a rather fruitless search for economic prosperity.”

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News Release, Monday, 21 July, 2014

Bus users left out in the rain

Brighton & Hove Friends of the Earth (BHFOE) is calling on RBS and Brighton & Hove City Council to come up with some innovative designs to give bus passengers proper shelter in North Street, Brighton as part of the RBS financed improvement scheme [1].  The proposed shelters in North Street are far too small for the numbers of people waiting as can be seen by observing the current situation [2].

Despite a few new shelters being proposed as part of this scheme, BHFOE believes they will be overwhelmed by the number of users and consequently many people will continue to block shop doorways as they seek shelter in the rain.  This is one of the issues the scheme is meant to be addressing.

BHFOE is also concerned that moving the eastbound bus stops towards Pavilion Gardens could cause pedestrian congestion as the pavement is quite narrow here where people also congregate for the pedestrian crossing.

Chris Todd from BHFOE said:

“Unfortunately what is a good scheme in many respects, fails abysmally when it comes to providing bus users with shelter.  Given that a large number of shoppers arrive by bus, in an area that RBS wants to see trade boosted, ignoring this issue is a serious mistake.

“Installing bog-standard bus shelters which cater for only a fraction of the people at the bus stops is poor design.  While, ignoring the problem, hoping it will miraculously disappear, is wishful thinking.

“If RBS are unable or unwilling to pay for proper bus or pavement shelters, then it should pay the Council the money to come up with something better.

“Our solution would be to create an attractive pavement shelter which could protect both bus passengers and shoppers when it is raining.  This would stop bus passengers needing to stand in shop doorways for shelter while encouraging shoppers to linger in the area rather than hurry through it.  Unless changes are made to the designs, this will represent a wasted opportunity to put North St on the map, while leaving bus users out in the rain.”

[1]   The initial proposals went to the Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee on 1 July 2014 after a short consultation a couple of weeks before then.

[2]   There are currently 3 bus shelters in North St for eastbound users.  These are constantly oversubscribed with passengers spreading out all around these shelters which are far too small for the numbers of people using the buses.  RBS are just proposing replacing them like for like. However, in the plans RBS’s consultants have produced, only 2 of these shelters are shown as existing today.  This could create a false impression that RBS is making more improvements than it really is.

Westbound there are currently no bus shelters, although many people waiting at one of the bus stops shelter under the canopy extending out from the buildings there.  RBS is proposing 3 new shelters so there would be a slight gain here but given the numbers of people using the stops they would appear more tokenistic than practical.

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Brighton & Hove Friends of the Earth (BHFOE) has welcomed the City Council’s rejection of a Conservative motion to join the A27 Action Campaign, when both Labour and Greens voted against it.  BHFOE is concerned that dualling the A27 would harm the city’s interests, undermine public transport and increase congestion and pollution as more people would be tempted to drive along the south coast rather than use the train or bus.  See our previous blog for more detail.

A key thrust of the Conservative argument in support of dualling the A27 was that it would allow the space for more sustainable transport to be improved.  However, BHFOE is not convinced by this argument as many of the coastal towns have smaller populations and traffic levels compared to Brighton & Hove and many improvements could be done now.  The reality is that West Sussex County Council has done very little to promote walking, cycling and public transport, other than a few notable exceptions, as it has clung on to the hope that one day an upgrade to the A27 would solve all of its transport problems.  In reality, it is likely to lead to more traffic and pollution and the quality of life in West Sussex will probably fall, while the impact on the South Downs would be severe.

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News Release, Wednesday, 16 July, 2014

A27 dualling could cost the city

Brighton & Hove Friends of the Earth (BHFOE) is calling on Brighton & Hove City Council to reject the Conservative Notice of Motion to support the A27 Action Campaign [1] at the Full Council meeting tomorrow [2].  Apart from the fact that dualling the A27, particularly around Worthing, would be extremely costly, BHFOE does not believe it is in the interests of the city.  Also, it is sceptical that there is any evidence that it would boost economic growth.

New roads generate more traffic and that will increase congestion and pollution within the city as more people are tempted to drive along the south coast.  This would also undermine public transport and put the city’s road network under further stress while reducing the transport options for tourists visiting the city.  Much of the traffic on the A27 is local traffic and requires local transport solutions, not big new roads.

Chris Todd from BHFOE said:

“Many councillors spent years supporting the creation of the South Downs National Park.  Now they risk throwing much of that away if they support the A27 Action Campaign.  This group’s aim to see the A27 dualled along its whole length would be extremely costly economically and environmentally.  If successful, it could then lead to more roadbuilding around Brighton & Hove, and cause huge damage to the South Downs.

“Rather than going backwards we need to be moving forward with ideas and solutions fit for the 21st century.  Many of the concerns businesses have could be addressed by small online improvements, such as a new junction at Crossbush, and by measures to reduce traffic.  If as they claim traffic and congestion is so bad yet so critical to the economy it begs the questions:  Why are we doing relatively well along the south coast?  And secondly, why have local authorities, aside from Brighton & Hove, done so little to promote walking, cycling and public transport and traffic reduction measures?”

“Given the cost of doing anything around Worthing – a tunnel is like to be of the order of £2 billion – it is unlikely the A27 will be dualled any time soon.  This campaign is only raising false hope while failing to tackle the real problem of there being too much traffic.  Car journeys don’t start and end on the A27, they start and end in the towns and cities adjacent to it.  These are the places where the congestion will transfer to.  The city’s energy and efforts would be far better focussed on tackling the real issues of our day:  climate change [3], air pollution, obesity, diabetes, mental health are putting the NHS under severe strain and costing it billions.  Isn’t it about time we had some joined up thinking and started promoting healthier transport choices?”

[1]   The Conservative Notice of Motion states:  “In order further to promote business investment and economic growth in the Greater Brighton area this Council resolves to pledge its support to the newly-formed A27 Action campaign.”

[2]   BHCC’s Full Council meeting is taking place on Thursday, 17 July, 4.30pm Council Chamber, Brighton Town Hall.

[3]   The UK’s Committee for Climate Change yesterday published a report saying that we are unlikely to meet our carbon reduction targets without greater action.  Building new roads increase carbon emissions and will make this task even harder and more costly.

 

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Copy of a letter sent to the Argus (and published 7 June) regarding the ‘news’ that congestion had got fractionally worse last year as measured by TomTom (Argus, 4 June).

Dear Editor,

Seeking free-flowing urban traffic conditions is like searching for the holy grail.  The hard truth is that every urban area suffers from congestion and it’s not going away.  The fact that it’s got fractionally worse in Brighton is hardly news (Argus, 4 June), given the number of large schemes built last year plus emergency repairs to North Street and elsewhere.  In fact it’s surprising that congestion wasn’t worse in the circumstances.

Your editorial (Argus, 4 June) was also mistaken to talk of typical commuters and to quote the Government’s traffic forecasts.  Firstly in Brighton & Hove there are no typical commuters as a lot of people walk, cycle and catch a bus or train as well as drive a car.  Secondly, it is unlikely that traffic levels will rise by 40% within the city.  This figure is based on a Department for Transport model which does not work well for urban areas and in any case nearly always overestimates traffic levels.

Within the city, the key thing is giving people access to the goods and services they need.  This does not always have to be done by car.  Indeed, in tight urban spaces, cars are one of the least efficient ways of moving large numbers of people as they take up so much space for the numbers they transport.  Buses are for more efficient, while walking and cycling are far more flexible and often quicker for short journeys.

One of the biggest threats to urban congestion, ironically, could come from Government’s roadbuilding plans.  Not only will upgrading the A27 scar the National Park, it will encourage more people to drive in and out of Brighton, rather than use public transport.  That will drive up congestion and pollution offsetting any quicker journey times on the A27 itself.

Finally, the article says that a car commuter will spend around 4 months of their lives stationary in traffic.  Yet this is nothing compared to the fact that in the city around 115 people are estimated to die each year due to air pollution.  Somehow I don’t think we’ve got our priorities quite right.

Yours sincerely,

Chris Todd

Planning & Transport Campaigner

Brighton & Hove Friends of the Earth

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News release issued Monday, 24 March, 2014

Free Sunday parking could cost us dearly:  Bus services and air quality could be at risk

Brighton & Hove Friends of the Earth (BHFOE) is condemning calls by Brighton & Hove Liberal Democrats for free Sunday parking [1] as financially irresponsible and potentially damaging to the city in the long term.  The Lib-Dems petition on this is due to be discussed at Brighton & Hove City Council’s Full Council meeting on Thursday.

Local authority budgets are under severe constraint and with bigger cuts coming over the next few years, as indicated in the recent Budget, BHFOE believes that to reduce income which could be used to improve the city’s crumbling infrastructure is foolish.  BHFOE also believes that making a substantial amount of parking free on Sunday could cause even more congestion and pollution as cars drive around the city looking for free spaces.  The measure would also risk undermining Sunday bus services, which are often less profitable than weekday ones.  Loss of these services could see some people become more isolated, while others might feel they need to own a car whereas previously they didn’t.  This would then create more congestion and pollution and put more pressure on residents’ parking.

Chris Todd from BHFOE said:

“These proposals from the Liberal Democrats are just plain daft.  They are jumping on the free parking bandwagon without thinking through the consequences.  Who is going to pay is clear.  We all are.  Our roads are crumbling and services for the needy and vulnerable are under severe pressure.  From the budget last week it’s obvious that things are only going to get tougher for local authorities with even more cuts on the way.  So chucking away income from Sunday parking would be financially irresponsible.

“Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker, when he was Transport Minister, probably did more than any minister previously to support the bus industry.  Yet here are his colleagues in Brighton & Hove proposing a measure that could lead to a loss in bus services.

“We would urge the City Council to ignore this rash petition.  If the Liberal Democrats really care about the city, they should support measures to reduce car use and improve air quality, while making it safer and more pleasant for people of all ages to walk, cycle and use public transport.”

[1]   The Liberal Democrats are proposing that parking charges are scrapped for all council run car parks and on-street parking bays on Sundays

 

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BHFOE recently complained to The Argus about its reporting of the Council’s decision on extending the 20mph speed limits across more areas in Brighton & Hove.  To its credit, The Argus published our letter in full, however, the editor, Michael Beard said the following underneath:  In response to Chris Todd, we carried out an extensive vox pop in Portland Road to gather views of residents and found the response was against it.  our reporter contacted Mr Todd as soon as he was able to.  Mr Todd is always welcome to contact The Argus if he wishes to make a point.  In addition, the fact that someone advertises in The Argus has no bearing whatsoever on the editorial judgment of the paper.

In response to Michael Beard, The Argus said that it spoke to 100 people in Portland Road, 43 of whom supported 20mph.  In terms of balance, we therefore felt that at least one, if not two, of the four vox pops quoted should have been supportive of 20mph, not all four against it.  This is not sour grapes, not least because we supported Portland Road being 30mph out of concern for the impact on the bus services.  However, we are concerned at the content and quality of the articles appearing on transport in The Argus.  More recently, there has been as article about how free parking has helped boost trade in the city.  Yet it contained absolutely no evidence to support this, other than anecdotal.  The most likely reason for shop owners having a good two weeks’ trade is the upturn in the economy and the fact that it’s only a few weeks to Christmas

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