A Talk to the AGM of Trams for Bath
6 February 2001
SH said he would explain the B&NES organisation and how his new job with the Council fitted in to it.
For the purposes of this evening we could entirely forget the Waste element in his role.
His primary aim and remit was to set up a long-term strategic planning policy.
He had found his first task was to establish a relevant organisation within which this could be achieved.
Previously there had been some lack of positive policy direction within which the staff could operate, with the inevitable result that some able personnel had become frustrated and left the organisation.
B&NES had just made a key new appointment in the area of Traffic & Transportation, this was Barbara Selby, designated as Access Manager, who would take up her post very shortly.
SH said that, on a small point, it was somewhat unfortunate that her post had been designated as
Access Manager as in Bath this title conjured up visions of the local Access Bath organisation, whereas the span and scope of Ms Selbys remit was going to be very much wider than just caring for the needs of the disabled community. He was pleased to be able to say that, judging from his experience so far, he believed that Ms Selby would be bringing some fresh new ideas to the problems of this city.
There would also be another similar new senior management appointment to superintend Highway Network and Maintenance.
On taking over, SH found that the establishment of the organisation was running with some 25 per cent of staff posts vacant. This had inevitable consequences, as the remainder of the staff were primarily employed fire-fighting on urgent day-to-day problems, the basic calm long-range planning which should also have been under way was having to be neglected.
SH said it was interesting to reflect how Bath had appeared
to him through the eyes of a newcomer to the city. He admitted
that his initial impressions were that this is an awful congested
It was only after settling in and looking around in more detail that he realised that this generalisation was not consistently true, indeed Bath has some most unusual characteristics. In most other towns and cities that have become traffic congested, the congestion has a universal characteristic, but here in Bath the congestion is localised. Whilst there is well-known congestion at certain places within the city, elsewhere traffic virtually always flows freely, and there is never any congestion at all !
The classic solution to solving such a situation would be to maximise roadspace at the points affected by congestion, but in Bath the great problem was that heritage buildings at crucial places could not be modified to release roadspace. There had been efforts in the past to adopt classic measures to free up essential traffic, such as Bus Lanes, but the Bath situation meant these had had to be fragmented, in unnaturally short sections, and therefore had only had a proportionately limited effect in facilitating public transport flows. In Bath he had found that there was a problem over the perception of local public transport, the common reasons advanced being that it was seen as expensive, of poor quality, and with service factors adversely affected by infrequency and unreliability ---though the last-named seemed to be correctly perceived as a result rather than as a cause of general traffic congestion.
However this perception was not necessarily correctly linked to the actual quality or service level of the public transport mode itself, because, as a generality, Bath was little different in this respect to most other similar towns and cities. Indeed he had checked and found, somewhat surprisingly, that levels of car ownership in Bath were the same as they typically were elsewhere, i.e. 30 per cent of residents without a vehicle, this effectively rising to 60 percent when other dependent members of a household were taken into account.
In this context it could therefore be regarded as somewhat surprising that local priorities to date had been based on facilitating car-based travel. However, B&NES now had a new clear hierarchy of priorities that were to be applied to local traffic measures, in the following strict sequence :
facilitating pedestrian movement
facilitating cyclists ( and it appeared that the local use of bicycles was above the national average )
facilitating public transport
facilitating the use of private vehicles ( cars ).
These priorities were ineviably linked to the local factors of topography ( major steep hills ) and,
as previously mentioned, to the restrictions on major development that was imposed by heritage.
In the recent past, B&NES had been affected by a new problem
that is going to create a major headache in terms of deployment
of highway resources and associated local planning measures. This
is the proposed detrunking of the A.46, the A.36, and the A.4
( Bath to Bristol ) roads in our area.
The Council is very unhappy about this prospect, primarily because although it will be imposed as a fact, no-one at government level has addressed the knock-on effect or the funds to deal with that aspect.
B&NES are currently seeking an audience with John Prescott about this. In a parallel case affecting Salisbury, the Wiltshire authorities have succeeded in obtaining a detailed comprehensive study to be made of the traffic effects in that city, combining review of the roads system, Park+Ride and the transport infrastructure, all in one bid and valued at some £14,000,000 ---and this to be paid for by central government over a five year period.
So far, B&NES has effectively been told : the roads will be detrunked, that is your problem, if this means you need funds you should put it into your L.T.P.
SH said a likely practical result will be a re-awakening of interest in a by-pass to circumnavigate Bath. Such a by-pass has been a most unpopular concept in the past, but there are clear signs that the climate of local opinion is changing such that the idea would now be better supported. It is generally seen that a measure such as a signed peripheral route could actively discourage through traffic from directly traversing the centre of Bath, thus freeing up roadspace in the centre which could be redesignated for major public transport improvements.
SH felt that due to the pressures his limited numbers of staff had been under, causing concentration of efforts on primarily dealing with urgent day-to-day problems, there may well have been some reluctance in the past to become involved in major local transport development planning policy.
In other areas of the country there had been developments of the type known as Quality Partnerships, but the costs, to the passenger, of implementing these were usually fairly high.
SH said he would mention some of the already-proposed measures that would improve the traffic situation in Bath, bearing in mind the strict hierarchy of user priorities that they were now working to :
The proposed Priority Access Point was by now very well-known and very well documented.
It would be coming into operation soon on a clearly experimental basis, in that it would be a focus of a lot of attention and very close monitoring before any conclusions were drawn regarding its effect.
Additional Parking Restrictions were being introduced, specifically to encourage the Park+Ride routes.
[ interjection, Jeremy Paterson-Fox : my objection to the further improvement of P+R is that it does not, in fact, benefit Bath residents, it is provided for persons coming into Bath from outside ]
SH responded to this by pointing out that the general situation is helped by the fact that people
coming to Bath to work do not add car traffic to the final part of their journey.
[ interjection : in fact there is evidence, especially at Newbridge P+R, that locals walk back to the
P+R to use it as a convenient bus service into Bath ]
Milsom Street is currently being improved for the benefit of those of our highest priority : pedestrians.
SH added that future proposals would be made to introduce Green
Some measures had already been taken by some organisations, but more needed to be done.
He would freely admit that B&NES itself was a significant employer who should be making further
initiatives in this respect, but so far had not done so.
SH said that, finally, ---and perhaps most closely to the interests
of tonights audience ! ---
he would like to emphasise that the L.T.P. was a means of identifying a whole range of things, not just a recommendation on a particular mode of public transport. He had already referred to the most important need to incorporate highway matters, particularly since the unexpected requirements imposed on the L.T.P. by detrunking. When it came to decisions regarding adoption of different types of mass transit, there were two dominant factors : of need and of viability.
Regarding mode it was recognised that in addition to the bus, there were alternatives available in the guise of systems such as tram, light rail, and guided bus.
In the L.T.P. a corridor had been identified for a closer transit study, this through the proposed Western Riverside regeneration development which could be linked in to improve P+R facilities on the western side of the city.
Through the Regional Development Agency an appointment was likely to be made very soon to spearhead this most important development. However, important though it is, it must be realised that the provision of a transport system is just one of the many complex issues within such a scheme.
B&NES had been unsuccessful, in the current L.T.P. submission, over persuading the government to support any transport system through Western Riverside at this stage. They had indicated that a lot more work needed to be done before they would consider it. Matters would gain momentum as the full Western Riverside scheme was headed up and developed. SH felt that any question of providing extensions to the basic corridor would be part of the next full L.T.P. review, in five years time, which would still be within the likely long-term planning timescale. He felt it most unlikely that these could be introduced as part of the routine, and relatively minor, yearly updates of L.T.P.
Undoubtedly there was money out there for public transport schemes.
Mr Howell then took a number of questions from the audience. As questioners did not always identify themselves before speaking, several have had to be shown here anonymously.
[ q.1 ] I am concerned at some of the implications of detrunking, for example, on the A.36 there is a well known history of infrastructure slippage. Does this mean that the full burden of rectification will now fall onto B&NES, or will the government undertake full rectification responsibilities before handover ?
[ interjection, made before SH had any chance to reply to q.1 ] Will Mr Howell please explain what is meant by this term detrunking that he keeps using ?
SH : Sorry if I have been using a term that a few of you may
not understand. The road systems in this country have a defined
hierarchy, which also determines responsibility for maintenance
For Motorways and Trunk roads the financial responsibility falls directly upon central government, though they may employ Agencies and Contractors to physically carry out works. Next come
primary roads which link towns and cities where there is a defined origin and destination of journeys, and these are paid for by Local Authorities, as are principal roads which are the remaining A, B and C class roads. When a road is detrunked it is moved down in status from being a Trunk road,
and responsibility therefore passes from central government to the appropriate Local Authority.
The Local Authority is obliged to continue to maintain to the same standards, e.g. of signage, as if it still continued to be a Trunk road, therefore the road user does not notice any difference to what it was before.
There is some transfer of funding from central government in respect of day-to-day maintenance, but for all major issues it now becomes necessary to enter bids in with the other requests in the L.T.P.
Coming back to the questioner of q.1, in a situation where there is an identified history of landslips it is likely that some remedial cash will be handed over to the Local Authority, but you are correct that the situation does raise some concerns.
[ q.2 Jeremy Paterson-Fox ] I have some concerns about anomalies
arising over this, for example, the A.350
by-pass around Chippenham. They now have a by-pass that seems to have been built toMotorway standards.
[ q.3 ex-Cllr Snook ] I agree that there is a need for Ring
Roads, of which Bath currently has only one.
P+R is fine as a concept, it facilitates people coming into Bath for shopping, it facilitates employees coming into Bath to work, and we must remember that Bath is heavily dependent for its continued success on the maintenance of a whole series of Service Industries. However, I would like to introduce a new concept, which
I would label : Park + Walk. This would involve a series of relatively small car parking facilities, but linked by a mixture of free bus services and extensive car-free pedestrianisation. I am an extensive European traveller and have just this week returned from Nurnberg. We should be looking wider than to our own central government for financing. A bid for money from the E.U. for an imaginative and innovative scheme is quite likely to succeed. The centre of Bath is steadily dying, and we need measures to stop this happening.
SH : As I have already said, in regard to actual schemes it
is essential to achieve a balance between various factors to get
it just right and successful. In regard to availability of funding,
I would tend to agree that Bath seems to have unnecessarily missed
out in the past. E.U. money does seem to be more easily released
for schemes that involve one or other of two specific characteristics
they are schemes for regeneration of derelict areas,
schemes involving a need for Research & Development effort to analyse particular complex problems
Not all the traffic we see in Bath actually wants to stop there, a significant proportion merely wishes to go on past en route to somewhere else. As I have said, I detect a change of view in some Councillors that would now favour a by-pass, although they would not have done so in the past.
[ q.4 ] A lot of this through traffic we see in Bath seems to be on its way to South Wales. Why is this traffic not linking through to the Motorways, and what about the question of additional pollution that it brings ?
SH : I agree this traffic should be on the Motorway systems. I myself noticed, when journeying from Southampton to Keynsham before moving here, that a lot of traffic takes cross-country routes even though a straightforward link via A.34 and M.4 is considerably quicker. As to pollution, agree this must be tackled in Bath. Local levels of pollution are a directly related consequence of traffic congestion.
[ q.5, P.R.Provest ] I was surprised that you seemed somewhat
dismissive of Quality Partnerships when you mentioned them. We
look to B&NES to take the lead in providing the local framework
for overall public transport strategic planning. In many towns
this has taken the form of the Local Authority specifically driving
the use of Quality Partnerships to co-ordinate the various local
operators. This has not yet happened in Bath, even though B&NES
has provided some encouragements for smaller operators to participate
in local services.
However this has been done without, for example, joint ticketing or publicity arrangements or co-ordination of service timings [ examples quoted ]. Even if the TfB wish for a network of trams reaches fruition, it will not be a universal provider, and complementary bus services will always be necessary. Such co-existence could only work properly and effectively within a framework of Quality Partnerships.
SH : I am sorry if I gave an impression that I was being dismissive
of Quality Partnerships. They have their place in the scheme of
things, but the situation in Bath is that most of the services
are run commercially ( in the licensing sense ) and that means
B&NES has no direct control over them.
As a Local Authority we can only have a direct say in the operation of supported services.
[ q.6, Brian S.Lomas ] Further to that, I do feel that we need a long-term strategy from you. We need to know what vision can B&NES aspire to in terms of public transport policy ? What do you really want to achieve for this city ? You have mentioned that the potential for roadspace developments in Bath is constrained by the preponderance of heritage building that cannot be disturbed. This is not entirely true, there are many examples in Europe of towns with awkward narrow streets yet a tramway system has been fitted-in and operates entirely successfully. As to the mode itself, above all it needs to be attractive if motorists are to be enticed out of their cars. Speed is not a primary factor. A system needs to be reliable rather than fast, and capable of accepting sudden surges of additional traffic to cater for peak hour loadings or special events.
SH : As previously mentioned, trams are now included for consideration
for Bath, along with several other potential modes and methods.
I have seen the work that has gone in to your website bathtram,
but what you are suggesting requires a lot of other ( traffic
management, etc ) measures to be in place
alongside it. It is definitely not all achievable without that being done. My feeling is that if trams are to be reintroduced to Bath it will need to be as a smaller scale development ( which could be extended ).
[ q.7, Adrian N.Tuddenham ] I cannot agree with the philosophy
you have just stated, in a Bath context.
Earlier in your talk you yourself said that the bigger the scheme, the more likely it was that funding could be found. Rather than put forward just one little route, why not come up with an imaginative different concept for a city of this size, which would be fundamentally different in character to what has been achieved at Sheffield, Manchester and Midland Metro ? Yes, Bath has different problems, but there is also the potential for different solutions, e.g. light-weight trams, light-weight tracks, etc. I am unhappy about the particular route that we are seizing upon as an opportunity to be associated with the Western Riverside development. In planning so far it would seem destined to effectively link one new P+R site with the city centre, with much of the linear route through a disused railway alignment with no traffic potential at all. How much more effective to take it out on to the streets to also serve as access to the R.U.H., where the problems of access as patient, visitor or staff are of city-wide concern and beyond ? There has been other talk of an eastern route to the University being viable, but this cannot really be so unless there is some linking with a useful network destination, which in the case of University students means areas like Oldfield Park where many of them live. If Bath were to put up a comprehensive scheme for a practical integrated network it might well be adopted as an innovative model for cities throughout Europe of similar size and characteristics, and correspondingly attract European funding.
[ q.8, Jenny A.Sutherland ] One particular point concerns
me, in respect of modes of transport considered for any new schemes.
It nowadays seems inevitable that guided bus will be included
in any such list.
You have mentioned it yourself earlier in this talk. Now I do not understand why guided bus carries such merit that it always achieves a placing amongst these options for mode. The functional merits of both ordinary bus and electric tram are well understood and there are thousands of practical operational examples of both systems to be found around the world. Guided bus on the other hand is a hybrid concept that seems to bring with it more disadvantages than advantages. There have clearly been many attempted experiments at setting up innovative systems employing guided bus, but in virtually every case thaey are either just small part-route experiments, or have suffered so much teething problems that they have either been abandoned altogether or the vehicles are always manually driven and steered. Apart from anything else, even if a guided bus system worked properly, the one-off technology tends to bring problems over maintenance, spare parts, etc. I am just asking that we delete guided busfrom the list of options for Bath and do not incur the risk of squandering resources on an unproven hybrid mode.
[ q.9 ] I notice that pedestrians are top of your list for
priority consideration. Whilst this is a worthy aim,
I do feel that B&NES has gone over the top in what it is currently doing regards pedestrianisation and traffic calming in the area of Milsom Street. It had always seemed to me that Milsom Street was not particularly hazardous to pedestrians anyway. The one-way traffic has always seemed to flow at a generally calm speed, the sight lines are good, and although one has to take normal care in crossing the road, it has never seemed to present any exceptional dangers. I feel that the finance currently being spent on elaborate traffic management measures could most certainly have been better expended on greater needs elsewhere on the citys streets.
[ q.10, Frank Toon ] I spent an earlier part of my career as a trained traffic engineer, and I speak from the viewpoint of that experience. My concern is the current fashion for putting in car parking places within the streets in positions which seem to have been deliberately selected so as to obstruct and slow the general flow of traffic. There are examples within the Broad Street area. In effect, B&NES seem to be using individual motorists parked cars as cheap bollards, though of course they do not have the owners permission for such use and cannot be held responsible for the inevitably increased risk that damage may be incurred from closely passing traffic. I have a strong feeling that in about ten years time someone will have a good look around the city, look at the many examples of obstructive car parking, traffic calming street furniture, etc, and with a cry of whatever made them do all that ? will remove it all to open up the streets for proper traffic flow.
DJH thanked Steve Howell for his interesting talk and for listening
to our own views on a most important topic of concern to us all
in the city of Bath.
Further individual questions and discussions continued over light refreshments.
Transcript: Peter Provest