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Working Group Recommendations meeting, 12 March 2018

On 12th March 2018, John Dales, Independent Chair of the Blue House Working Group, hosted a public meeting where he and members of the Working Group presented the Group’s recommendations and the principles that underpin them, to an audience of over 200 local residents and stakeholders.

The presentation material shown on the night can be downloaded below.

Click here to download the slides from the presentation given on 12th March 2018 in PDF format.

Blue House Roundabout

Meeting Ten – 20th November

Notes taken at the tenth meeting of the group held on Monday 20th 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) & Nick Cott (West Gosforth); Sean Peacock – Open Lab.

Representatives of stakeholder groups: T&W Public Transport User Group; Jesmond Residents Association; Newcastle Cycling Campaign; 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: Dominic Raymont (East Gosforth)

John welcomed everyone to the meeting, especially those representing groups on behalf of the regular attendees who could not make it.

John circulated a draft paper summarising the recommendations he is intending to make to Newcastle City Council. His recommendations are presented under three headings:

The first, relates to the case for change at Blue House and covers the five key issues that changes must address – road safety, walking, cycling and public transport facilities and finally, the capacity of the junction to deal with vehicle demand.

The recommendation deals with the possibility that there may need to be a junction with bigger capacity in that location in the future, but, for now, the recommendation is that it isn’t built and that work on reducing demand commences instead.

The second, looks at the supporting actions that the Council and its partners could take to manage and potentially reduce demand to keep the junction working.

The third, addresses the future role of the Blue House Working Group in terms of sharing and advocating messages about changing travel behaviours locally to help protect the Town Moor and, going on to transform into a Streets for People group helping to manage the network around the Blue House to avoid any unintended consequences in terms traffic cutting through nearby residential streets.

Graham presented a series of slides about travel behaviours in the area, drawn from census data which illustrate the points made in John’s draft recommendation paper. The presentation also includes a timeline and outline process map showing the stages of approval, awareness raising and formal consultation that the design for Blue House would need to get through.

Discussion Points

  • If WG members do decide to take on an advocate role for the scheme, what data sets and other support will they have to help them work on the behaviour change agenda?
  • Will the census data be available to WG members?
  • It will be important to reconnect with the sentiments of the people who marched on the Moor to protest about the large roundabout last year and tap into their energy for the behaviour change campaign. Local people have far more travel choices (as illustrated by the travel behaviour map on Graham’s presentation) and are therefore more likely to change their travel behaviour. Travellers from further afield will be more difficult to convert because they have fewer choices and further to travel.
  • Will the WG have access to PR and Marketing expertise and other resources to support them marketing the recommendation to the wider public?
  • A WG member wanted clarification on the preferred design in the recommendation, to establish if the northbound, left turn lane into Grandstand Road can be retained. They believed that the left turn lane contributes significantly to clearing the junction at busy times. JD is prepared to model that option and finesse the design if possible.
  • JD reminds everyone that the measures to address the key issues for change, will reduce the capacity at the junction anyway and agrees that it is logical that local residents would conclude that taking out a lane will have a negative impact on capacity, increase queues and air pollution but that this was the process that had been collaboratively worked on.
  • The messages that go with marketing the recommendation need to be slick and evidenced and backed up with a solid set of actions.
  • The WG would like clarity on what aspects of the recommendation are to be showcased first? The last consultation option included banned turns on Jesmond Dene Road / Osborne Road – local people would need to know that those proposals had been withdrawn as an opener. It was confirmed these would be included.
  • A WG member asked for the Jesmond Dene Road proposals to feature strongly in the recommendations too.
  • GG confirms that we must cover all aspects of the recommendation in the awareness raising exercise.
  • The web site will hold all the resources used in the development of the recommendations and present emerging key messages. The FAQs should be about the key issues and non-technical plans should also be provided to make the proposals more accessible.
  • A WG member raised the availability of city centre parking on demand through the Blue House.
  • JD described something called a ‘Work Place Parking Levy’ which has been adopted by Nottingham City Council. Businesses who provide city centre parking spaces for their employees are required to pay a fee per space to the council – they have invested those fees in the city’s tram network.
  • GG said that NCC is revisiting the car parking strategy with Gateshead. We currently have 10,000 publicly accessible spaces in the city, not all controlled by the council and around 10,000 private non residential spaces completely out with the council.
  • A WG member commented that it’s important that city centre parking isn’t displaced into residential areas.
  • In terms of the future role of the WG, a member said that there needed to be more thought about discussing behaviour change in all sorts forums not just the groups represented in the WG. The membership of the WG needs to be broader to help build a consensus. There is also concern about the continued availability of funding since the criteria can change very quickly and also the consistency of the councillors, officers and reps involved. What about the involvement of people from outside Gosforth in the group?
  • A WG member welcomed the agreement to look into a single stage crossing on the Grandstand Road arm but is disappointed by the 2 stage crossing on the Jesmond Dene Road arm although the 2 crossings will help to facilitate the east – west route through the junction. Could Park & Ride facilities be thought about further afield than Gosforth too?
  • JD will model a single stage crossing on both arms and finesse if possible.
  • What potential future uses could the Blue House building have if it’s not going to be used as a dwelling? WG members expressed concern that the Freemen could withdraw maintenance and support for the Blue House anyway which would jeopardise its future.
  • GG pointed out that most of the people who work in Newcastle, live in Newcastle as well although, overall, we import more trips than we export. Car borne trips are a massively popular choice all over the city but the map shown, shows that some areas have far more choice of mode than others.
  • GG described the timeline that the recommendation is following:
  • Early Dec – JD makes his formal recommendation and it goes up on the Blue House Group web site
  • Dec – Jan 18 – the Council will review the recommendation and discuss it with the funding agency.
  • Likely Feb 18 – Cabinet approval sought on a report about the design and the engagement & consultation process surrounding it.
  • The stakeholder engagement process will include information drop ins to equip stakeholders with the knowledge they need to participate in the formal consultation process which will follow.
  • The formal consultation will be run by the council as the Planning Authority as a planning exercise – ultimately the Planning Committee will decide because the design will need planning permission.
  • JD would like to hear feedback from WG members about what they think the group needs to be able to deliver on the challenge of presenting the recommendation to the community and getting buy in.
  • GG offers light touch support over Christmas in terms of pulling FAQ’s together.
  • In terms of resources, GG references the Air Quality Strategy as potentially providing funding for behaviour change as well as the Transforming Cities Funding which is due to be announced in the budget.
  • JD is aiming to provide more data after Christmas.
  • GG would like WG members to consider putting themselves forward as contacts for the media and cautions against too much professional PR.
  • A WG member noted that it is vital to get the language right and to make sure ‘consultation’ isn’t used to describe anything other than genuine consultation when participants can influence the outcome – anything else is information.
  • Technical explanations should be available for people who want them – attending drop ins or browsing the web site.

The Blue House Group Web Site

  • The web site has been largely dormant since last June – the notes from the June meeting are still missing as are the notes from the last meeting. The discussion wall has been left unanswered.
  • There are a lot of questions about the web site. Is it still needed, what is it for, who will manage it and who will respond to the comments?
  • The consensus is that the web site is very important and the WG want to keep it. They want to keep it because it’s already well known and was well used last year, it has lots of resources on it but needs updating and tidying up. The Comments feature needs to be addressed – themed answers to the most popular questions provided and then the comment feature turned off.
  • All 3 sets of notes and the recommendation papers need to be published on the web site when the recommendation goes to the council.
  • Sean’s support in providing this service is greatly appreciated.

 Next Steps

  • Publish the recommendation
  • Soft launch / discussion with local groups
  • Wider public awareness raising and information drop ins after Christmas.

Notes: Ali Lamb 21.11.17

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

Meeting Eight – 19th June

Notes taken at the eighth meeting of the group held on Monday 19th June 2017

Present: John Dales – Independent Chair; Graham Grant – Head of Transport Investment; Ali Lamb – Transport Engagement; representatives of Open Lab and Newcastle University.

Representatives of organisations and groups:

Introduction and next steps:

John had previously circulated the draft position statement and invited feedback from the group. He was taking on board the comments, particularly those which highlighted that the case for a larger roundabout did not naturally emerge out of the discussion set out in the paper.

He was also noting that there had been considerable pace in the work of the group up to and including the meetings in December but then, delays in progress on certain things like modelling and the General Election of course, had led to a disappointing loss of momentum.

John suggested that, given the length of time since the last meeting, the small groups take some time to discuss the four options to refresh their knowledge and discuss the relative strengths and weaknesses of each. He also suggests that the reps then take some time over the summer to discuss the options with the membership of their groups and get their reaction to the direction of travel.

Following this meeting, John will revise the position statement, and publish it, without a recommendation, so that the working group members can discuss the contents with their members and get feedback for john which he will use to finalise his recommendation.

John & Graham suggested that in September, they would arrange another meeting for the reps and their groups.

A representative said that that would be a good idea to hold a wider meeting as long as it was about the options and not revisiting the criteria or discussing walking and cycling.

John’s recommendation will be made after big meeting in September.

So, working group members are asked to feed their comments to join, their own and their group’s ideas – please send directly to John rather than reply to all, simply for clarity.

A group member asked if one option was the inevitable choice because the funding criteria seemed to favour one option over all the others, is it not the case that, ignoring the demands of the funders risks losing the funding completely.

John reminded the group that doing nothing was always an option but the funding offers significant opportunity to improve road safety, create facilities for walking and cycling and deliver bus benefits. The current layout appears to be efficient in traffic terms but that is at the expense of safety.

Of the options to be discussed the smaller roundabout option would deliver significantly less traffic capacity so John could not recommend it.  One group member feels that would be significant opposition to a larger roundabout so why not try to get the funding anyway … John agrees not to completely close down the smaller option but cautions that it would make things significantly worse for traffic and therefore, for buses too.

A group member suggests that the way to approach the funders is to demonstrate that the new design for Blue House increases the junction’s capacity for people, that is, that the sustainable travel improvements bring additionality that is attracts the funding in the same way as traffic capacity.

Graham points out that throughout the working group time, he has been clear that the group’s criteria and the assurance framework that guides funding decisions are different, however, the working group process is exceptional and has been used itself to mitigate against the rigours of the current assurance framework.

A group member maintains that the residents’ view is that making the Blue House smoother and faster for traffic to negotiate will only shunt the problems to other parts of the network.

John explained a table of data which shows the modelled performance figures for the four options which are:

  • The 2016 consultation option
  • A signalised crossroads with all movements
  • A large roundabout
  • A small roundabout

For clarification, the modelling data takes account of the pedestrian and cycling facilties.

Some group members are also keen to see crossing facilities on all legs, those on the west and south appear to be missing from the drawings and are essential to support modal shift. They feel that crossings should also be single stage although John warns that single stage, although desirable, will kill the junction’s capacity and benefits for vehicles.

Another group member points out that there was supposed to be a new crossing on Jesmond Dene Road, opposite Friday Fields and that seems to be missing too. … just an error.

A period of group work and discussion followed

Round up and closing remarks

John offers additional resource to answer any questions on the Assurance Framework, for example, queries about the impact on buses.

He reminded everyone about sending their feedback on the position statement and asked for headline feedback from tonight’s group work:

  • Believes there is a safety case for the larger roundabout – better lane discipline but difficult to be specific on the safety differences between the large and small roundabout’s – slower speeds only get you so far because slow can cause frustration also.
  • Agrees that there is no discernible safety benefits between the 2 roundabouts although the question of Air Quality and the impact of the 2 has not described.

Graham is clear that we have not done any modelling on Air Quality so anything we say here is speculation or assumption. Broadly speaking, fewer vehicles make AQ better but, idling and stop start makes it worse again.

  • Still a little sceptical about the accuracy of the models – Graham and John however, have confidence in them.

John introduces a policy paper that he and Graham have written about Transport and Health.

John also reminds everyone to send their feedback about the position statement in the next 2 weeks so that the stage one draft can be published and the reps can start to consult their members.

Notes by Ali Lamb

11.7.17