Sedgemoor 2050 Transport Investment Strategy- what climate emergency?

On the 20th February 2019 Somerset County Council declared a climate emergency  followed by Bridgwater Town Council on the 15th March and by Sedgemoor District Council few days later on the 20th March 2019. Clearly there isn’t any emergency according to the recently approved study Sedgemoor 2050 Transport Investment Strategy; the two key drivers of Sedgemoor’s  future, climate change through rising sea levels that threatens Sedgemoor’s low-lying land and the impact of an aging population higher than the national average, barely got a mention. Its quite clear that Sedgemoor just does not get it.

Transport infrastructure drives how our society develops, it brings development and investment and it is difficult to see how the adopted strategy delivers on any of those fronts apart from facilitating housing developers at Sanford Corner. What we do know is Sedgemoor’s reliance on the motorcar is particularly unsustainable not only for health  but the geography of  the area split into 3  by the M5, railway and River Parrett creates bottle necks everywhere. We don’t have enough crossing points and could not afford to build the bridges we need. Indeed, the published evidence says if we built all the improvements by 2032 it’s still not good whilst SDC won’t start looking at a bypass until 2030 and that will take at least 10 years to select the route, acquire the land and gain approval and be built 2040 would seem to be a fair delivery date for a bypass by which time our local population is predicted to be well on the way to 150,000 people. The same evidence also noted the bypqss from junction 24 offered greater benefits than from junction 23.

the map below is extracted from the report

Fig
Figure 3.2: Sedgemoor 2050 Transport Investment Strategy schemes for Bridgwater


Bearing in mind that with the studies supporting Hinkley Point Planning and  the work done for the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier and other post 2014 flood related studies the same team responsible for this report can have no excuse for a lack of knowledge however:

Gravity

Redevelopment of the old Royal Ordnance Factory at Puriton is trumpeted as some wunderkind  scheme yet the proposed access road on Puriton Hill will see all vehicles coming and going from the site having to climb  a hill in both directions. None but the most fanatical  cyclist from Bridgwater is going to do that hill twice a day and certainly not aging cyclists. It appears in London where the authors reside the Polden Hills don’t exist or even the rising Severn Estuary.

The irony of building an Energy Park with perhaps the least carbon friendly access route should be lost on no one.

Bridgwater Northern Bypass

The bypass will be built downstream of Bridgwater’s Tidal Barrier. The new road will cross the area (flood plain) designated to take water over topping  the River Parrett to save Bridgwater and will invariably make much of the planned secondary flood defences  redundant. It will also require raising the River Parrett banks at Cannington Bends that is always settling due to the poor  ground conditions. How far down stream would that go? The argument for the present configuration of the tidal barrier is that the 100-year design life, 800mm sea level rise is ok for now, sea level will rise 2 to 3m. The reason there is no provision for replacement or expansion made today we should not impose a solution on the generations that follow. Building the bypass downstream of the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier is exactly what SDC/SDC is doing, it is placing future generations in an invidious position with the need for a bigger tidal barrier downstream of the bypass. That we wont be able to develop land off the bypass because of the flood risk makes the bypass and barrier configuration all the more unrealistic or improbable or the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier needs to be revisited.

Bridgwater Tidal Barrier Flood Plain

The original route of the Bridgwater Northern bypass connecting  to the existing Cannington bypass  has been abandoned and a new route identified  between Sanford Corner (A39) crossing the overspill area of the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier and crossing the River Parrett somewhere around the site of the old BP jetty. It seems to adopt a developer’s route from 2017 that incorporated both a barrier and a bridge. Being downstream of Dunball Wharf it must be intended to finally shut the wharf and bring to end the Port of Bridgwater. It is important to understand that the importation of sand at Dunball Wharf is a significant part of Somerset’s present sustainability strategy keeping trucks off the road.

River Parret Bridge and Tidal Barrier at old BP Jetty.

Population context

The supporting evidence produced in 2017 by Steer Davies Cleave provides three interesting pieces of information for the people of  Sedgemoor.

  • Sedgemoor has a significantly higher proportion of the population over the age of 60 years compared to the national average (28% over 60 compared to 22% in England and Wales at the 2011 UK Census) and this proportion is growing. This will not only affect Sedgemoor residents’ mobility requirements, but also travel patterns, modal preferences, and influences the propensity for adoption of new digital and ‘disruptive technologies.
  • the population of the district could be between 150,000 and 160,000 by 2050. Sedgemoor’s transport networks will need to accommodate the increase in trips resulting from a larger and growing population.
  • The southern bypass option from junction 24 provides a better traffic benefit than the normally assumed  northern bypass from Junction 23.

Comment

Once again Sedgemoor and Somerset County Council have created a situation that flies in the face of common sense notwithstanding the recommendations of the DEFRA oversight committee that in the wake of the 2014 floods that infrastructure should be integrated  for both flood and transport to provide the tax payer with the most value for money. Nothing within the present SDC  transport and flood defence proposals could be farther away from those objectives. The rate and taxpayer is going to end up paying for two structures rather than one and the bypass will be viable for how long before its becomes impossible to manage Cannington Bends settlements and the sea engulfs the bypass. Surely we should be integrating our plans. Should we not be building the secondary flood banks along the route of the bypass?

Bypass with secondary flood defence.

Aging Populations need to move into the centre of towns where walking is a viable active mode of transport, people should not be marooned on housing estates and at the mercy of a bus service. Our town centre densities need to go and that means we need to build up and not out. Anyone reading the notice on the Monmouth Street development will not have missed the irony of proudly reducing densities and consequently displacing people to outskirts of Bridgwater and increasing the need for car trips and reducing support to the businesses in the town centre. As an example, people might consider why new housing being built is permitted to open directly onto Monmouth Street, is it right that those living in affordable housing will be subject to pollution from HGVs driving through the town.

Monmouth Street Affordable Housing

There is nothing remotely sustainable about this development when it uses one of the few sites in the town where a tall apartment building could have been built with the new hotel to the south and rest home to the north. It is wasteful use of a key site. It also reflects the lack of ability and ambition of council and developer alike. Houses have the most concrete, the greatest ratio of external walls that lose heat etc etc.

Our transport strategy should not only be about new roads but about reducing demand and increasing efficiencies of what we have not expanding a network that costs money to maintain. It is particularly unfortunate that despite our councils declaring Climate Change Emergencies they do absolutely nothing locally to mitigate the situation we have when it is within their power to do so. Its better to avoid need for a road than to build a new one. Transport policy needs to address our housing and flooding policies. joined up planning ?

Cycle Routes got minimal consideration. Even with climate  change and the opportunity to something different not the smallest amount of blue-sky thinking happens. The old Somerset and Dorset Railway permanent way offers a cycle route from Bridgwater to Cossington and beyond. A safe routes with low gradients suitable for people of all ages, not even a thought was given whilst in other parts of the UK old rail routes are being exploited as new technologies give them new life. With a new cycle bridge over the King Sedgemoor Drain it would remove much of the A39 from cycling into Bridgwater.

Clearly,  we need  something better than the same people on the same committees who deliver no vision that the community can understand and work towards.  Yet again Somerset been let down by the leaders of our district and county councils who seem unable to develop a joined up vision people can support and work towards that the generations that follow can build upon.