There was a South Gloucestershire Council event in Charfield Memorial Hall on Tuesday 10th April, to discuss the future of our village. The invitation – for it was an invite only event – was clear;
“As a stakeholder or local group representative, we would like to invite you to participate in a workshop session relating to the future growth of Charfield. The workshop is part of the West of England Joint Spatial Plan (JSP) and South Gloucestershire Local Plan processes.”
What wasn’t clear was that the stakeholders – who you might think would mainly be the residents and local groups and organisations affected by the plans for 1200 plus more houses – were predominantly council officers, housing developers and service providers.
Being allocated to one of three focus group areas: transport, central infrastructure and green spaces, it wasn’t easy to see what was going on on other tables. Neither were the actual organisations taking part identified, even though one of us asked for an attendance list to be made available.
All I can say is that on my table – transport issues – I was the only Charfielder. The table discussion was dominated by someone from Stagecoach and despite the presence of a “facilitator” it was very hard to divert the table from the “bus solves all” conversation.
Perhaps the thing upon which all this additional development hangs is transport. The village is served by the B4058, which serves as a feeder road along with the B4509 from Gloucestershire to the M5 motorway. It is also passed through (nonstop) by the main midlands rail line.
The M5 junction 14 is not only severely overloaded, it has now been deemed not fit for purpose by Highways England and is identified in the JSP as a crucial area for improvement in order that development can proceed in the northern fringe of the West of England Combined Authority.
Not surprisingly one of the first questions raised by one of the local residents was whether costings and proposals were available for the motorway junction improvement and or whether the costings and location for the proposed new railway station in Charfield were available. They weren’t.
This afternoon I tweeted to Highways South West and asked what they knew about any upgrades or improvements to M5 J14. They appeared to know nothing.
So, with no plans for the strategic highways or rail network transport infrastructure we were still expected to design our way out of managing 1200 more houses, up to five thousand additional car movements at peak times, in a rural commuter village devoid of mass transport options.
Even the bus option, if it were funded in the long term (ongoing austerity permitting), would be stuck in the congestion of the remaining through traffic here and on the A38. And that’s not taking into account the 3000 more houses proposed for Buckover, just on the other side of the broken motorway junction.
I’ve done a few focus groups over the years. I’ve seldom done one with so little information. It is not possible to solve the problems of a twenty year strategy in one afternoon. If WECA and South Gloucestershire are serious in wanting to make this a sustainable increase in housing there needs to be much tighter focus in many more meetings.
I gather on one table they were discussing where the coffee shop might be located.
If anything of worth came out of this meeting, perhaps we will find out at the public dissemination at “an exhibition event on Saturday 19th May 2018 to enable all residents to have their say on emerging proposals” Proposals over which the residents of Charfield have had little or no say.