Following a meeting on 15 January 2013, the much discussed changes to the Seven Dials have been passed by the B&H Council Transport Committee. Addison Road resident, Bob Potter, has been very vocal in his objections, not to the need for change but to the consultation process itself. His points are made below and we asked one of the objects of his ire, Ian Davey, Green Councillor and Chair of the Transport Committee, to respond.
‘Consultation’ is a statutory requirement for councils intending development. Councils routinely replace the old ‘public meetings’ and genuine community discussion, with roadshows and exhibitions. This time there were five of the latter expounding the proposed changes to Seven Dials. Those attending several of these ‘events’ were astounded by varying responses from Council officers to specific questions raised – a seemingly ‘shifting ground’.
During the mid-1970s, the large Seven Dials roundabout caused rush hour traffic congestion. The ‘central area’ of the roundabout was ‘greatly reduced’, providing additional space for two lanes of traffic on the Dyke Road approach. The congestion problem evaporated overnight, remaining so to this day. The current recommendations are seen by many local residents as turning back the clock, by forty years. At the first stakeholders’ forum, the Council’s (covert) intention was admitted to be to “throttle the traffic” entering the City via Dyke Road, encouraging drivers to seek alternate routes. Unwilling to openly declare the intention to create congestion, Council rationale changed later into portraying Seven Dials as an ‘accident black spot’ (by manipulation of accident statistics). Police records show an average of slightly less than two ‘serious’ personal injuries per annum arising from collisions at the Dials over a five year period.
During the consultation, 661 questionnaires were returned, 67% responding ‘yes’ to the plans; 84% of these being from ‘local residents’. A total of 370 local residents voted ‘yes’ to the Council proposals, 185 voted ‘no’. The figures, by themselves, signify nothing, one way or the other. What is completely out of order is the attempt by Chair, Ian Davey, to imply this data could be treated as coming from an independent, representative sample! Fearing Councillors planned to railroad the scheme into existence, a group of residents devised a petition, demanding proper research into possible repercussions. In numerous nearby streets, petitioners knocked at every door, talked to every passer-by, discussing the Dials proposals. Canvassers were stunned by the positive responses received from 90% of those approached. In a fortnight, approximately 1,300 signatures were collected (slightly more than the minimum required by the Council) and lodged with the Council on 13 December 2012. Following the public stakeholders’ meeting on 17 December, the petition organiser managed a brief chat with Jason Kitcat, pointing out residents’ 1,300 signatures appeared more impressive than the Council’s 370 ‘yes’ votes. He received a pejorative reply: “Consultation responses are qualitatively different from petition signatures.” Apart from the petitioners scoring a gold medal for ‘quantity’, both samplings are definitely qualitatively different; but knocking at every door, talking to every passer-by, is a more representative sample. Bob Potter, Addison Road
Change is always challenging, and no more so than at Seven Dials. The area around Seven Dials should reflect the vibrancy and liveliness of local businesses and people. However, for years the junction hasn’t really worked, and can be challenging to visit and pass through. The area regularly features in the top 5 worst accidents spots in the city, with 20 incidents and 23 casualties in the last 3 years. Most people seem to agree that “something must be done” but agreeing a scheme is more difficult. The recent public consultation – with both its exhibitions (in local halls and on the streets around the Dials) and public meetings – has helped local residents and traders share their views on the proposals put forward. 67% of respondents were in support of the proposals overall. However, they were generally not in favour of the options to return Bath Street to two way or to make Vernon Terrace one way – so these were taken out of the final plans which went to the cross party Transport Committee on 15 January for a decision.
I know that some people are concerned that the changes could cause traffic delays at the Dials, and might lead to ‘rat-running’ on local streets. Council officers have commissioned detailed modelling and believe that this is unlikely to be the case, because the capacity of the junction will stay largely the same. One independent expert has said that they believe “it’s highly likely the proposal will result in smoother traffic at the Dials with reduced delay”. However, in response to these concerns, officers have been monitoring the side streets around the junction and will continue to see how things change if the scheme is introduced. If there is a significant increase in traffic as a result of the scheme, then we will work with residents to tackle this – and we’ve set aside funding to make future adjustments. If agreed, the work could start in the Spring. While there will inevitably be some disruption in the short term, the final result will completely transform the area – which I hope others will agree is worthwhile. Ian Davey
Green Party Councillor for St Peters & North Laine Ward, Chair of Transport Committee