OPINION

Valley Gardens Phase 3 – the road to nowhere

Posted On 20 Jul 2020 at 6:46 pm

There is no more pressing health issue for local residents, workers and business owners than addressing the dangerous levels of air pollution in the city centre.

For this reason, at the most recent Environment, Transport and Sustainability (ETS) Committee, the Conservative group tabled a motion requesting that the area around the Old Steine, North Street, the A259 and Duke’s Mound be subject to a full “environmental impact assessment”.

It’s also obvious that any solution to this crisis requires a holistic approach. It is essential we consider all modes of travel and transport and include the impacts of displaced vehicle traffic into residential streets – which is why our group also requested a comprehensive “traffic modelling assessment”.

Our motion was not framed to score partisan points but rather intended to ensure that as councillors we used every opportunity to do the right thing by the community we serve.

anti-racist brighton and hove

Nonetheless, Labour and Greens voted it down.

The administration’s plans for Valley Gardens Phase 3 cite “environmental screening” drawn up on a desktop model by consultants as the only evidence provided to underpin the project’s safety.

We are urged to have faith in a “vision” of the city centre – that five lanes of traffic on the east side of the Old Steine and a T-junction in place of the seafront roundabout will be “ok”.

The official word is that the Old Steine “is an open area” and “the pollution will blow out to sea” – despite the wind direction.

Council officers openly admit that they have no idea where traffic will displace. Surely any competent plan would consider the science – and empirical evidence – to support the “vision”.

Now, the administration’s lack of joined up thinking has moved up another level during the covid emergency. In recent weeks, Duke’s Mound received planning permission for changes to the junction with Marine Parade.

Council officers confirmed that the traffic study has not been “overlapped” with Valley Gardens Phase 3.

Meanwhile, North Street remains the seventh most polluted road in the country outside of London – and in a recent report, the council confirmed that progress to eliminate pollution remains significantly behind its own targets.

North Street is the centre of Brighton’s self-declared “Ultra Low Emissions Zone” (ULEZ) and yet primarily bus-generated pollution levels remain some two to three times higher than the legal limit – despite being blocked off to the majority of private vehicles.

These are extraordinary times. It is agreed by all of us that we must do all we can to create space for social distancing and economic recovery for our citizens and the city.

The council needs to do much more to alter its transport infrastructure to make active travel safer, more accessible and to reach all parts of the city. That is why a “Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan” is being developed.

The Conservatives want the council to take a more holistic approach to road layout changes

It is an important piece of work. It requires significant and robust consultation, expert analysis, evidence gathering and qualification. The council also needs to do more to support better public transport post covid.

However, we have a plethora of new changes being introduced off the back of the pandemic including Madeira Drive, the city centre, The Lanes and North Laine being closed to traffic and the A259 being narrowed for cycle or bus lanes.

For some time to come, public transport will be off limits for a significant number of visitors and workers in the city.

Because of these changes – all of which massively impact the potential traffic movements around the Old Steine, the A259, the A23 and the surrounding areas such as Kemp Town – the basis upon which Valley Gardens Phase 3 was proposed by the Labour administration, officers and consultants alike some 18 months ago must now be reimagined and reworked as part of this new situation.

To progress Valley Gardens Phase 3 without a full and up to date environmental impact study is a dereliction of duty by councillors and the council.

To have absolutely no idea how air quality or pollution will change as a result of changes to transport and travel through the centre of the city is nothing short of negligence.

Over 19 million vehicle journeys pass through the Aquarium roundabout every year (some 50,000 a day).

A visualisation of the area in front of the Palace Pier if the Aquarium roundabout is replaced by traffic lights

It is beyond deluded to think that if you reduce road capacity to the degree proposed, the result will be that everybody will abandon their vehicle and resort to walking and cycling.

The result will be greater congestion on fewer roads, increased pollution and lower air quality.

After all the argument, it is astonishing that there is still resistance to carrying out the study we have asked for.

Such research may prove our fears are baseless. The consultants might have been right all along.   But what do Labour and the Greens fear? And why do they continue to refuse to allow a proper gathering of the evidence and data upon which to make sound rational decisions? We would be satisfied to be proved wrong!

Some will also argue that the radical changes are covid-driven and that everybody has an opportunity to object to them. They will argue that everything is temporary.

An artist’s impression of the proposed seafront cycle lane

We are highly sceptical that these changes are intended to be temporary. To introduce the changes, a temporary Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) is necessary.

But as soon as the covid response or legislation no longer supports the temporary TRO, the changes must be reversed.

The council has, however, changed the status of these orders to “experimental TROs” and, as a direct result, the changes can remain in place post-covid.

Furthermore, the council has no budget to pay for reversing the changes, using every penny of the hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayer money provided by the government to put the schemes in.

And at the ETS Committee, Labour and Greens voted to pass a motion that instructed officers to make plans for all the changes to become permanent.

Meaningful consultation? Strategic joined up planning for the future? None at all.

Councillor Lee Wares

It is a given that we are all committed to tackling climate change, improving air quality, reducing pollution, improving accessible active travel for all, improving public transport, supporting the economy (in particular our billion-pound tourist industry) and making sure our infrastructure is fit for purpose – and can underpin all of the above.

What we can’t do is duck the hard preparatory work and to study the projected impacts.

Above all else, if we want our citizens and businesses to wholeheartedly support and stand by the changes, they must be part of the conversation at all levels. This is not happening at the moment and requires an immediate reset.

The council is pursuing a policy of “suck it and see”. Implementation first, consultation later. This is democratically untenable.

Without a radical change in approach, this Labour administration, supported by the Greens, remains on a road to nowhere.

Councillor Lee Wares speaks for the Conservatives on Brighton and Hove City Council’s Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee.

  1. Nathan Adler Reply

    Cllr Wares talking common sense again. These ‘temporary’ vanity projects need to go.

  2. Peter Challis Reply

    Just shows how out of touch with the realities of transport and traffic management the Labour-Green alliance is.

    Explains how they didn’t do any planning with the OSR cycle lane extension leading to severe congestion, queuing, and traffic finding alternative rat runs, and no one on the council was tracking this, or even cares of the impact of residents, businesses, tradesmen, visitors and tourists.

    Have emergency services been consulted? Has anyone in the council heard of “risk assessment”?

  3. Gary Farmer Reply

    Entrenched loyalist party politics on national agendas which do not represent the specific needs of local administration and a lack of independent responsible alternatives to an outdated system have resulted in this and other debacles. Electing career politicians who have to mirror national issues in community administration needs to end, it does not work.

  4. Paul Reply

    The future is not sitting in little metal boxes. The rest of Europe has understood this for decades: just look at their tail and cycling options. It’s time to catch up

    • Rolivan Reply

      As some of you know I spend 6 months of the yesr in France Car looling and Park and ride has become very popular.
      Until there is a purpose built Park and Ride then people will and should be able to use their vehicle.
      If they were to build one then they could introduce a Congestion Charge but not until then.

  5. Mark Strong Reply

    We want to make sure that we reprioritise the way that local
    authorities think about road space so that they think about putting
    walking and cycling as the first two of those—possibly e-scooters as well
    since they are coming along—and driving as the next thing, rather than
    how we just construct it around the car and the other things will have to
    fit in around vehicles.

  6. Bill Reply

    “We are urged to have faith in a “vision” of the city centre – that five lanes of traffic on the east side of the Old Steine and a T-junction in place of the seafront roundabout will be “ok”.”

    So, five lanes of traffic on the east side of the Old Steine is an overkill is it, really?

    There are ALREADY SIX LANES on that side, try looking at the current road on Google maps, there are THREE lanes for traffic leading upto the roundabout, one lane before that turns through traffic lights to go round past the YHA/hotels, and another TWO lanes to the right of that next to the central park bit.

    That’s SIX lanes already!

    Here’s the link proving it.

    https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@50.8202756,-0.1367202,3a,90y,200.8h,67.27t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sbc4kqv8ki0dlbkqnDmiACw!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

    The new design removes one lane, and makes access for buses only past to go past the hotels/YHA from the new lanes, CLEARLY shown on the plans, so stop waffling and making things up about congestion because it is plainly nonsense.

  7. Paul J Williams Reply

    Well Said Lee. If only the council were made up of Lee Wareses rather than the clowns we have who don’t give a monkeys about anyone but themselves and squandering tax payers’ money on their own pet projects rather than delivering what we pay them to deliver.

  8. Rob Arbery Reply

    Possibly the biggest waste of a consultation ever when 67% asked to retain the Aquarium Roundabout – but stuff that it’s not what the administration wanted to hear. Absolute shambles

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