Lib Dem Councilors Demand Answers on Firepool
The Taunton Deane Lib Democrats have called a Special Full Council to demand answers on the failure over the development of the former market site at Firepool. No only has it taken over a decade to achieve very little in terms of progress but our development partner, St Modwen, has now decided to no longer be involved.
We believe that the public deserves to know what is going on thus we have called this meeting.
The meeting will be at the Somerset Room at the Somerset County Cricket Club on 14th November at 6:30pm. If you’d like to attend/speak, please email [email protected]
LIBERAL DEMOCRATS WILL HOLD THE CONSERVATIVE ADMINISTRATION OF TDBC TO ACCOUNT FOR THE FIREPOOL MELTDOWN
The latest fiasco in the long-running farce of the Firepool development plainly shows that a tired and incompetent Conservative regime must give way to a new Liberal Democrat Administration with imaginative ideas and solutions.
We are taking three immediate actions:
First, we are calling a special Council meeting to sort out what has gone wrong. It is scandalous that no one knew anything about
problems between St. Modwen's and Taunton Deane Council until we were contacted by the County Gazette following a council press release. The mismanagement and secrecy needs to be exposed.
Secondly, we will use a Freedom of Information request to expose how much the council tax payer has been forced to pay for a nine year consultancy bill that has produced one office block and fifty houses !
Thirdly, we will use this Conservative failure as an opportunity to get the Firepool development right. We will demand a cross-party council task force to agree a more imaginative plan which will boost Taunton's economy and bring more high paid jobs to the town. We will also consult local residents about what they want to see at Firepool, offering a range of possibilities.
These could include a mix of :-
Economic development and Growth Industries, such as an Innovation Centre with
links to green technology, as discussed at a recent meeting with experts and
innovators, organised by Cllr Habib Farbahi
Facilities for culture, sport and entertainment and the Community
Property and housing which will generate funds and make use of brown rather than
LIBDEMS POINT TO 'WASTED' £30MILLION AS PARK & RIDE PETITION GROWS
As the petition to stop the closure of Taunton's two Park and Rides passes 1,000 signatures local LibDems promoting it have written to the Borough and County Councils to highlight a range of ideas those signing have put forward, and to demand the closure is prevented.
Parliamentary candidate Gideon Amos and opposition leader at Taunton Deane Simon Coles say in their letter they are concerned about all 110 cuts being proposed by the Conservatives at the County Council such cuts to “specialist housing and support for adults social care needs” and the Park and Ride closure which the LibDems claim will disproportionately target the low paid and vulnerable.
Calling for either Council to put up the money to maintain the service, Gideon Amos said
“I hope the Conservative leadership have got the message that the people of Taunton are completely opposed to this threat to our transport system. It seems likely that they will cobble together short-term funding to keep the Park and Rides open for a while.
But what we need is a long-term solution that will guarantee the future of our Park and Rides. Many people who responded to the Liberal Democrat petition and have written to the County Gazette made imaginative and positive suggestions which deserve to be considered and evaluated to see if they are practical. The Liberal Democrats have suggestions about how the Park and Ride sites can be made more commercial and bring in income to close the funding gap. All these suggestions need to be examined by professional officers.
Instead the Conservatives have chosen to keep the closures secret until just before the meeting of Conservative Councillors who form the Cabinet. The public only know about the closures from an email leaked to Liberal Democrat councillors.”
Cllr Simon Coles added:
“Since the Conservatives control all levels of government perhaps, contrary to all the evidence, this spending is in fact well-coordinated between the Councils and part of a secret ‘cunning plan’ yet to be revealed. The only result however is the demise of our local Councils and the closure of much needed services, of which Park and Ride is just the latest in a list that includes Children’s Centres, Libraries and council offices.”
They point to over £30Million they say is being wasted on a range of projects such private hotel and development projects as evidence that funds exist to keep the Park and Ride running.
LibDem Group Leader on Taunton Deane Borough Council on the Unitary Proposal Announcement
"Any future changes at local and county level will have to put the provision and preservation of essential frontline public services and the interests of our residents first.
We should retain expertise whilst reducing costs and generating further economic growth through job creation. Efficiency is not about getting rid of your best staff and replacing them with machines, it is about retaining your assets and that is your staff, but you need to engage with them rather than make them redundant! Encouraging and allowing them to come up with new and innovative ways of working.
It is a total travesty that we find ourselves in this situation due to both the mismanagement of public funds on top of cuts from central government. It is also ironic that leaders at both district and county levels cannot even agree on the direction of travel. The idea that we should continue with the ever growing costs and upheaval of the merger between Taunton Deane and West Somerset Councils and then follow this folly with another but even larger merger between all six councils in Somerset is risible.
This would mean that, the new TDBC/WSC merger would the most expensive and shortest lived council in the history of our country. Having cost millions and lasted less than a year.
Any future changes have to have the best interests of residents in Somerset and should be evidence based with delivery models, proper budget and structure in place.
I will welcome establishment of a Joint Committee to study in detail the idea of providing better, joined-up services that make sense for residents across the length and breadth of our beautiful county of Somerset."
Cllr Simon Coles
Lib Dem Group Leader
Taunton Deane Borough Council
Members of the Liberal Democrats in Taunton Deane have selected Gideon Amos to stand as their Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the next General Election
Gideon Amos said "I am delighted to have the opportunity to represent people in Taunton Deane. It will be a privilege to put forward a positive new agenda, campaigning to keep our Royal Marines here in Taunton, reversing cuts to our local schools, standing up to this Government's removal of the LibDems' free school meals from 160,000 children and raising more funds for social care and the NHS from taxation. To strengthen our economy and tax base it's vital we continue to trade freely with Europe. No other party is speaking the language of common sense on these issues and there is a huge gap that we have a responsibility to fill."
Mr Amos added: "I stand squarely in the Liberal tradition of Somerset where I grew up and providing the opposition Britain needs really matters to people across the Deane”.
“The planet needs to be put back at the centre of our politics, including reviving the zero carbon homes programme, cancelled by the Conservatives. Nationally LibDems are the only ones who challenge the cosy two-party system stitch-up that we have in the UK. In Parliament LibDems are the only Party which recognises how disastrous it will be for people to lose their rights to travel and trade freely and will give them the final say on any Brexit deal, instead of leaving it all to a few Ministers."
Mr Amos scored second place in the 2017 General Election with just under 30% backing him, but increased the LibDem share of the vote by 6.3%, the biggest increase in vote share of any party in the constituency.
“Locally LibDem councillors are the only ones providing challenge and opposition on the Conservative Council - for example on the spending of millions on a merger 'transformation' with an indebted West Somerset - a project for which there is no mandate from the public. Locally we want to see higher quality jobs and homes that are affordable to our local people, rather than soulless estates of houses beyond the reach of many and without the infrastructure they require."
In a break with the past the new PPC wants to see new and different LibDem policies at the next General Election: "We need not just to invest in schools again, but to provide free higher education and training to enable young people to get the debt-free start in life they need." He backs Vince Cable's idea of an £18,000 credit for every person to spend on post-school education or training of their choice, at any stage in their life.
Local party Chair Dr Mike Owen said "The Taunton Deane Liberal Democrats warmly welcome Gideon as their PPC. He has worked tirelessly for the constituency for many years and has been instrumental in increasing the local party membership. His enthusiasm for the constituency is widely recognised beyond the party and he will I am sure have a significant impact both as a PPC and as future MP."
LIBDEM MOTION ON SINGLE USE PLASTICS IS PASSED BY COUNCIL
Following the resounding triumph in Taunton Deane Council Meeting last week when the proposal by councillors to move towards a ban of single use plastic in council buildings and to work in cooperation with the University of Exeter on further challenges posed by plastic was passed unanimously. Professor Michael Howard, director of research and professor of supply chain management at the University of Exeter Business School, added: “Much of the time the challenge is in understanding the complexity of the problem, for example, manufacturers, refuse & recycling firms as well as our own local council’s priority. There is also some science needed, particularly in understanding any impacts to human health caused by plastics, the best way to deal with take-back and ‘reuse’ systems is discouraging landfill as an option, and current incineration methods are not ideal”.
Cllr Farbahi is delighted that senior academics will continue to advise Taunton Deane on adopting a multi-method approach in devising new methods of more sustainable packaging for food by local vendors and engaging with the public, encouraging them to become our partners as well as motivating manufacturers to support such schemes which move us away from traditional mixed plastic-cardboard which become contaminated with organic matter.
It is important that everyone understands the ‘bigger picture’. There is no doubt that we need to look at investing in R&D or centres of excellence. We should be turning Taunton in to a regional centre for excellence.
Cllr Farbahi will also be working to raise public awareness among the young, whose lives he feels will be most affected: “This is why I am hoping to engage with the schools as a part of our part two of our resolution. I would like to suggest that the working group considers approaching our partners such as Viridor, Kier and others to set up a competition for a possible solution to our single use plastics and a prize for the best strap line to be used county/nationwide on the effect of plastic in our environment”. He adds, “I am hopeful that Exeter and other universities will become more involved and invest in our town. I hope to see lots of innovative ideas coming forth as the cross-party group forms”.
We cannot allow our coastlines to become a micro plastic production line; UK was at the heart of industrial revolution in 1750s should we not be at the heart of “environmental revolution” now?
Councillor Continues to Pressure to Save Taunton Deane
" Taxpayers in Taunton Deane will feel betrayed if the Conservative Councillors who run Taunton Deane Borough Council (TDBC), manage to steamroller the ,merger with failing West Somerset through despite strong opposition from local residents.
TDBC Councillors were sold the idea of working with West Somerset Council in 2013 by the current administration on the premise of each council being a sovereign body and not costing the TDBC taxpayers any money. But it turns out that is not so. Taunton Deane Residents will have to pick up the debts of a Council facing bankruptcy, such as the deficit of £15.6 million in their pension fund. That's in addition to the merger's upfront cost of £10 million. The Deane Conservatives claimed "widespread local support" - but only 200 out of 135,000 residents said they wanted the merger to go ahead and many more said they did not, in the Council's own consultation: indeed one Tory Councillor resigned as a result and others threatened to do so.
Typical of the hypocrisy that hangs over the whole process is the way neither council leader has told the public that the minister has in fact instigated his own consultation process, indicating perhaps that he is not happy with the lack of proper consultation by either local Council. The fact that, there are fundamental differences in the management of comparatively rural West Somerset and largely urban Taunton, with one having twice the land mass and a third of the population of the other: The need of thinly populated West SOmerset are quite different to Taunton's Urban concentration in every aspect from housing, roads and services through to internet connection and local transport.
We should be modernising our own council, looking after our deprived areas and being more commercial with our own assets, instead of selling off these assets and raiding the housing revenue account and new homes bonus to raise the millions of pounds necessary to pay for a merger that is of no benefit to us. At the same time we are making our own staff redundant in the name of savings!
The government allowed West Somerset to fail; they should pick up the bill, not Taunton Deane taxpayers.
This merger is wider than party politics; please take a few minutes to write to the Minister Sajid David direct or go to www.tdld.co.uk/stop-the-merger
Residents’ dismay as Taunton Deane Borough Council Votes through 1600 new homes with only 15% affordable housing
Residents in Staplegrove are bitterly disappointed after the Conservative led Taunton Deane Borough Council’s Planning Committee have slashed the amount of affordable housing for local people and permitted the building of a further 1,600 houses without the necessary infrastructure.
Gideon Amos, addressed the Committee saying “We are firmly on the side of those struggling to get on the housing ladder and need affordable homes - but this is not a development of affordable housing and without essential infrastructure such as key highways and the much needed cycle route to Kingston this scheme must not be permitted.” The LibDems initially won a deferral of the scheme, but the next meeting saw the Conservative Councillors push it
through by one vote.
Gideon, from Staplegrove Road, also persuaded the developers (and the National Trust) to protect precious green spaces from the scheme. LibDem Councillors voted against the permission being granted. The Council’s Core Strategy policy of 25% affordable homes was abandoned by the Conservative majority which accepted a provision of only 15% in the development.
Local LibDem Councillor Jefferson Horsley, a member of the Planning Committee, voted against the proposal on the grounds that it failed to deliver sufficient affordable housing. “This proposal”, he said “will make the life of residents of Staplegrove miserable for the next 10 years. With no infrastructure; especially with no spine road and pedestrian and cycle ways, it will continue the slow decline of Taunton as the County Town of Somerset”.
Local LibDem Chair, Scott Berry, also from Staplegrove Road, added “Those opposing the development were holding out for improvements to the plans to meet the target of 25% affordable homes, as well as addressing other concerns such as around access for construction traffic, and rightly so. We of course need more housing, but the fact that our council won’t even hold out to meet targets they themselves set is a shambles.”
- December 5 2017
'MUDDLED' Merger process is a Sham Says Councillor Farbahi
Muddled messages are still abounding about the merger or take over or whatever you like to call it with West Somerset Council. Facts are abandoned to be replaced by thinly veiled threats. Having refused to consult with the electorate before the merger was recommended to central Government, we now have the unedifying sight of the two Leaders authorising their Chief Executive to make somewhat controversial statements to the press without even bothering to let their colleagues on the Councils know it is happening.
Is this the latest example of democracy as practiced by Conservative led Councils? Blatant ambition to expand Tory administration paid for by ordinary tax payers!
This ill thought through venture with the failing council of West Somerset is continuing to cost Taunton Deane Council Tax and Business Rate payers heavily. It has long been common knowledge, admitted by both Councils, that WSC was virtually bankrupt and yet this merger was recommended. Other options involving more fundamental and possibly more viable mergers were summarily dismissed.
It has always been hard to see how the huge upfront costs of the merger and business plan are justified by the relatively small additional savings to be achieved long term. Why should Taunton Deane residents subsidise West Somerset?
In the Municipal Journal on 30 August while our joint CEO refers to both councils’ political support she does not recommend other councils to go down this road! How odd is that?
Well, this merger may enjoy Tory political support but as has been amply demonstrated by various surveys, including one by The County Gazette, the general public does not.
COUNCILLOR FARBAHI SLAMS LACK OF FIREPOOL PROGRESS
(Article from Somerset County Gazette 24/08/2017)
THE failure to develop a prime site in Taunton in almost a decade has led to the town attracting travellers rather than visitors, it is claimed this week.
The 14-acre Firepool plot, owned by Taunton Deane Borough Council, has become derelict after remaining empty since the livestock market relocated to North Petherton in January 2008.
An outline planning application submitted by the local authority’s development partner St Modwen for a supermarket and car parking, flats, shops, cafes and restaurants, a cinema and other leisure facilities was thrown out by planners a year ago.
Fresh proposals were deposited at the Deane House earlier this year, but they have still not been considered by the Deane’s planning committee.
Opposition councillor Habib Farbahi said: “The delay actually demonstrates that we’re not sure about the plans that we’re proposing.
“The Firepool site should meet our aspirations for a forward thinking progressive county town fit for purpose to create prosperity and exploit our natural advantage of being in the heart of the South West.
“Instead ten years later and nothing has happened - but I’m not surprised when the Conservative administration’s priority is bailing out failing West Somerset Council and spending millions refurbishing the Deane House.
“I’m not convinced that a supermarket with 400 parking spaces is the type of employment Taunton needs and nobody has worked out what the return is to taxpayers of a site worth about £10million.”
Mr Farbahi, who has called for the council to ditch St Modwen, added: “We need to entice visitors to break their road or rail journey to visit us in Taunton, but instead we have encouraged travellers, who have frequently arrived on the site with their caravans.”
The original proposals were refused after councillors criticised the design as looking like “a single large commercial car park”.
If the latest outline plans are approved, St Modwen would then have to agree a section 106 ‘planning gain’ contribution, while a number of compulsory purchase orders would be slapped on plots not owned by the council ahead of a detailed application going before councillors at the Deane House.
COUNCILLOR BOOTH MOVES TO RESOLVE LOCAL FLY-TIPPING
Halcon Councillor, Chris Booth, has successfully fund-raised money from local people to finance getting fly-tipping removed from a car park on a private estate. This came as a last option as neither the Council nor the property management company would take responsibility.
Local volunteer group, Link Power, have agreed to move the dumped materials by the 25th of August; meanwhile Councillor Booth is looking into as to why Allington Close seems to be continuously neglected via lack of verge trimming and general maintenance.
COUNCILLOR HORSLEY SPEAKS OUT AGAINST SEAGULL BLIGHT IN TOWN CENTRE
Councillor Jefferson Horsely is frustrated with the continuous problem of rubbish being torn out of refuse bags, placed on the streets by restaurants and cafes, by hungry seagulls.
Despite raising this topic at the recent Full Council meeting at Taunton Deane Borough Council on the 11th July, the Conservative Environment Portfolio Holder responded by suggesting that the Council has minimal ability to prevent such antisocial behaviour despite innovative approaches taken by other Councils around the country to prevent the mess caused by seagulls.
Below is a picture Jefferson took by ASK restaurant (former Post Office) on the 4th August at 11:10 am!
Please contact us if you wish to report any further sightings!
TAUNTON DEANE LIBERAL DEMOCRATS RESPONSE TO HIGHWAYS ENGLAND A358 TAUNTON TO SOUTHFIELDS PROJECT
The preamble to the constitution of the Liberal Democrats states: “The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity. We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives.”
With respect to decision making on major infrastructure projects the following excerpts are a relevant:
“We believe that each generation is responsible for the fate of our planet and, by safeguarding the balance of nature and the environment, for the long term continuity of life in all its forms. Upholding these values of individual and social justice, we reject all prejudice and discrimination based upon race, colour, religion, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation and oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality. Recognising that the quest for freedom and justice can never end, we promote human rights and open government, a sustainable economy which serves genuine need, public services of the highest quality, international action based on a recognition of the interdependence of all the world’s peoples and responsible stewardship of the earth and its resources. We believe that people should be involved in running their communities. We are determined to strengthen the democratic process and ensure that there is a just and representative system of government with effective Parliamentary institutions, freedom of information, decisions taken at the lowest practicable level and a fair voting system for all elections. We will at all times defend the right to speak, write, worship, associate and vote freely, and we will protect the right of citizens to enjoy privacy in their own lives and homes….We similarly commit ourselves to the promotion of a flourishing system of democratic local government in which decisions are taken and services delivered at the most local level which is viable.
We will foster a strong and sustainable economy which encourages the necessary wealth creating processes, develops and uses the skills of the people and works to the benefit of all, with a just distribution of the rewards of success. We want to see democracy, participation and the co-operative principle in industry and commerce within a competitive environment in which the state allows the market to operate freely where possible but intervenes where necessary. We will promote scientific research and innovation and will harness technological change to human advantage.
We will work for a sense of partnership and community in all areas of life. We recognise that the independence of individuals is safeguarded by their personal ownership of property, but that the market alone does not distribute wealth or income fairly. We support the widest possible distribution of wealth and promote the rights of all citizens to social provision and cultural activity. We seek to make public services responsive to the people they serve, to encourage variety and innovation within them and to make them available on equal terms to all.
…. These are the conditions of liberty and social justice which it is the responsibility of each citizen and the duty of the state to protect and enlarge. The Liberal Democrats consist of women and men working together for the achievement of these aims.”
This response is prepared by Taunton Deane Liberal Democrats (TDLD) Local Party, guided by these values. The Local Party is a voluntary organisation and contributors are volunteers drawn from a range of roles and walks of life having significant expertise as officers, local councillors and professional experts who work for local people in furtherance of these values.
Whilst Taunton Deane Liberal Democrats support the need to dual the A358 between Taunton and the A303, it strongly opposes Highways England’s Taunton to Southfields Option 8/8A presented in this consultation.
TDLD’s view is that Highways England’s (HE) Taunton to Southfields proposals are unacceptable due to:
- its failure to support strategic and policy objectives established for Taunton and Taunton town centre;
- its failure to address the access issues at the Hankridge retail park;
- its failure to support the Nexus 25 business development, contrary to the Government’s and Highways England’s own polices, and
- its failure to provide a meaningful solution to the volume of traffic and passing through and level of pollution affecting Thornfalcon and Henladen.
The need for a dual carriageway link between Taunton and the A303 is something Liberal Democrats have worked for a long time. LibDem MPs and Ministers were able to secure both policy and budgetary support for this in the 2014 Autumn Statement and as a result of this success it was Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg who announced the proposal in 2014 following work by a range of LibDem MPs at the time including Jeremy Browne MP for Taunton Deane between 2005 and 2015.
Road schemes however cannot be justified simply in their own right. Given the challenge of our climate and the wider environment they must secure real and measurable environmental benefits such as reduced pollution and improved human health and amenity within existing settlements, without giving rise to unacceptable environmental impacts elsewhere. It is Taunton Deane Liberal Democrats’ view that the preferred Option 8/8B+NFS fails completely to achieve these objectives and must be significantly changed before it can be accepted.
The failure of this scheme to successfully achieve the improvements required is emphasised by the failure of Highways England to fully consider the options before it, including through consultation.
These failings in pre-application process are so serious that a subsequent application for Development Consent is likely to fail the legal test (the pre-application requirements set out in s55) and is likely to be rejected by the Planning Inspectorate at the first hurdle.
The failings as compared with other schemes promoted by public and private bodies are so great as to raise the question of whether HE expects this scheme to falter as a result, providing it with an excuse to drop the entire A358 improvement project given the criticism of the Government controlled company by the National Audit Office (NAO) due to its spiralling programme costs. (The NAO in its report says that HE has identified 16 unnamed projects which present a risk to value for money).
The scrapping of the entire scheme would be contrary to all the promises given by the current Conservative Government to continue with the project dual the A358 and would be a cynical move completely opposed by Taunton Deane Liberal Democrats.
The approach that people throughout Taunton Deane both want and expect from this Government company is that they listen to the views expressed in the current consultation and come back and consult properly on more than one option and then review and develop the scheme for application and consent.
3.0 LEGAL AND POLICY REQUIREMENTS ON NATIONALLY SIGNIFICANT INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS
The proposed Taunton to Southfields project is brought forward by Highways England as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project as defined under the Planning Act 2008. The pre-application process required of Highways England is set out in the Act and in regulations made under the Act. This response sets out a number of areas where Highways England has not complied with the legal and policy requirements placed upon it by this legislation as follows.
Paragraph 18 of Planning Act 2008: Guidance on the Pre-application process (March 2015) refers to the key benefits of proper consultation, namely:
“18. Early involvement of local communities, local authorities and statutory consultees can bring about significant benefits for all parties, by
… enabling members of the public to influence proposed projects, feedback on potential options, and encouraging the community to help shape the proposal to maximise local benefits and minimise any downsides;
helping local people understand the potential nature and local impact of the proposed project, with the potential to dispel misapprehensions at an early stage;
….enabling potential mitigating measures to be considered and, if appropriate, built into the project before an application is submitted; and
identifying ways in which the project could, without significant costs to promoters, support wider strategic or local objectives.”
The Guidance continues: “Without adequate consultation, the subsequent application will not be accepted when it is submitted.” (Emphasis added).
Section 55 of the PA2008 states that in deciding whether to accept the application Inspectors appointed by the Secretary of State “must have regard to” inter alia “any adequacy of consultation representation received by the Secretary of State from a local authority consultee, and (c) the extent to which the application has had regard to any guidance issued under section 50” i.e. the Guidance above.
The ways in which HE has failed to carry out consultation according to good practice and the requirements laid out in the Guidance are as follows:
3.1 by HE only carrying out an informal and selective consultation unguided by any Statement of Community Consultation, the formal pre-application consultation is required by the PA2008 to be subject to a Statement of Community Consultation (SOCC), on which the local authorities should first be consulted, following this the Statement should be published in local newspapers. No SOCC process has been completed nor has one been published in the required newspapers. Instead HE has opted for a non-statutory informal consultation. (This means there has been no requirement to identify all concerned bodies and landowners raising the question as to whether key individual have not been consulted). Whilst an early informal consultation is perfectly permissible early consultations are, by definition, usually carried out before all the options have already been selected. In addition, informal consultations are not a substitute for pre-application consultation required by the Act. By failing to open consideration of options up to public consultation it is difficult to see how HE can discharge its duty to have considered alternatives to significant adverse environmental impacts and to compulsory acquisition of land (as required in “Planning Act 2008: Guidance related to procedures for the compulsory acquisition of land” Sept 2013). It is extraordinary that HE consider that on a project of this scale its only legally compliant consultation will take place after it has made all the key decisions and once all alternative options have already been dismissed without consultation upon them. The risk of presenting what will appear to be rubber stamping exercise of the final scheme is enormous and will fundamentally undermine the whole process for preparing such projects according to thorough consultation. It could not be clearer that HE is not conducting this consultation with intention of considering other options. Further evidence is set out in the following excerpt of the Technical Appraisal Report (TAR) on the project indicating that HE has simply chosen the cheapest option which has smallest benefit to the local community and offers the worst value for money for the taxpayer:
· Option 1/1B +NFS Benefit: £471.14m Estimated Cost: £256.9m Net Benefit: £214.24m
· Option 2A/2B Benefit: £620.05m Estimated Cost: £284.1m Net Benefit: £335.95m
· Option 8/8B + Jct 25 Benefit: £524.87m Estimated Cost £266.3m Net Benefit: £258.57m
· Option 8/8B + NFS Benefit: £420.41m Estimated Cost £243.9m Net Benefit: £176.51m
3.2 by the failure to consult on any options other than Option 8/8B+NFS: this is in stark contrast to other public and private sector scheme promoters, for example National Grid, in designing its similarly linear Hinkley Connector transmission line project not only consulted on differing route options it even made an application for consent for two options enabling the Inspectors/secretary of State considering the application to determine the best route. The excuse given by HE at Consultation Events is that it is not consulting on other options because it would be unwilling to promote the other options due to cost. This is not an excuse that has found favour with decision makers. Again, in the context of National Grid numerous transmission lines, (especially where they pass through National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) have been required to be undergrounded through the examination and decision making process despite protestations from the Grid regarding cost. It is clear that giving cost as a reason for not even consulting at the earliest stage on the options available flies entirely in the face of all good consultation practice and guidance
3.3 by the Conservative Government controlled HE launching the consultation just before the programmed County Council election campaign (within which the Conservative Government also called a General Election) with events and promotional activities scheduled throughout the election campaign, whilst this appears to have stayed just within the Election Guidance to Civil Servants it gave the appearance of being launched in time for elections to benefit the Conservative MPs and Government as part of their increasingly “pork barrel” approach to politics where sums of cash are awarded to areas in the country (most recently Northern Ireland) just in time to maximise political advantage https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Progress-with-the-Road-Investment-Strategy.pdf
3.4 by failing to provide the key documentation at consultation events – only a minimalist brochure and display boards were available at the consultation events with the Technical Appraisal Report being only available online, HE did not even provide a laptop or terminal at the event so people could consult the TAR. HE appear to consider that members of the public are incapable of understanding anything but the most simple information and is in marked contrast to nearly all other DCO consultation events at which all documentation is available and staff are briefed to understand them and address questions on them.
TDLD strongly believes that Somerset County Council and Taunton Deane Borough Council, should submit representations that consultation was “inadequate” when they are consulted under Section 55 as part of the decision on whether or not to accept the application is taken by Inspectors/the Secretary of State.
4.0 SCHEME IMPACTS
TDLD is very concerned about the following key failings of Option 8/8AB+NFS which appears to have been selected, as mentioned above, entirely because it is the cheapest option.
Key concerns are set out below.
4.1 Failure to support strategic and policy objectives established for Taunton or for Taunton town centre
In addition to the scheme’s failure to deal with local bypass issues (see below) the scheme, in an apparent attempt to side step the issues at Junction 25 that require a solution, entirely bypasses the main junction for entering Taunton for all traffic approaching from the southeast along the A358. This fails to capitalise on Taunton as a destination and has significant additional adverse impacts.
4.2 Failure to address the access issues at the Hankridge Retail Park
One of the most significant pieces of evidence of the need for any A358 scheme to connect with and address problems at Junction 25 is the regular backing up of traffic feeding into and out of Hankridge Retail Park. Despite HE’s Technical Appraisal Report recognising Hankridge as Taunton’s biggest retail park (page 12) the preferred option would not even connect with Junction 25, close to and affected by the retail park. The economic cost of this congestion is thousands of pounds of lost time spent in traffic jams in around Junction 25 and this needs to be addressed. A better junction and better access into and out of the retail park at this point on the A358 cannot be left out of a scheme to upgrade the A358 and expect to be supported. As it stands the preferred option fails to address the National Networks National Policy Statement need set out below:
“There is also a need for development on the national networks to support national and local economic growth.”
4.3 Failure to support the Nexus 25 business park development, contrary to the Government’s and Highways England’s own polices
As highlighted in the response of Taunton Deane Borough Council on 16th March 2017 a statement from Highways England stated that £4Million of the scheme’s funding was allocated from the Government’s Growth and Housing Fund to “unlock a 35 hectare local authority led development site, with the potential to deliver up to 2,400 jobs and substantial benefits to the strategic roads network.”
Opting to progress a scheme which has the least impact on supporting the Nexus 25 employment site is not consistent with either the pro ised use of this money or with Highways England objective of “encouraging economic growth”, nor does it in any meaningful sense “support wider strategic or local objectives” as set out in PA2008 Guidance above.
4.4 Failure to provide a meaningful solution to the volume of traffic and passing through and levels of pollution affecting Thornfalcon and Henlade.
Whilst the National Networks National Policy Statement (NPS) is the main policy relating to this scheme and with which the Act requires the final decision to be in accordance with other policy documents which are also important and relevant to the decision.
These include the Taunton Deane Core Strategy and thus the failure to address the need for a bypass of Thornfalcon/Henlade for any traffic heading to the north and/or into Taunton the scheme completely fails a major policy test which is likely to beexposed during the public examination of the application following any submission.
TDLD and LibDem local councillors have been campaigning for many years for improvement of the air quality for people living along the A358 in Henlade/Thornfalcon. The HE TAR states that the preferred option creates a “disbenefit” for Henlade in terms of air quality but fails to provide assessment of the traffic levels on the remaining A358 at this location. Taunton Deane Borough Council states:
“A significant and arguably the most concerning issue with the consultation is the lack of information to properly assess the impact on Henlade and particularly whether the proposed route will result in significant traffic reduction travelling along the existing A358 through the community.”
TDLD goes further and believes that HE is failing here to treat the existing Air Quality Management Area issues at Thornfalcon/Henlade with the seriousness that it deserves. In short a scheme that does not fully solve this blight on the residents of this part of Taunton – or the congestion - undermines the raison d’etre for the whole scheme.
4.5 Environmental and Social Impacts
There are significant adverse impacts and given the poor value for money, accident reduction gains and the low level of reduction in traffic volumes through Thornfalcon and Henlade these impacts are difficult to impossible to justify.
Ancient Woodlands at Thurlbear are cited as one receptor. Planning policy protection for Ancient Woodlands was first introduced in the Overarching Energy National Policy Statement NPS EN1 by a Liberal Democrat Secretary of State in 2011. The protection was republished in the same form in the National Networks National Policy Statement, in accordance with which the final decision on this project is required to be made (subject to the exceptions in s104). The relevant NPS policy is:
“The Secretary of State should not grant development consent for any development that would result in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats including ancient woodland and the loss of aged or veteran trees found outside ancient woodland, unless the national need for and benefits of the development, in that location, clearly outweigh the loss.”
The HE preferred option 8/8B is assessed as having “moderate adverse” impacts on ancient woodland. (It is stated that all options have moderate adverse impacts on ancient woodland but Option 2A/2B appears to have no such impact).
TDLD also share a number of the concerns raised by Taunton Deane Borough Council including the failure of HE to identify and/or propose retention and protection of East Deane Way and Neroche Herepath public rights of way and Thorn Clump Special Landscape Feature. TDLD shares the Council’s concern about the potential unacceptable adverse impact on Huish Woods and Scout Camp.
TDLD would expect any new road scheme to maximise the opportunities for pedestrians and cyclists given the high priority we place on climate and environmental and public health policy. The proposals provided fail include any detailed proposals for cyclists or pedestrians – this poses the question of whether the HE proposals meet the requirements of the National requirements NPS for this scheme that states:
“The Government expects applicants to use reasonable endeavours to address the needs of cyclists and pedestrians in the design of new schemes.”
Given the failure to adequately address the impacts on the local community, especially in air quality terms in Thornfalcon/Henlade these environmental impacts cannot be considered justified or acceptable and TDLD strongly opposes the preferred option that HE is taking forward for the Taunton Southfields project.
15th July 2017
Taunton Deane Liberal Democrats
LIB DEM BID TO HALT THE LOSS OF TAUNTON BRIGADE’S ONLY RESCUE VEHICLE
Gideon Amos of the LibDems' met with fire fighters in the Fire Brigades Union at Taunton Fire Station today to press the case to save the County Town's only specialist rescue tender vehicle – call sign V61R1 – which has brought crews to major accidents on the motorway and around Taunton for over ten years. The removal of the appliance comes as the local brigade faces a whopping 24.6% funding cut by the Conservative Government.
Speaking to fire fighters at the station today Gideon said "Rescue Tender V61R1 is an old friend of the brigade and to people who have been rescued. I saw today the wealth of equipment it is packed with, from dinghies, to winches, platforms and cutting equipment – it carries the most up to date emergency equipment to cope with every rescue scenario whether caused by flood, fire or vehicle collision. Taking this away from Taunton Deane with no replacement is cost cutting gone mad and will be the first time the Taunton stretch of the M5 has been left without a specialist rescue tender on call. Given the Conservative Government’s cuts to the Devon and Somerset Service no one should be surprised if operational measures like this are being considered.”
“It is common knowledge throughout the brigade that call sign V61R1 is being considered for removal from the county. This comes as the Conservative Government is hammering our local Taunton fire brigade with a cut so vast they should have put it on the Conservative bus and driven it around the constituency. The 24.6% Government imposed cut to the service is already doing massive damage. Now we discover that our only rescue tender, so vital for saving lives at serious accidents on the roads, faces being removed from the County altogether. When it comes to putting party ideology ahead of the interests of the public these Conservatives are breaking new records.” Mr Amos wants the local Conservative MP to resign from the Government. “I invite her to back my call for a halt to this massive cut and stop the loss of V61R1.”
A fire fighters’ representative body said "We are seriously worried that response times to attend major road traffic accidents will be severely lengthened if our emergency rescue appliance is removed from Taunton. Our fire fighters are professionally trained and experienced in its use and need the appliance to do the job, losing the vehicle will mean a loss of training, skills and experience. After recent events the cuts to this service here in Somerset are beginning to look like asset stripping. They have to be halted. We're delighted to have Gideon's support - now let's see some MPs willing to stand up for these frontline services."
It is understood no final decision has yet been taken but senior officials are considering relocating the rescue tenders from Taunton and Yeovil to stations in Devon or Glastonbury, most of which are staffed only by part time ‘retained’ fire fighters and may not be able to muster the numbers needed to staff the appliance in addition to their existing engines.
LibDem County Councillor Simon Coles, who also sits as a member on the Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Authority is asking for Taunton to be allowed to keep the emergency appliance and wants the Government to think again when it comes to the package of cuts that the Service is trying to accommodate. Cllr Coles said "Men and women in public service, especially those risking their lives as we have been reminded by recent tragic events in London, should be supported by the government. They don’t deserve to have their best equipment taken away. Taunton emergency services deserve so much better".
Gideon Amos added, “Fire fighters also deserve reasonable pay and conditions if we are to ensure high quality fire and rescue services in Taunton Deane. For Conservative MPs to keep capping the pay of these workers while they themselves have enjoyed an 11% increase over the last two years, is disgraceful. Why should fire fighters be treated worse that these MPs when it comes to pay?"