Political row puts controversial Bristol Rapid Transit route in jeopardy
A political row is in danger of derailing the controversial bus rapid transit route from the Long Ashton park and ride site into Bristol’s city centre.
The £49 million BRT route is part of a proposed network to ease Bristol’s chronic traffic congestion.
But the row centres on whether the buses will run along Wapping Wharf, on a narrow street behind the M shed museum and over Prince Street bridge.
Bristol mayor George Ferguson is adamant the buses will not use the bridge and a different route will be found.
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But North Somerset leader Nigel Ashton went public today with a statement which said that work was going ahead with the original scheme to avoid the danger of losing Government funding.
Tensions between Bristol and outlying areas have always been taut, sometimes fractured, but rarely bubble over into the public domain.
The last time this happened was several years ago when Bristol and South Gloucestershire fell out over the route of the proposed supertram system.
The row led to the Government withdrawing the funding for a scheme which would have eased congestion on the M32 corridor.
Councillor Ashton, who is vice-chairman of the Local Enterprise Partnership, said: "It is clear from discussions with Department for Transport (DfT) officials and the minister that the credibility we have built through carrying out successful transport schemes in recent years is under threat following the recent Bristol mayoral election and consequent delay in decision-making.
"There is a very clear message from the DfT that further delay is unacceptable and further prevarication could risk all of the West of England major transport schemes under negotiation with the Government as well as related Section 106 funding and any chance of agreeing a City Deal. This amounts to many millions of pounds in local transport investment."
Mr Ferguson said: "There is no way I would go back to the original scheme and I never said I would. We will not go over Princes Street bridge. I will come back with a business case for an alternative route. It's really discouraging that North Somerset should choose to use this moment to play politics. North Somerset is nervous about the strength of Bristol and my role."
Meanwhile, North Somerset’s deputy leader Elfan Ap Rees has criticised Mr Ferguson for taking a trip to France instead of attending a meeting of the West of England Partnership which is promoting the BRT scheme.
Mr Ferguson has been part of a high-powered delegation of business leaders to Cannes to promote the region and attract investment at Europe’s biggest property show.
Councillor Ap Rees said: "He appears to think it more important to be seen in Cannes than being here to help sort out our transport problems, most of which are in Bristol anyway," said Cllr Ap Rees.
"We have gained a reputation with DfT for delivering transport schemes on time and within budget which has been reflected in the allocation of funding to the region. This has all been put in jeopardy by the mayor and his constant tweeting which has done nothing to enhance our credibility.
"The decision to go ahead with the agreed scheme is therefore essential."
Mr Ferguson said: "It's surprising when I'm representing the LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership), including North Somerset, in attracting inward investment to the city region, that one of the partners in that partnership sees fit to make a silly political point. We have gained huge interest from investors and others in the property industry in all the enterprise sites - including North Somerset's Junction 21.
“The fact that I'm here (in Cannes) as mayor of Bristol as part of the representation for the city region has been greatly appreciated.
“As to the reference to my not being at the JTEC (West of England) meeting, I can't be everywhere at once and I was represented by the deputy mayor Geoff Gollop.”
Colin Skellett, chairman of LEP, said: "I agree with Nigel Ashton that we need to get on with the BRT scheme.
“However, just so everyone is clear, we are starting work on the original scheme while we evaluate options for the central piece. The mayor is confident that he can come up with a better solution for the route."
“It's a little disappointing to see the comments about Cannes, given that we have a team here, including a representative from North Somerset, working their socks off to attract much-needed investment to the west of England."
South Gloucestershire council issued a statement which said: "South Gloucestershire Council is completely committed to working with the West of England authorities and local business partners to deliver our transport schemes and attract much-needed investment and jobs to our area."
Paul Crossley, leader of Bath and North East Somerset Council, said: "We are committed to partnership working across the four local authorities and with our local business community to attract inward investment to continue the success of our region.
On BRT, it's quite clearly an issue that has many difficulties that need resolving. However, it's important to the continued success of the whole region that the BRT scheme goes ahead. "
A statement from the West of England LEP said:
"At the recent meeting of the Local Enterprise Partnership it was agreed by all that we need to move forwards with the rapid transit schemes and ensure they are delivered in full, opening up areas for investment and growth in the West of England.
Everyone is committed to delivering the Rapid Transit schemes as submitted to DfT, and work is proceeding on these three schemes. We had a very positive meeting with DfT recently and will be asking them to conclude the decision making process on the TWA Order following the Public Inquiry on the Ashton Vale Temple Meads scheme.
"The Mayor has consistently expressed his concerns about sections of this route and, while the work on the existing scheme continues, he will be looking at ways the scheme could be enhanced and improved. This work would be funded by Bristol City Council.
"The LEP Board would support enhancements and improvements provided they were agreed by the DfT and had no significant impact on the overall timescale and cost of completing the schemes."