"No prior say" for residents, councillors on "complex and disruptive" road scheme

July 15, 2016 4:39 PM
Opposition Liberal Democrat councillors in the Gosforth, North Jesmond, High Heaton, and Benton Park Road areas of Newcastle have expressed concern at Newcastle City Council's failure to seek feedback from local councillors and residents ahead of the unveiling of proposals for the Blue House-Haddricksmill corridor and junctions improvement plan next week.
Despite being on the drawing board for several years, council transport planners have so far declined to involve local residents and ward councillors in devising the scheme. Lib Dem councillors representing communities set to be affected by the works recognise that improvements to this congested route are necessary and desirable, but feel that the council has missed an important opportunity to take account of local knowledge and concerns.
Local councillors will be briefed about the plans at a hastily arranged meeting on 20th July - only hours before the start of public drop-in information sessions in South Gosforth and Jesmond.
It has also emerged that the council had not made plans for a consultation event for Dene ward residents - including communities in High Heaton and the Benton Park Road area - with exhibition sessions being planned for Gosforth, South Gosforth, and Jesmond. Although workplace information sessions have been arranged for employees at the Freeman Hospital and Inland Revenue complex who commute to work through the junction, no session was planned for residents in the High Heaton and Four Lane Ends area. However, following pressure from Dene ward Lib Dem councillor Bob Renton, an event for residents has now been added to the schedule.
Cllr Renton said "We have been involved seemingly as an afterthought in what has been a planning process lasting many months. The last information we received was in December/January and we were advised we would be given more information as soon as possible and be able to give advice on how when and where our residents could be consulted and involved. I am very concerned local councillors have been kept out the loop until the very last minute and have not been allowed any input to the design process. We have already seen from North Tyneside council's recent remodelling of the Four Lane Ends junction the difficulties that can arise".
Cllr Henry Gallagher, Lib Dem councillor for East Gosforth said: "This is not about party politics, this is about our ability to use local knowledge to input into a major council decision affecting our community and to represent the interests of thousands of our constituents who will be affected by major work to remodel the junctions and associated closures of local roads. A great many affected residents will want to discuss issues arising from the plans with us and we will have only a few hours prior notice of what is proposed. We feel it would have been much better if the council had given us an earlier opportunity to identify local concerns over road closures and restrictions, and to highlight local rat-running issues."
Cllr Greg Stone, who represents North Heaton ward and is Opposition spokesperson on transport, said that no attempt had been made by the council to invite residents of the North Heaton ward area of High Heaton to the consultation sessions, despite many residents of the area using these junctions as part of their daily travel.
He said "We have known that the council has been working on these plans for many months, and we recognise that these junctions need improvement - the previous Lib Dem administration before 2011 started this process, but at the time Government funding was not available. However, no prior briefing has been offered to the Opposition group and requests to the head of transport for more information on consultation plans, most recently in March this year, have not been acted upon.
We understand consultation will be on a single recommended solution, rather than options for what will inevitably be a complex and disruptive scheme which has the potential to close or restrict a number of roads. We accept that the council has a difficult job to design a solution, but regret that we are being consulted on a single option on which we have had no prior say. We think the administration should have done more to involve local people and local councillors in this process a lot sooner - their failure to do so comes across as arrogant."