Colin Chick, Executive Director of Economy, Environment & Infrastructure to update the Committee on current issues.
5.1 Colin Chick, Executive Director of Economy, Environment and Infrastructure, updated the Committee on current issues. In particular, members noted that:
· M5 J10 had completed its public consultation which ran from October – November last year, the process of land acquisition for the project had started and it aimed to secure as much in advance as possible, hoping for a Preferred Route Announcement in spring 2021.
· The Highways contracts continued to move forward, regardless of any implications of the third lockdown, although the team had been heavily impacted by the recent flooding events and need for increased gritting delivery.
· Phases 3 and 4 of the West Cheltenham project were due to go on site through this third lockdown. Additional work had been needed to reduce the risk of Covid transmission on site.
· Positive early feedback from parents and children about the School Streets pilots in Tewkesbury and in Warden Hill (Cheltenham).
· The funding pot for the B4603 project was almost there, it was about £1.5m short but there were a number of funding options to consider.
· Unfortunately the M5 J9 scheme had returned to negotiation on scheme options due to a last minute challenge from Highways England on the chosen option.
5.2 A member raised the ongoing issue of flooding on the A417 to Maisemore, noting that the closure of this road was happening more frequently and was having a considerable impact on residents and businesses. It was questioned whether a prevention scheme could be added to the Local Transport Plan for future considering. The cabinet member responsible encouraged the member to raise this in a question at the next Cabinet meeting.
5.3 Noting at 4.1 that the current rail strategy was published in March 2020, a member questioned whether there was a plan to update this soon. It was advised that with the strategy being only 9 months old, officers would not be looking to update it yet. It had been very useful in driving recent improvements to the rail services in the county, with the metro service to Gloucester going live at the end of this year. Members noted the need to keep pressure on rail companies post-Covid to reinstate the level of service Gloucestershire had before, as it was possible to become stuck in a cycle of residents not using services due to their infrequency and rail companies therefore feeling the demand was not there to justify increasing them.
5.4 Further detail was requested regarding the failure to secure funds mentioned at 4.11. It was explained that GCC could request two forms of funding from developers for housing – Section 106 and CIL (Community Infrastructure Levy). As the latter did not generally go towards education/library facilities, the section 106 contributions were vital for being able to provide this infrastructure. What GCC were beginning to experience however was developers (or district councils in some cases) refusing to pay the section 106 monies due to a misunderstanding of where the CIL contributions would go.
5.5 Officers informed that GCC were battling hard against these cases, but unfortunately due to the 2 tiered system of council in Gloucestershire, it was only an advisory body to planning applications. It was on developers to agree to the infrastructure contribution suggestions, rather than GCC being able to demand them. The team were due to attend a court hearing on one particular development soon, which they believe will form the basis of precedent going forward and had therefore spent a lot of time preparing for.
5.6 It was advised that the Stroud Local Plan may have to be reviewed by Stroud District Council in light of the recent change in Govt. policy on planning for the future. As members were aware, GCC could only act as an advisory body for local plans but it was noted that GCC officers were currently objecting to the Sharpness development as it stood due to its unsustainable transport issues.
5.7 A member questioned whether GCC supported the reopening of community rail stations in the county e.g. the one at Stonehouse. It was advised that for every person you improve their convenience in access to a local rail station; there was a disadvantage to the multiple users of the services going through that area, due to the additional stop. With each additional stop leading to an increased connection time. Network Rail had advised that the line from Bristol to Birmingham could only accommodate 1 or 2 additional stations without a major negative impact on services. It was therefore critical that detailed analysis be undertaken to assess where these were best placed to support and maximise large scale growth in the future in the most sustainable manner.
5.8 On the innovation of libraries at 5.1, it was queried whether there was access to 3D printers/scanners. It was advised that the Innovation Lab concept, which was now live in Coleford and due to be rolled out in the other 5 districts, would have all such 3D facilities. These Lab’s had been designed to encourage, excite and enthuse young people into the field of cyber and IT careers, but also to provide the necessary support services for SMEs.
5.9 There was a query about local cycling objections to the A419 works taking place in Stonehouse. It was informed that when the scheme was approved, it was more of a traditional type scheme that potentially gave motorist priority over cyclists and would probably not be approved nowadays. The team were in constant dialogue with the cycling group and were actively considering how to best amend the scheme to address their concerns.
5.10 On the list of Emergency Active Travel (EATF) schemes that were submitted but not allocated funding back in the summer, it was advised that officers were working through the list to see if it was possible to at least move some of the schemes forward from a design perspective with GCC’s own funding and then if an external funding pot became available, schemes would be available to bid for it.
5.11 The smaller, local schemes were being considered in parallel with continuing to develop the cycle lane ‘spine’ throughout the county. The focus needed to be on developing the spine for smaller schemes to feed off, but officers appreciated member comments that these smaller schemes offered vital cycle connections for local residents making smaller journeys.
5.12 The team were focused on delivering all levels of the cycle network as quickly as possible but these schemes cost serious money and needed to be conscious of budget implications. GCC’s capacity to deliver and design cycle schemes, particularly the smaller ones, could be significantly improved subject to this years budget approval, was it included money to increase capacity for an in-house design team, which would result in a faster and more efficient process, as opposed to fielding everything out to external consultants.
ACTION: SHARE A LIST OF THE 5 EATF SCHEMES
5.13 A member stressed that it was vital to ensure the highway was safe and fit for purpose when implementing these cycle schemes. If potholes, for example, were resident, motorists tended to weave into cycle lanes to avoid them.
5.14 It was noted that the waiting times at Hempsted and Pike Quarry Home Recycling Centres had experienced an increase in waiting times. It was advised that HRC’s were constantly reviewed and improved where possible. One of the advantages of moving to a permanent booking system was the possibility to develop a new platform, as the current platform being used was fairly inflexible. This option was being actively discussed with cabinet.
5.15 A member added that some residents in Tewkesbury were travelling to out of county HRCs instead where there were no booking systems. There had also been a major increase in fly tipping in the area and It was questioned whether there was there any coloration wit this.
5.16 In response, members appreciated that not having a booking system at the moment would not be advisable due to the need to enforce Covid restrictions. Fly tipping was, in the main, a criminal commercial operation and therefore officers would not make the link between having to wait for a couple of days to visit a HRC, with the criminal activity of fly tipping. It may however cause residents to consider other waste removal companies instead, who themselves were then illegal disposing of waste they collected.