Responding to the sudden changes to road layouts that have emerged in recent days, which particularly impact the city of Chester, Cheshire West and Chester Conservatives have called on the Labour leadership of the Council to rethink the disruptive and counter-productive schemes implemented in some parts of the borough.
Conservative Group Leader, Cllr Margaret Parker, and Shadow Cabinet Member for Environment, Highways and Strategic Transport, Cllr Simon Eardley, have issued the following remarks:
"The Conservative Government has provided local authorities with substantial money to improve local transport infrastructure, including implementing better cycling and walking options. Cheshire West and Chester Council have secured an initial £161,000 for such schemes and are likely to receive nearly £1 million in funding overall. This is welcome news and has the potential to make a real difference. But here in Chester we are seeing this positive investment turned into a damaging negative and the responsibility for that rests with the leadership of the Council who ultimately take the decisions on these matters.
"Together with other council colleagues, we suggested a variety of local and practical solutions across the borough. We hoped to see these realised because smaller projects have the potential to make a big difference. Instead we have large scale schemes being implemented which are now causing chaos. Over the weekend we've had reports of some people queuing for an hour to get into the city. This is unacceptable, but it is also deeply damaging to the environment. If the aspiration is to reduce the impact of cars on emissions and air quality, having cars idling and pumping out fumes is not the answer. Much of this is also happening in built up communities like Boughton, where residents disproportionately feel the impact.
"In the long term it is necessary to reduce car use and that will mean prioritising safe and extensive routes for pedestrians, cyclists and improved methods of public transport. But it must be done in a prudent and proportionate way that takes people with us. Whilst the Covid-19 pandemic saw massive reductions in car use as the economy was locked down, it is unrealistic to assume this will result in an immediate and long-term change, right now. In addition, when radical change to local transport infrastructure is brought about, it requires a strong publicity campaign to keep people informed. This has been sorely lacking with residents reporting their surprise and the possibility of accidents and dangerous situations commented on extensively.
"We have been told by Labour that some of these changes are 'experimental.' How long will these experiments last? What are the parameters to measure success? What will it take for them to be reversed in a quick and pragmatic way if the chaos that has already ensued is allowed to continue?
"Covid-19 has presented unprecedented challenges for businesses across our Borough with many fighting for survival. Why are we putting barriers in the way in the short and possibly long term that make it harder for people to get back into the city to support hardworking business owners get back to some sort of normality? Now is not the time for experiments at the very point when we need people back in our shops, restaurants and recreation facilities to help the local economy recover.
"This also reinforces the Conservative Group view that it was a mistake to have the Environment, Highways and Strategic Transport portfolio and that of the Climate Emergency split from each other. These two areas are fundamentally linked and should be one. Transport and highways matters are likely to play a major role in tackling the serious, important and long-term climate change challenge we face as a borough. Not having a fully integrated approach is a mistake. Reversing the decision to have two separate portfolios in these areas would also have the advantage of saving taxpayers' money by the removal of the resource required to fund an additional member of the Cabinet but most importantly it would put one elected councillor in charge of this overall strategic area of the council's work.
"We urge the Council leadership to rethink and respond to these urgent matters as a priority in the days ahead."