Call for council to publish secret transport plan

Perry Barr councillor Jon Hunt responds to the city council’s proposed transport initiatives.

What Monday’s city cabinet shows is a city leadership flailing around trying to look ‘green’ but still stuck in their old ways of thinking. Within the two specific proposals, there is little recognition of how the city works now or how it will develop in a low or zero-carbon future.

We need to know how the council expects the economy of the city centre to work in a low-carbon future and how it expects the city’s outlying suburbs and centres, such as Perry Barr, to work. Where will the jobs be and what kind of jobs will they be?

What is novel about today’s cabinet papers is the revelation of the existing of a secret “emerging Birmingham Transport Plan.” This plan has never been shared publicly before and is tucked away in today’s papers. It is quoted in support of the Workplace Parking Levy.

It says among other things: “Access for private cars to the city centre will be limited with no through trips.” “Active travel – walking and cycling – will be how most people will get around their locality most of the time.”
“Where redevelopment potential exists, land currently occupied by car parking will be put to more productive use.”

Our response is that these ideas are worth examination but some are novel. Are they considering closing the A38 route through the city? Yes, we do need to rethink many things as we seek a carbon-free future to tackle climate change. However producing paragraphs from a secret plan to justify individual measures is no way to run a city.

This plan should be published immediately in full and discussed with the whole city.

The proposed city centre workplace levy is another piecemeal proposal, dumped on top of the city centre emissions charge. There are few answers to the question of how people will get to their jobs and to the shops. Simply promising improvements to a small number of public transport routes is inadequate.

If the council wants a car-free city centre it must come up with a coherent plan to enable people to get around the central area. Telling them to walk or cycle is not enough and will kill businesses. The £7 million income from the levy should be prioritised for city centre shuttle services and supporting park and ride facilities, both on the outskirts of the centre and on the outskirts of the city.

The council is also talking about the proposed Perry Barr flyover removal and other work in the Perry Barr area. Cllr Morriam Jan and myself are responsible for organising all the 15,000 signatures opposing flyover removal – and all the evidence suggests we were right, as ward councillors, to raise the alarm about this proposal. It’s another ill-thought out, hastily conceived patchwork solution to the city’s issues.

The cabinet reports fail to explain what will happen to the high speed X51 bus – apart from making it clear it will be slower – and fail to explain the impact on the proposed Park and Ride Scheme at Junction 7 of the M6.

It is clear there will be significantly increased congestion, even with the astonishing assumption that 5% of drivers will switch to bicycles. In the short run that will worsen air quality in much of Perry Barr. The evidence is that the transport system is being dismantled to allow a high concentration of high-rise housing in this neighbourhood – even though the council high rise blocks have been systematically removed from the Birchfield area to the south. It’s not consistent.

I will be questioning the legality of the cabinet making a decision on Tuesday. That is because the petitions are due to be debated at the City Council meeting on November 5th. How can the cabinet make a decision without hearing the debate?

In addition I will be questioning the legality of the consultation conducted over the summer. There is no evidence it has changed anything and the council has made it impossible to change anything. It is clear that these changes should have been included in the public consultation over the Commonwealth Games Athletes village last autumn. They were not and planning permission was given under false pretences.

And that’s the big point. In this day and age you cannot consider plans for jobs, housing and transport in isolation. They are inseparable. We need to see what the full but still secret “emerging Birmingham Transport Plan” says.

The writer is Leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Birmingham City Council.