Meeting Nine – 6th November

Notes taken at the ninth meeting of the group held on Monday 6th November 2017

Present: John Dales, Independent Facilitator; Graham Grant, Head of Transport Investment, Ali Lamb, Engagement Officer; Mike Scott, Nexus; Cllrs Stella Postlethwaite (North Jesmond); Catherine Walker (North Jesmond); Dominic Raymont (East Gosforth) & Nick Cott (West Gosforth); and towards the end of the meeting, Cllr Arlene Ainsley, Cabinet Member for Transport & Air Quality.

Representatives of stakeholder groups: T&W Public Transport User Group; Jesmond Residents Association; Save Newcastle Wildlife; Space for Gosforth, Newcastle Cycling Forum; Gosforth Traffic; Jesmond Dene Estate Residents Association; West Gosforth Residents Association; Change.org Petition; High West Jesmond Residents Association.

Apologies: Newcastle Cycling Campaign

John welcomed everyone to the meeting, especially those representing groups on behalf of the regular attenders. Before starting to discuss the issues on the agenda, a statement to the working group was read out by one of the representatives.

John asked Graham to outline the reasons for the lack of progress since the last meeting in June. Graham explained that there had been changes in the council over the summer and a new Assistant Director of Transport and a new Cabinet member were appointed and both needed to be briefed and brought up to speed. The timing was also an issue with staff holidays over the summer and the inevitable criticism we would attract for consulting in the holidays.

John did a walkthrough of his previously circulated and updated Position Statement, highlighting the 5 reasons that justify change at the Blue House junction:

  1. To improve conditions for people on foot;
  2. To improve conditions for people on bikes;
  3. To improve conditions for people on buses; (All the above are consistent with the council’s policies and are essential actions if we are going to ensure that forecasts for the growth in motor traffic are to be avoided. These changes are imperative if we are going to make it possible for large numbers of people to change modes);
  4. To tackle the road safety problem; and
  5. To address the capacity of the junction to deal with the volume of traffic.

John presented the ‘small roundabout’ option as his preferred recommendation to go with his Position Statement. That option was discussed early on in the working group’s deliberations, and, with the addition of walking and cycling facilities as discussed in previous meetings, has the potential to deliver on the ambitions expressed by the group and to seek a different future to the one that sees traffic growth. He explained that by adopting an approach to constrain traffic growth at the junction, while also addressing safety concerns and improving active and sustainable transport modes through the junction, the ambitions that we shared in terms of points 1 to 4, could be achieved, with a fall back option that the junction could be extended if required in a future year to address the general capacity of the junction. Dependent on the way people react to changes there are alternative options that could be delivered.  Increasing the capacity of the junction by increasing the size of the roundabout or reducing the demand for traffic capacity at the roundabout by changing travel behaviour.

John invited the working group members to comment on the Position Statement and the emerging recommendation.

Questions and Discussion Points:

  • What’s the ‘life span’ of this junction design? How long it is anticipated that it will be effective before needing an upgrade? This additional information might be helpful if it was included in the Position Statement.
  • Speed restrictions on the Great North Road – couldn’t they be implemented independently? (Graham said that the consultation on speed restrictions the length of GNR were done, the issue now was with legal amid concerns regarding the proximity of the restrictions to the Central Motorway). It was made clear that the speed restrictions will be changing.
  • Changes to address road noise and provide new road surfacing should be included.
  • The strengths and weaknesses of different surfaces for the new cycle and footpaths should be included.
  • The contribution that an extension to the Metro system into South East Northumberland would make to reducing traffic demand at Blue House should be referenced. (John has already shared his paper ‘Transport for a Healthy City’ which discusses a number of similar actions).
  • In terms of the Metro, Graham commented that there were a number of investment priorities – firstly, to replace the fleet of Metro Cars, secondly to complete the ongoing improvement programme to their existing assets and invest more in maintenance finally, to extend Metro coverage.
  • Some felt that potential game changer is that Nexus be encouraged to change the status of Regent Centre and bring it into Zone 1 – Graham noted that the council have approached Nexus on this issue before but have been told that such a change was not planned, NCC agreed to approach Nexus on this issue again.
  • Some Group members would like to see an additional crossing on Grandstand Road added to the recommendation.
  • Some Group members support single stage crossings and are sceptical about the safety of two stage crossings especially when used by groups including children – NCC agreed to look into single stage crossings.
  • A group member questioned whether it was necessary to design 4m wide paths, they felt it seemed excessive given the number of existing paths. They felt it would lead to, too much hard surface in the Moor.
  • Could there be more included in the report to support bus travel and make it more attractive?
  • A suggestion that the term ‘cycles’, when used in the Position Statement, stresses the range and variety of people and their bikes that we are designing for.
  • Where possible, the connections that the recommended layout will make with the existing cycling and walking network should be highlighted.
  • An appeal to make sure no fake grass appears in the design.
  • A group member welcomed the approach to a scheme that challenged people to travel differently.
  • A suggestion that the crossings at Blue House are fully synced with the traffic signals on the wider network.
  • John will look for opportunities to squeeze out any free time from the way that different sets of signals work together.
  • Question – we are agreeing to support a recommended design that only works if we are sure that in the future, there will be less traffic than has been forecasted. How can one junction on an entire network precipitate such a change?
  • John says that we need about 400 less trips in the peak hour through Blue House to achieve the reduction in demand. It could be as simple as 1 or 2 trips from each street in the locality, changing to a sustainable mode rather than being done in a car.
  • Suggestion that Park & Ride should be highlighted and incentivised.
  • Graham added that there is shift towards designing infrastructure that supports the last mile of a trip being taken sustainably.
  • A group member suggested that air quality needs to come out stronger in the Position Statement.
  • Is it the case that if cycling and walking are prioritised through the junction then, air quality becomes poorer in surrounding streets because of the delays experienced by the traffic?
  • There is further risk of impact on local streets if the traffic seeks to avoid delays at Blue House by cutting through local streets.
  • In terms of buses, the group member agrees with the Position Statement in terms of improving the reliability of bus services but not with the idea of increasing the frequency of buses travelling north / south. There is already a hundred buses and hour on the High Street, many of them running with few passengers on board outside of the peak hours. The poor service running east / west is another matter, and the group member would support greater frequencies in these directions.
  • Another group member suggested that more frequent communications with the group would be helpful. A fortnightly email update would be welcome.
  • It would be advisable to take action on the Tree Survey findings as well. Could the work be started on trees that have been identified for work and replacement? JD reminds the group that tree work in the area is relying on the Blue House project for funding to deliver it.
  • The group member also wanted an update on the relationship with the Freemen.
  • A group member said that they would like to see the language used in relation to trees in the Position Statement tightened up – currently a little nebulous, it could be clearer and more definite. For example, highlighting the benefits of planting different species as replacement trees, ones that soak up more CO2 and bring better air quality benefits and are more resistant to disease.
  • Equally, the language around the Blue House itself could be clearer, particularly in setting out the circumstances under which, demolition of the Blue House could be considered.
  • The question was raised about whether staged crossings could be mixed and matched ie. one or two stage depending on the time of day.
  • The group member doubted that this Working Group has much influence over wider issues such as Gosforth High Street and believes that anecdotally, Nexus have concerns about the capacity of Regent Centre so don’t want to make it more attractive as a P&R.
  • A group member suggested that the scheme should be investing in smarter crossings that were super flexible – GG described the City’s Urban Traffic Management & Control Centre and the commitment to best possible technology.
  • The virtue of a residents’ parking scheme around Moorfield was discussed. Would that ultimately affect take up at Regents Centre if Moorfield was unavailable?
  • A group member asked if the width of the island in a 2 stage crossing would affect the capacity of a road. It was pointed out that there is already an island on JDR.
  • A group member stressed the importance of bringing out the connectivity of the cycle facilities described in the Position statement more – for example, connections to Moor Road.

 

Towards a Recommendation … adopting a new approach

JD explained that using this approach would allow us to make a recommendation that addresses the first 4 reasons for rationale for changes at Blue House. We don’t know definitely when we will need to address the capacity issues at the junction so, let’s do what we can do now and look at walking, cycling, public transport and road safety.

JD has picked out the small roundabout from the earlier ‘optioneering’ – the design does provide facilities that will encourage and support sustainable travel options but if those increased opportunities don’t have the required impact on demand at the junction, then the next stage would have to be to increase the capacity by demolition of the Blue House and redesigning the junction.  The opportunities for people to change the way they travel through the junction when they are making short journeys will affect people who live locally the most.

Discussion Points

  • The responsibility of local residents to change their travel behaviour was recognised.
  • A group member noticed that one of the 3 north bound lanes on the current layout, appears to be missing from the drawing.
  • JD commented that currently the junction is buying capacity at the expense of safety.
  • A group member commented that they were supportive of the approach and the process but wants a rationale for increasing the size of the roundabout.
  • JD wants a road safety audit done on the options.
  • A group member also wants to explore the responsibility of neighbouring local authorities who are generating the trips that are impacting on Newcastle.
  • JD agreed that a devolved planning authority would be beneficial.
  • There are different approaches to travel planning – “predict and provide” is one, “vision & validate” another – that is, what kind of city do we want to live in and what are the achievable actions to progress towards it … for example, a zone thing, a small number of people changing their travel behaviour, different approaches with partners, learning from best practise, extending the Metro network. This is the type of approach the council has adopted through this process.

Process

If JD’s recommendation becomes this, then the following process will ensue:-

  • A full consultation including any required land negotiation with the Freemen and planning permissions – either immediately after Christmas or after the May elections (Purdah starts 3rd week in March).
  • In response to a question about issues caused by construction GG commented that disruption from the first phase of developments could be minimal because much of the new walking and cycling infra structure would be constructed off line.
  • A public consultation would be organised and this would, given the council’s various roles, consist of an information / awareness raising period to enable people to be well informed in advance of a formal planning consultation. It may include things like a Town Hall meeting and meeting for residents which could be supported by the Working Group.
  • In response to a query about limitations in terms of funding, council officers again reiterated that the funding criteria and the emerging recommendations and discussions would need to be aligned and discussions would need to be held with the funding agency – public support for the revised proposals would be crucial in this.
  • A group member pointed out that the Position Statement needed to include proposals for Jesmond Dene Road and Osborne Road and some drawings would be helpful.
  • A group member suggested that resources should be made available for the Working Group members to help them discuss the option with their groups.
  • GG suggested that group members start sending in their ideas for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • A group member sought assurance that the working group could still be involved even at the detailed design stage – GG agreed that there will be opportunities for the group to work with engineers through the detailed design process.
  • In conclusion, JD thanked everyone for their contribution and suggested reconvening in 2 weeks’ time.
  • A group member suggested that the Position Statement should include something about the continued involvement of the Working Group.
  • A working group member asked about the political approvals needed for the approach. Further information would be provided.

Councillor Arlene Ainsley, Cabinet Member for Transport & Air Quality, thanked the Working Group & John. She remarked that the road safety issues at the junction made improvements an imperative. She went on to support the ideas around changing travel behaviour and agreed that the improvements shouldn’t just shift the problem. She also noted that Newcastle already works very closely with other, neighbouring Local Authorities.

Next Meeting – provisionally Monday 20th November tbc