Sir Liam Fox MP writes to CEO of NSC on the proposed bus lanes for Rownham Hill and Abbots Leigh Road

Letter from Sir Liam Fox MP to Mrs Jo Walker, Chief Executive of North Somerset Council, on proposed bus lanes in Rownham Hill and Abbots Leigh Road:

As you know, central government finance has been made available to improve bus transport across the country. It is intended for “any roads where there is a frequent bus service, congestion, and physical space to install one in Bus Service Improvement Plans (BSIPs).”

In North Somerset, we do not have a frequent bus service, are not subjected to the level of congestion that occurs in many of our cities and given the nature of our transport infrastructure, there is seldom physical space to install bus lanes without substantial disruption to other road users.

It is difficult to see, therefore, how some of the changes which may be forced upon many parts of North Somerset can be justified.

Some of the latest plans have involved proposals for Abbots Leigh Road and Rownham Hill.

As you are aware, I have raised safety issues in the past about road safety on Rownham Hill, particularly in relation to poor drainage and the risk of skidding in wet conditions. This situation is aggravated by the local topography with a steep bend limiting visibility and often requiring rapid breaking from speeding drivers.

The addition of dedicated bus lanes is overwhelmingly rejected by local residents who came together to discuss the plan and consider its implications.

They have written to me (and I believe to North Somerset Council) to say that "we regret that we have to unanimously and firmly reject this plan. The plan is dangerous, unnecessary, very negative ecologically, and environmentally and expensive. The history and complex nature of Rownham Hill safety was insufficiently researched. It is unfortunate that the idea wasn't discussed with the residents at an earlier stage.”

Residents have sent details of how they believe the traffic system in the vicinity could be improved by alternative methods which I will not rehearse again here but, needless to say, they would come with much less disruption, environmental damage or cost.

One resident writes that they have contacted North Somerset Council regarding "really worrying safety concerns about our ability to cross our road on foot.… Increasing the width of this road by 50% would make crossing on foot (which we do several times daily) even more dangerous, especially if taxis, motorbikes (which already often speed really dangerously on the hill) and cars (e.g. during off-peak times) could also use the bus lane. Most motorists do not seem to be aware that Rownham Hill is a 30-mph zone. Overtaking is already an issue in both directions despite it being only one lane in each direction. The existence of an additional lane going up the Hill would tempt/allow many cars to speed and overtake at will, making the process of crossing on foot extremely challenging.”

There is also widespread concern about the environmental impact of the proposals and the potential violation of the Leigh Woods Village Design Statement.

As one resident succinctly put it “The Design Statement points out that ‘…it is the special character of all of the roads which gives Leigh Woods much of its charm and distinctiveness ... the informality of the roads and verges should be protected. Standard street furniture, urban design detailing and sight line requirements will rarely be appropriate even on the main traffic routes, subject to over-riding road safety considerations.'”.

Residents believe that the plans are in breach of Policy CON/13 relating to the development within Conservation Areas, and Policies NE/3 and NE/4 which seek to protect the nature conservation value of the Woods and Gorge. All of Leigh Woods lies within the Green Belt where development is strictly controlled by Policy GRB/3. General policies such as CON/1 dealing with the design of new development also apply.

At a time when we want to see value for money for taxpayers and the removal of unnecessary spending plans, there is no need to simply spend central government money simply because it is available to a local authority. I hope that NSC will reconsider these plans which I believe are unnecessary and a waste of public money.