#CWEST | Transport issues in #SWExeter [a much longer response]

Comments from
Cllr Paul Bull, ward councillor for Cowick on Exeter City Council
15 April 2015

Q1 Do you agree that there should be a full and open review of the current proposals for SW Exeter?

The simple answer is “YES, I agree that there should be a full and open review of the current proposals for SW Exeter”

But it is probably worth expanding on that short answer into a long exploration as to why I have come to that conclusion

There has been a long and involved history regarding the provision of a Park & Ride Site to serve the SW gateway to Exeter.

Some of this history is set out by CWEST in a briefing document “Alphington Park and Ride – what’s it for?
[use the link to “have a look at this” to download it].

My own involvement with this site started in 2010 when I was selected as Exeter Labour Party Candidate for Cowick.

As a candidate – and then as newly elected councillor – I supported the aims and objectives of the Stop The Alphington Park & Ride campaign.

Back then, I thought that the infrastructure for the 800+ spaces being proposed for the site would not sufficient to make any significant impact on the 1000 cars an hour in both directions using the Alphington Road corridor between 0700 – 1900.

There were a couple of planning applications submitted by DCC Highways which had to be considered by ECC Planning Committee for comments before going before DCC’s own Development Management Committee. No decision was actually made, but the plan has continued to be on the back-burner.

My own objection to ECC Planning Committee of 21/02/11 can be seen in an earlier blogpost

It is interesting to note that the Scheme Prioritisation Proforma document prepared in 2013 by Heart of the SW Local Transport Board [HotSWLTB] states:
Commercial – flexibility of option
The scheme is flexible and can be adapted to suit funding availability (e.g. size of parking and frequency of services) however it should be noted that a reduction in capacity and frequency will result in a less effective scheme

This seems to suggest that HotSWLTB think that a 800 space P&R site is the bare minimum needed to address traffic congestion.

If there were to be a viable P&R near this interchange that really did remove traffic from the Alphington Road corridor scheme, I believe the size would be need to be nearer to 2000 -2500 spaces. There may have been suitable sites with the boundaries of Teignbridge District Council, but these were rejected outright by DCC apparently because they would be too costly to progress.

This was confirmed to me in a FoI Request (Information Request 001147) that said:
“The preferred location for the proposed park and ride facility (site C) was chosen following a rigorous assessment of alternative sites, as documented in the Site Options Appraisal Report (SOAR) which supports the planning application; which can be viewed via the following, on the County Council website.

http://www.devon.gov.uk/appref?id=3834&date=2010-12

A holistic approach was taken to the selection of a site, giving consideration to both environmental and technical issues. In addition to the significant and costly earthworks, sites A and E would result in significantly adverse visual impacts due to their elevations. They would also be less attractive to users approaching from the A30 due to their more remote locations.

In view of these issues, it was not considered prudent to spend time and money undertaking geotechnical investigations and design work to determine detailed cost estimates for these sites, and therefore Devon

County Council does not hold the information relating to the cost of developing sites A and E that you request. However, it is clear that construction of a park and ride facility on sites A or E would cost significantly more than site C due to their landform and likely access requirements.

Please also be assured that a significant amount of traffic assessment work has been undertaken to ensure that the proposed facility is appropriately sized for both current and future demand.”

[UPDATE 17/04/15 – It seems that DCC might be exploring alternative sites! I will be interested to see where these are].

The land proposed for the Alphington P&R is an important green approach to Exeter from the West.

The site currently enjoys 3 levels of protection:
– as part of the Alphin Brook Conservation Area;
– as the Alphin Brook Valley Park;and
– as a Site of Nature Conservation Importance.

It appears with this protection, the only type of development under planning regulations that can happen on this site is Park & Ride.

Devon County Council’s Local Transport Plan 2006 – 2011 [LTP2 Devon On The Move] called for a fourth P&R site for Exeter near Ide Interchange but it had to be
Introduced with provision of a bus priority route into the city”.

One of my principal objections back in 2011 was that the infrastructure was not in place to allow the P&R buses quick, easy and convenient access to and from the city centre.

Since then, DCC has delivered elements of the Exeter Principal Urban Area (PUA) infrastructure – notably the Link Road by Sainsbury into Marsh Barton and improvements to Alphington Road between Alphington Cross and Marsh Barton Road. These have has little or no effect on the traffic flow numbers along this corridor.

The HotSWLTB proforma paper talks about the Scale of Impact
The scheme does not currently include any bus priority measures on the Alphington Road corridor. Previous scheme designs did feature bus lanes but these have been removed to reduce the scheme cost. However this is still being considered and the aspiration is to provide inbound bus lanes from the park and ride to Marsh Barton Road.

So it seems that there are still no plans for bus priority lanes!

 Back in 2011, I thought that a 800+ space P&R site was too small to make a significant impact to the Alphington Road corridor, and nothing I have heard in the interim will convince me a 650 space scheme is any different.

Gong back to the HotSWLTB document, in the description of the scheme there is also a reference to:
The first priority is to improve access to the city and the Alphington Park and Ride is one of two new proposed schemes that will capture traffic on the outskirts and provide additional capacity into Exeter.”

In 2013 there was no planned scheme for the north of the city, so I can only assume that this was reference to an intention to deliver a P&R site for SW Exeter urban extension within the Teignbridge District Council boundaries as that district worked on its emerging Local Plan.

Back then, there were at least 3 options being discussed:
– Expanding Matford P&R site;
– Delivering new P&R site close to A379, within TDC boundaries; or
– Reinvestigate Ide Interchange site

I never viewed these options as mutually exclusive, and thought there might be good grounds to deliver more than one option.

And the options within TDC had various sites open to them, with different benefits.

The main thrust of the Plan Teignbridge discussions was a site on one side or the other of the A379. This would have required some form of junction, whether a roundabout or signaled, which would have had the effect of slowing down the traffic along this key corridor. One of the drawbacks of this scheme was that discussions suggested that the P&R bus would also serve the new developments – not really satisfactory for either new residents or commuters.

My preferred option would be to place the P&R scheme further out on the site of Frank Tucker Commerical at Peamore. This would intercept traffic from A38 at a much early stage – and require a dedicated P&R bus.

When TDC adopted their Local Plan [Plan Teignbridge] in May 2013 it was with a commitment to a “1000 space park and ride hub” as part of the public transport and highways improvements needed to facilitate sustainable “delivery of at least 2000 homes with a target of 25% affordable homes” in the SW Exeter Urban Extension [Policy SWE1 on p 111]

It goes on to say
10.10 A key part of this public transport network is the provision of a replacement park and ride facility within the new development. Ideally located to the south of the A379 at the intersection of the A30 and A379, it will serve existing commuters and help change the nature of the A379 and reduce traffic to Chudleigh Road.

As it turned out, DCC allowed TDC to remove the requirement for a P&R site within the TDC boundaries – a decision that was made easier for them with s106 developer contributions towards the Aphington P&R scheme near the Ide Interchange.

For some reason DCC allowed TDC to change this commitment to a P&R within their own boundaries when the SW Exeter Development Framework Plan at TDC’s Planning Committee of 29/06/14.

This seems to be accompanied by a developer contribution of s106 planning consideration to help fund the Alphington Park & Ride scheme.

In the summer of 2014 I attended a DCC workshop with other local councillors (ECC and DCC), ECC portfolio holders, DCC cabinet members, senior officers from both authorities, and other key stakeholders, partners and agencies. This was chaired by Paul Nero of Radio Exe and seemed to be an interesting and new way to move forward. We discussed the various ways DCC could look at reducing traffic congestion along the Alphington Road corridor, but most of it centred around a new plan for Alphington P&R.

I was keen to roll out the workshop idea (again chaired by Paul Nero) to discuss options with local residents and other stakeholders ahead of any new planning application

It seems that DCC were in the process of doing just this (whether Paul Nero would have led the Jacobs workshop), when there was a dramatic turn of events.

In all the above, I had assumed that Mrs Newberry, the owner of Oakland Riding Stables at Ide Interchange, was prepared to sell the land to DCC

It seems that the only way that DCC could obtain the Oaklands Riding Stables is by issuing a Compulsory Purchase Order. Whilst this might not a game-changer, it means that many of the horse-riding fraternity are now, also, against the Aphington P&R scheme.

In the light of the latest outcry, DCC have announced that they were
“postponing the workshop in order to gather additional information on other, alternative sites in the vicinity of the interchange.”

So there ARE alternative sites, sites for at least 4 years are NOT viable. Where are they?

Q2 What is your position whether a Park & Ride scheme should be built on the Oaklands Riding School fields.

I am not against P&R schemes per se

Indeed, I support the aspirations set out in Exeter City Council Core Strategy (adopted February 2012) that were to build on measures set out in Devon County Council Local Transport Plan 2006-20111 [LTP2].

8.4…the measures indentified include:
Provision of additional Park & Ride sites around the city, including:
– a new site at Ide Interchange to serve the A30 to the west;
– …;
– investigation of a possible site within the proposed urban extension to the south west, outside the city boundary in Teignbridge, to serve the A379 to the south; and
– …

That said, I will not support a new P&R scheme on the site of Oakfields Riding School at any cost. DCC will have to convince me that a P&R scheme on this site is better than one located elsewhere, and if located here will work to reduce traffic congestion along the Alphington Road corridor.

In 2011 I was against the proposal for a 800+ space P&R site as I did not think then that the scheme was big enough to tackle the traffic congestion along the Alphington Road corridor.

The new plans seem to be suggesting a smaller scheme – with around 600 spaces provided.

There are other options (and now it seems sites) to be explored.

These options could include:
– Remote park and ride schemes further out from Exeter, with the added advantage of preserving and enhancing rural bus services. Could a site at or near Tedburn St Mary bring a P&R service into Exeter via B3212 Dunsford Road, in the same way as a site near the new Tescos in Crediton might relieve pressure form the north
– Are there suitable options for DCC to develop “Park & Change” sites in SW Exeter in the same way they are planning elsewhere around the city?
– Is it possible to develop a network of “Link & Ride” sites around the county?

Q3 Do you agree that current Cycling Strategy for Exeter is wholly inadequate as regards Alphington, St Thomas and Marsh Barton?

It is worth stating (especially since DCC itself seems to forget it) the Devon County Council transport hierarchy

It was first outlined in Chapter 7- Devon Strategies in Devon Local Transport Plan 2001 – 2006 [LTP1]:
The Current Position
• Devon Structure Plan First Review policies require developers to have regard to the hierarchy of:
1 Walking
2 Cycling
3 Public Transport
4 Private Vehicles

This hierarchy is re-iterated in Chapter 2 – The Transport Strategy for Devon in Devon Local Transport Plan 2006 – 2011 [LTP2]:
4.Promoting Sustainable Modes of Travel (derived from Structure Plan Policy TR5)
In co-ordinating land use and transportation planning and the management of traffic demand all development should make provision for and promote the safe useof the most sustainable and environmentally acceptable modes of travel, having regard to the following hierarchy:
– Walking
– Cycling
– Public Transport
– Private Vehicles

The trouble is this clear statement of transport hierarchy is missing (or if it there, well buried within) the Devon Local Transport Plan 2011 – 2026 [LTP3]!

Back in February 2011, DCC published Exeter Cycle Strategy – Supporting LDF Evidence Report.

This document has the stated vision of working towards achieving:
Cycling is fully integrated into the fabric of the city and seen as the first choice mode for a large proportion of everyday and leisure journeys.”

According to Rush Hour,  a report by Trevor Preist for Exeter Civic Society for Transition Exeter, already some 30% of journeys to work in Exeter are by cycle or work, but currently the walking to cycling ratio is 3:1.

The strategy has a challenging target of raising this to 20% of journeys to work by bicycle alone.

To do this the strategy sets out to encourage more people to cycle, using a comprehensive, joined-up cycle network , and states that it is important that the new cycle network extends to the major urban extensions of the city, including SW Exeter.

The report goes on to highlight 8 primary routes, but not one of them is based around SW Exeter and the city centre. In fact, it seems it’s more important for residents of Exminster to use primary route 2 to get to Pinhoe than for residents of Alphington and the new developments of SW Exeter urban extension to get Marsh Barton and the city centre.

The above report has recently been superseded by the Cycling And Multi-Use Trail Network Strategy, which was agreed by DCC Cabinet on 08/04/15, at the same as it also agreed a Transport Infrastructure Plan.

To me, it is a shame that these 2 documents weren’t combined into one overarching strategy reflecting the transport hierarchy!

The Cycling And Multi-Use Trail Network Strategy has a section entitled The Exeter Cycle Network where the stated aim is:
Aim 1: Showcase Exeter, Newton Abbot and Barnstaple as premier cycling towns
to provide a healthy, more efficient alternative to travelling by car for a proportion of journeys – cyclists will be able to avoid congestion and benefit from a traffic-free cycle routes in the urban centres.

Yet, this new strategy downgrades the earlier aspiration of 20% cycling to work to
“12% of employees cycling to work” (one of the achievements of Exeter Cycling Demonstration Town is that currently 6% cycle to work).

The new paper does now provide for a new primary route E8 which would link SW Exeter to the main riverside route but avoids much of the Marsh Barton industrial estate and still misses out all of St Thomas, Cowick and Exwick.

The aspiration is good but can any of this be delivered in times of financial constraint?

The strategy itself acknowledges that the level of flexible funding paid direct to local authorities through the Local Transport Plan Integrated Block Budget has beencut by almost 50% from 2015-16 to help the new Growth Deals.

These Growth Deals are delivered through bids submitted by Heart of the SW Local Transport Board [HotSWLTB], an independent body sitting under the umbrella of the Heart of the SW Local Enterprise Board [HotSWLEP].

My fear about this process is that smaller scale bids might be overlooked in favour of big budget major road infrastructure projects. Perhaps there is a case for lobbying central government to assign an equivalent of s106 monies to these major road infrastructure projects – planning considerations that have to be spent on cycling initiatives!

Indeed a look at the key documents on schemes being considered by HotSWLTB shows that this seems to be the case.

Although HotSWLTB are responding to local policy initiatives and strategies it is NOT in itself democratically accountable.

And as I hear DCC Highways Officers talk about major transport funding initiatives they always seem to place them with the LEP rather than the independent Local Transport Board.

A recent meeting of HotSWLTB (on 09/04/15) approved a paper on LTB/LEP Joint Working. The paper concludes:
There is no proposal at this stage to develop a formal partnership document between the LEP and LTB over and above that contained in the LEP Assurance Framework

The same meeting also considered a paper on Final Business Case Approval which outlines the requirements which need to be met, following the initial consideration of a scheme business case by the Board, before Final Approval can be granted.

So each and every time DCC Officer says it is the HotSWLEP that is responsible for the bidding for major transport infrastructure, I will continue to correct them!

If we can’t be transparent about this fact, what else are this mis-understanding?

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