A Freedom of Information request from a Bathampton Meadows Alliance campaigner has revealed that Highways England had told B&NES Council on 10th February that building an access road from its preferred site, Site B, would be too dangerous.
The correspondence was prior to the Call-in panel meeting to discuss the original decision, made at the end of January, to press ahead with plans for an East of Bath Park and Ride.
The Communities Transport and Environment Policy Development and Scrutiny Panel met on 23rd February, after thirteen councillors formally asked for the decision to be reviewed.
The majority view of the Panel was that the decision needed to be implemented and as a result, the call-in was dismissed. The Chair of the Panel, writing to The Journal this week, (see Letters, Page 2), said that had this information come to light, the decision could have been different.
Councillor Alison Millar (Lib-Dem, Bathavon North) said: “It’s hard to believe that a huge amount of Council time and money was spent on a scrutiny panel call-in in February, which had not been given the full and relevant facts. Councillor Tony Clarke must have seen the Highways England rejection of Site B before speaking at that panel.
“It’s this disgraceful lack of transparency which has been a continual feature of the Conservative’s Park and Ride decision-making. It has even caused many local residents to come out and protest on the streets – just as they did recently – to rightly demand much higher standards of local decision-making.
“Withholding such important information for two months is outrageous and demonstrates their contempt for democracy and open debate.”
Councillor Dine Romero (Southdown), Leader of the Lib-Dem Group, added: “This is a new low from this Conservative administration. They are determined to keep everyone in the dark as they force through this hated scheme against public opposition. The Conservatives are not listening and are not being honest with residents.”
A Council spokesperson told The Journal however, that discussions are ongoing with Highways England: “The Council always stated that progressing Site B was dependent on two criteria – agreeing purchase of the site and securing agreement with Highways England on site access – which is why Site F was held in reserve.
“The letter received from Highways England on 10th February was an initial response to the proposed entry into Site B and work and discussions are ongoing with them over the potential options for access into this site, being mindful of the importance of safety for all road users.
“As stated in their response to the Council, Highways England remain supportive of a Park and Ride. In addition to this, discussions remain ongoing with the landowners, but this was paused during the period of the Call-In of the Cabinet decision. Therefore, the position of the Council remains unchanged.”
Meanwhile, an interview conducted on BBC Radio Bristol with B&NES Cabinet member, Anthony Clarke, caused controversy online after he claimed that the proposed Park and Ride on Site B would not be visible from surrounding homes. During the interview, he was asked how possible it would be to screen the sight of cars parked on the meadow. He said: “You have to remember that from ground level, there is very little difficulty, as far as screening is concerned; because it is not as if either site is visible from Batheaston particularly or the other communities around. So, the issue is more from above.”
This comment has prompted many people living near the meadows to take to Twitter, posting photos of their view and asking Cllr Clarke if he would like to take a look.