Not exactly the most effective way to get local people involved?

Not exactly the most effective way to get local people involved?

So 8 months after the Autumn Statement, the good folk of Lobley Hill and Dunston got to see the plans for the proposed changes to A1 from Lobley Hill to Dunston.

The quick recap is that Chancellor announced that he was setting aside £64million to redo the junction to reduce queuing and delays caused by the quick succession of slip roads. £64million for a mile of road? I can only assume it will be paved with gold.

So what was the meeting in Dunston (21st) and Lobley Hill (22nd) actually for?

Well it wasn’t billed as a consultation so I don’t actually know what the official purpose was other than to provide some information to local people. The meeting was organised in some degree of haste which was frustrating given that nothing happened in the intervening 8 months since the Chancellors statement.

The plans presented were a flat schematic set of plans with no model, cross sections, artists impressions or computer visualisations to make understanding the flat plans any easier.

In summary the plan is to:

  • Increase the width of the A1 to become 3 lanes wide from just south of the Lobley Hill junction to connect with recently added 3 lane section from Dunston to the Metro Centre.
  • There will be segregation of local traffic travelling from Newcastle to Lobley Hill and vice versa.
  • There are no new bridges, flyovers, roundabouts or substantial physical infrastructure proposed
  • All of the land for the extra lanes will be created by narrowing the current width of the central reservation and using green space at the margin of the road
  • No land will compulsory purchased and no land currently available for other local use will be taken as the land is currently all owned by the Highways Agency

So what’s not to love? Delays on the A1 reduced. The through traffic will be able to speed past without the usual delays. Local folk will be able to use the road without the risk of ending up parked on the A1 for 30minutes trying to make a 3 mile journey. So should we all be shouting this morning “Hurrah – let’s hear it for the Highways Agency”?

Well I have a large number of concerns about the process and the plans. However, there is so little information that I am having to make a large number of assumptions to even write something coherent.

The process
The process is already flawed as despite having a £64million budget the Highways Agency is by their own admission massively constrained in any how they conduct consultations.

The issues with the process to date are:

  • The meetings were announced late so that even the most interested of people heard about them only 10 days ago
  • While leaflets have been distributed to hotels and service stations from Scotch Corner to Alnwick, local residents didn’t receive anything through the door. A few signs appeared on lamp posts around the area. A leaflet drop to every house in Lobley Hill and Dunston would have cost less than £500 – small price when you want to spend £64million of tax payers money. Housebound folk will know nothing of what is being suggested.
  • The plans had errors on them including the mis-numbering of the most affected houses. Again doesn’t inspire confidence.
  • Despite registering with the Highways Agency website for information specifically on this scheme no email was received. Apparently a technical hitch meant they couldn’t send the emails out.
  • The process has not been called a consultation making it unclear whether the Highways Agency actually want to hear anyone’s views at all
  • The lack of models or cross sections meant that some questions could not be answered or were answered with guesses. For example, one question about a retaining wall on the east side of the project on the corner opposite Chiltern Gardens was met with an answer of aroudn “1-2 metres” for its height. A visual inspection of the line of teh current drawing shows it will 3-4 metres. A wall of this size will significantly affect noise levels in the houses bounding the route.

While I am sure the above is more in the “cock up” rather than “conspiracy” category it does not make you reassured that these folk can spend £64million of our money effectively.

And the scheme itself:

  • The A1 was built for 50,000 car movements a day. Demand surpassed that from day one. Current movements are over 125,000, so why does anyone believe that adding an extra lane will actually make any difference in the short, medium or long term? Demand will rapidly increase once the nice, new shiny road is opened and we will be under pressure to allow it be widened to 4 lanes or wider.
  • This is a road building project in the middle of a large town. Where are the plans for public transport use? Where are the plans to encourage other forms of transport? Where are the bus lanes, cycle paths and additional pedestrian routes? Where are the plans for improvements to the desperate under passes? There is a virtually unused train station in Dunston with 2 trains a day in each direction less than 100 yards from the proposed scheme but it doesn’t feature in the scheme?
  • The hypocrisy in the presentation of this scheme is breathtaking. The Highways Agency has blocked all planning on Team Valley for years unless the developers do a full transport plan showing how they will mitigate increased car journey’s to their development. The Highways Agency present plans and make no mention of how this fits into an integrated transport strategy. Doh!
  • There is currently no information on likely environmental impact, noise increases for residents or implications for the traffic movement changes that will affect local feeder roads to these junctions.

So this scheme fails in every way currently. There is no strategy and integrated approach apart from removing traffic queues with extra lanes. That isn’t a strategy it is merely a short term tactic to improve traffic flow to and from Newcastle from the A1.

The good news is that is no appetite for a legal process or public inquiry so if enough people raise objections the scheme will be canned. So what do you think?