Monday, 25 August 2014

Sutton Weaver Swing Bridge Junction - the decision

The majority of this blog post was written by Cllr Lynn Riley who, in addition to being my colleague as a councillor for Frodsham on CWaC, as Executive Member for Localities had to make the decision on what the junction at the Sutton Weaver Swing Bridge would look like following the Traffic Regulation Order consultation.
 'What’s the Point?
This is a phrase too often heard and is guaranteed to send shivers down the spines of anyone involved in trying to achieve something, be that politicians, pressure groups or members of the PTA. The follow up sentence is invariably ‘ they’ll do what they want anyway’.
In a democracy this isn’t actually true but its understandable that for many people it feels true. As your local councillors we know only too well that Frodsham isn’t short of opinions; everywhere you go there are people willing to share their views be that in the pub or post office. The challenge for all of us is how we gather that opinion so that when decisions have to be made, they reflect “us” and not the amorphous “them”.
Decisions for any of us start with the facts and one of the reasons we write this blog, website, take space in Frodsham Life and other social media is to make sure that as many people as possible are aware and involved in all that’s going on. 
So it’s been great to see so many people sharing their views about a whole range of local issues over the summer period. It’s usually a quiet time, but not this year. The Swing Bridge is just one example. With work due to complete in a matter of weeks, the question about what happens next is out there. Moving the traffic back onto the refurbished bridge has been out to consultation. Not only has this triggered 267 people to write in with their comments about whether to retain the arrangements on the temporary bridge or not, but its also brought forward a new suggestion from a private developer and we are all interested to know more. Obviously any new scheme has along way to go and in the meantime we’ll soon be driving, walking and cycling over the much-improved Swing Bridge. 
Your views were overwhelmingly (242/267) in favour of reinstating the original layout and turning on the traffic lights. I have to confess being quite surprised by this given the huge amount of public support for the temporary bridge and the success of the traffic flow during the refurbishment. But it’s an important local issue and therefore important to ask the question. Predictably, the vast majority of people didn’t know, didn’t care one way or the other or didn’t see the point of bothering, but amongst those that did see ‘the point’ and wanted to make theirs, the overwhelming response back was objection. When there is a (legal) process as is the case with a TRO, it’s the basis of the objection that carries the weight and we tasked Highways officers with spelling these out in their formal report. All the local parish councils and the neighbouring Halton Council objected as did the Police, Highways Agency and Sustrans along with the local bus companies who can trigger a public inquiry. Whilst this is the formal process, we also have the findings from the joint Frodsham Town Council consultation where we made sure this question was raised and saw roughly an even split of those for and against retaining the temporary arrangements.  Interestingly many more people responded to the Frodsham wide consultation which covered  lots of things than responded to the TRO consultation (c1300 as against 267)
So the consultation is over. You have made your points and these have made a difference.  The comments you raised have helped us convince the Highways teams to reinstate the previous 3 lane working even though they wanted 2 and there will be marked improvements to pedestrian and cycling access. We’ve taken the positive comments about the temporary bridge and will be maintaining the left hand flow onto Clifton Road and have secured a give-way rather than a traffic light controlled left turn. It’s not so long ago that traffic used to regularly back-up from the bridge in all directions and we are keen to keep this situation under review, particularly if there are to be future proposals from private developers around this area.
So a big thanks you to everyone who did see the point of sharing his or her views – it really can and does make a difference. New Government thinking both nationally and locally has brought a new pragmatism and flexibility into play that has really helped us deliver this fix to a long-standing eyesore at the gateway to our town. 
This is a good example of the way that a small number of views can influence how things can and should work locally. So returning to the title, just try and imagine what more people supporting more ambitious projects might look like? '   Lynn
So there you have it.  We will be reverting to a traffic light controlled junction.  There will be 3 lanes over the bridge.  The left hand filter lane will be a 'give way' not a filter light.   
Personally, whilst I respect the decision I think it was the wrong decision - but that's democracy.  This was always going to be a difficult nuanced decision where not everyone could be satisfied.  I'm pleased we've been able to persuade the highway officers to revert to 3 lanes - the thought of a 2 lane bridge with traffic lights would have been too horrible to contemplate!
I do hope the road surface on the bridge will take the additional wear and tear of 3 lanes of traffic including braking on the bridge.   Don't forget it was the road surface 'letting-go' that proved to be the final catalyst in getting the bridge refurbished.  I'm concerned about the effect of queuing traffic on pollution and environmental quality.  One only has to go up the road to the Fluin Lane junction with the A56 to find a location where environmental standards are being breached through pollution from queuing traffic.  The only place outside Chester that happens in the Borough.
Ah well, at least this is one debate that looks like being parked for a generation or two - until the bridge needs to be refurbished again - or perhaps until the next time a developer suggests something different?