Wye Ruin It?

Wye Ruin It?

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The Herefordshire Council Cabinet meeting 16 November 2017: The South Wye Transport Package Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs)

We demonstrated our determination to object to the Hereford Transport Package as it stands. We witnessed the ineptitude of council management and were forewarned about the missing fact-based current, professional, independent, cost-benefit analysis on which to recommend a development. Your primary questions were all asked but received few satisfactory answers.

City congestion remains the issue but Council will not solve it with bigger roads. More traffic will lead to increased pollution and greater health costs. The required solutions include better public transport, a mass transit system and sustainable transport measures. The capital management and initial modelling should be upgraded to include a full cost benefit analysis including human health costs and attaching higher value to biodiversity and unique habitats.

The result of the meeting was a done-deal. Cabinet members had little or no intention of discussing the pros and cons of the matter in public. They met with the sole intention of pressing ahead with their antiquarian plan for increasing road capacity at any cost: more traffic pollution and another blank cheque for the property developers. You can forget better public transport options because they wrote-off modern transport solutions, including trams with a survey, now 16 years out of date. The councillor for infrastructure demonstrated his ignorance on current transport research and development with his instant dismissal of any talk of city trams. Buses are not profitable for the private sector and funds are short. The 62% fall in bus and coach services crossing the bridge over the last five years reflects a dereliction of public duty to provide adequate and affordable transport options to school children and their commuting parents.

Future Congestion Issues Denied
The Southern route is all part of the Western Bypass and the plan for M5/6 traffic relief along the A49. However this motorway congestion relief is not reflected in any public traffic modelling used by the council to build its case and future cost-benefit analysis. If it was, it would show a marked increase in congestion and defeat the object of the bypass. The current models assume a 29% increase in road usage over the period reflecting the new households but not the motorway relief.

Based on published Highways Agency traffic counts on select points of the motorways and the A49 we observed annual traffic flows are ten times higher on the M5/M6. This is clear evidence, even to a layman, that 10% relief of the motorway would double A49 through-traffic and a more financially attractive 20% level of motorway relief would see a trebling of total traffic volume using the A49. Worse still is the volume of HGV traffic using the A49. This will increase 5-7 times with the proposed relief of M5/M6 motorway traffic assuming the 20% level.

These figures were described as pure speculation by the Councillor for infrastructure, but he did not have any non-speculative estimates of motorway traffic relief volumes. The Council is in denial about future congestion issues claiming it is for economic benefit but failing to demonstrate them. The models used were produced without any meaningful motorway relief volumes.

Our initial observations are consistent with historic data. CPRE reports demonstrate bypasses increase congestion. Proposed motorway relief traffic will flood new networks as capacity is increased. City traffic will only get worse as a result of 26% increase in city housing. The financial case for the southern link road has not been made clear to the public in any consultation.

Health Issues
The cost-benefit analysis will exclude future health costs arising from ill health related to fine particulate pollution from motorway traffic and commuting in private cars. These health cost are not included. Why? Because current planning procedure ignores the increased fatality rates in polluted cities and cost of treating humans suffering from mental or physical complaints related to ingestion of diesel particulates and inactive lifestyles, despite generations of research and new government guidelines. 

Cost Issues
Whilst capital costs run riot, budgets based on ill-defined estimates will prevail because according to Councillor Price for Infrastructure, ‘that is how they do it in the public sector’. (They plan to start with a stab in the dark and end up with a much bigger cost guided by their cost-plus contracted consultant Balfour Beatty). Don’t ask for a fixed cost or a guaranteed cost because it is not industry practice for public sector works. Why not? Because, this Councils’ advisors says so and Council is guided by construction industry consultants (with substantial conflicts of interest). 

In fact it is industry practise to fix prices where possible, but fixed cost contracts cost more at the outset because the contractors take on more risk and the project parameters are better defined. This potentially provides better cost definition for the public purse and better management of long term development contracts. With the current city link road originally designed to cost £27m but coming in at £34m we would be silly not to ask if all new projects can be expected to rise 25%-50% under their methods of capital management.

Lack of Due Diligence
The meeting was well attended by the public who submitted many questions, 30 of which were accepted for discussion although the Cabinet tried to defer discussion to just a fraction given their derisory 15 minute time constraint for public questions. After a polite but stern response from the gallery Council was forced to listen to the full list of 30 questions.

If we learned anything on Thursday, it was that Cllr Price is not in command of the details of his portfolio. He did not respond in detail to questions on costs-benefit analysis, health issues arising from greater HGV volumes or indeed the basic traffic modelling data. What is he doing running a portfolio without the wherewithal to retain and communicate the key facts? Time and time again he merely pointed to out-dated and inadequate traffic models published before the issue of M5/M6 traffic relief and the A465 improvements were included. Time and time again he brushed aside questions on the cost benefit model that exclude human health costs and environmental costs. 

Poor Governance
This scheme is going ahead without a proper public consultation on the traffic implications because the responsible parties do not have the figures at hand or most likely, like the environmental biodiversity data, Cabinet plans to withhold relevant factual reports until after the decisions are made to proceed. 

This is poor governance and would be treated with appropriate redress in the world of private business but because its public works it is duly noted and ignored. The emergence of a Marches LEP Loan document due for repayment, that became a grant, during the course of the meeting, then a loan based on freedom of information disclosures. The CFO finance was not aware of the shenanigans but will catch up in the next meeting with the Marches LEP. Meanwhile the public witnessed a perfect example of the duplicity of council management.

Patricia Ronan