Patchway’s Labour councillors have shared an exchange of letters that they have had with the area’s MP, Jack Lopresti, over the massively unpopular closure of Highwood Road to most traffic. The councillors took this step, which they describe as “unprecedented”, because of the strength of local opinion and because Conservative councillors have previously supported the road closure.
In their letter, Councillors Eve Orpen, Sam Scott and Keith Walker (Labour, Patchway) point to the 4,000 name petition and the huge turnout of local residents to Council and community meetings public meetings to demand that Highwood Road be reopened, and urge Mr Lopresti to influence his colleagues to listen to local people.
In his reply, Mr Lopresti raises concern about the impact that reopening the road may have on the proposed Bus Rapid Transit scheme and reports that he is is seeking clarification on this from the Secretary of State for Transport. He also expresses surprise that councillors had written to him about a council matter.
Commenting on the exchange, Councillor Sam Scott (Labour, Patchway) says:
“We welcome Jack’s approach to Ministers as ultimately only they can pull the plug on major transport schemes. The BRT scheme emerged years after the Highwood Road closure was originally planned and has piggy-backed onto it. It would be perverse to use that as the excuse to keep a failed decade-old plan in place which is making Patchway residents’ life a misery.
Jack should not be surprised that we have raised this matter with him. It is the biggest single issue in our community, residents are up in arms about it, and until our prompting he has been rather quiet about it. We also assumed that he had some influence with his Conservative councillor colleagues, but from the comments they are still making they seem determined to not to listen or learn.”
Councillor Eve Orpen (Labour, Patchway), setting the record straight on her own role, says:
“Jack is wrong to suggest that I agreed to the road closure way back in 2002. Back then we were under the impression that the road would be two lanes. There was never any mention of a Linear Park, or of building the houses right up to the Highwood Road boundary. This has all come about since 2003, when Patchway was not represented or run by Labour councillors. Since Patchway went Labour in 2011 we have consistently voted against the scheme that has grown up in the intervening years.”
15th October 2013
The letter from Patchway councillors
30 September 2013
Dear Mr Lopresti
We are taking the unprecedented step of writing an open letter to you because of the strength of our constituents’ feeling over the closure of Highwood Road. The decision to close Highwood Road will be reconsidered by South Gloucestershire Council on 16 October and we urge you to speak out now in support of our constituents’ demands that it should be reopened to all traffic. We also urge you to use your influence to persuade other local politicians to act on the very clear message to them from the people of Patchway.
Closing Highwood Road to most traffic was part of a scheme that was concocted before you or we were elected in 2010 and 2011 respectively. What may have looked good in planning has proved to be deeply unsatisfactory and unpopular on the ground. We consistently have residents telling us that residential Coniston Road has become a rat run, and that the proposed "linear park" is splitting the new and existing communities of Patchway and discouraging people from using local shops. Furthermore, public safety is being compromised as crossing Coniston Road is now much more dangerous with the increase in the traffic. We have heard the message loud and clear and believe we need to represent the clear view of our constituents. We urge you to do the same.
The level of opposition cannot be overstated, as we suspect you will know from your own mail bag. Thousands of Patchway people have been protesting for over a year now. 4,000 petitioned, and hundreds attended, South Gloucestershire Council last summer calling for the closure plans to be dropped. Since the introduction of the trial scheme last summer, local opposition has strengthened. A public meeting on 22 August had to be moved outside because the huge number of people attending could not fit into the hall, the council committee meeting on 4 September had to defer its discussion because the public gallery was overflowing down the stairs, and the 16 October Council meeting is being relocated to a larger venue to accommodate the expected huge public turnout.
Despite this strength of local feeling, and all political parties’ declared support for localism, we fear that a majority of councillors will ignore the wishes of local residents and vote to confirm the closure of Highwood Road. We hope that you agree that this is not acceptable and will make representations to South Gloucestershire Council – and ask its councillors – to listen to the people of Patchway and reverse the closure of Highwood Road.
Councillors Eve Orpen, Sam Scott and Keith Walker
The response from Mr Lopresti
9 October 2013
Dear Cllrs Orpen, Scott & Walker,
Thank you for your recent open letter regarding Highwood Road.
I know that a large number of Patchway residents have concerns over the closure of Highwood Road from the many constituents who have contacted me over this issue, reporting significantly increased congestion on surrounding roads. I have met local residents at my surgeries and acted on their concerns, frequently making South Glos Council aware of the strength of feeling surrounding this matter.
I have also heard reports from Council Officers that they are coming under pressure to proceed with the Rapid Transit Scheme, of which the Highwood Road closure is a part, as delays or alterations to the original plan could risk the funding allocated by the Department for Transport being lost altogether.
The Rapid Transit Scheme has the potential to be of huge benefit to our local area, improving public transport provision and providing some much-needed relief from congestion on local roads, and it is my strong belief that the scheme needs to be completed. However, I personally see no reason why this cannot be achieved whilst also reaching a compromise with Patchway residents and addressing their concerns over the closure of Highwood Road.
To this end, I have written to the Secretary of State for Transport, to ascertain whether there are budgetary constraints on the spending of this investment, and also to request a meeting with the Minister responsible. I am currently awaiting a response, but hope it proves to be the case that the Council has time and flexibility to work with residents more fully to address this matter. I will certainly be making the argument that should any restrictions be in place, the Government should allow South Gloucestershire Council the opportunity to reach a solution which is acceptable to all parties involved.
I am somewhat surprised that Councillors have taken the step of writing to me on this matter however, as this decision is solely the responsibility of South Glos Council and I would expect Councillors of all parties to work with their colleagues in the best interests of local residents. I understand that when decisions on this project were initially taken ten years ago, many current Councillors were not yet elected, however I also understand that Cllr Orpen in particular was a District Councillor when this was first discussed in 2002 and was in a prime position to influence this plan in its formative stages. Councillors who have been elected more recently have the responsibility of taking the final decision, and again, should act in the best interests of local residents.
The Rapid Transit Scheme is a huge opportunity for our local area, and I hope that this opportunity is not being jeopardised by political manoeuvring; Councillors at all levels and on all sides have had ample time to scrutinise this decision and I’m disappointed that an eleventh-hour intervention has been made in this way. That said, as I have been contacted by constituents on this matter, I will continue to do what I can to ensure that the Rapid Transit Scheme is successfully completed, in a way that is acceptable to local residents.
I will write again once I have received further information from the Secretary of State.
Jack Lopresti MP
Member of Parliament for Filton and Bradley Stoke