Report of the Director of the Built Environment.
The Committee considered a Gateway 6. Outcome report of the Director of the Built Environment regarding City Streets: Transportation Response to Support COVID-19 Recovery.
A Member referred to the feedback received on highways changes and the number of respondents and individual responses that were not supportive of the changes remaining in place and asked whether Officers could comment as to whether these responses had been thoughtfully considered as part of the proposed next steps given that there were quite number of these. Officers assured the Committee that they would be considering all of the comments received as part of this consultation exercise as the measures proposed were reviewed and possibly taken forward as experimental traffic orders. Stakeholder engagement would also take place as part of that process.
Another Member commented that sometimes the Corporation struggled with the granularity in terms of identifying where certain feedback came from and questioned whether, on this occasion, it would be possible to assess the background of the 82% of respondents who had stated that they would not support any of these measures being retained long term and learn whether they were City workers or residents for example. She also questioned whether an Equalities Impact Assessment would also be undertaken as part of this work.
Another Member commented that it was very important to ensure that none of these proposals were doing anything to deter businesses from operating. He endorsed the comments of the previous speakers and underlined that looking in detail at the objections received in detail would be very important.
Officers reported that, as they had flagged in previous reports, they had struggled to get representative feedback as part of this consultation given that the number of people in the City had been very low. There had therefore been a very high number of responses from taxi drivers for example and less from those walking around the City. Officers undertook to look at the granularity of the responses in so far as possible but reiterated that they had received a relatively small number of responses.
Officers went on to state that they were very conscious of the need to facilitate businesses and enable the return of workers to the City and underlined that this was the primary aim of the COVID-19 Recovery Report in the first instance. In terms of potentially looking to make some of these changes permanent, this would be done in line with the organsation’s Transport Strategy, Climate Action Strategy and the Recovery Taskforce work.
A Member suggested that any proposed changes ought to also take into account the fact that many people had now been vaccinated.
A Member spoke again to state that she had posed her original question around the consideration of responses because similar feedback had been outlined in a previous report and she was keen to know if Officers had assured people that their views had been heard. She added that in her two most recent Ward meetings, Members had received quite a lot of pushback on these measures and various on-street restrictions and underlined that it was difficult to respond to this without knowing how their feedback and concerns would be dealt with under the consultation process.
Another Member commented that any measures to be made permanent would presumably require the approval of the Court of Common Council and went on to comment that he was not confident that such approval would be given in light of 82% of respondents suggesting that they did not wish to see these measures being retained long term. He asked that Officers and the Committee bear this in mind when considering the outcomes of any further consultation exercises.
Another Member commented that he was aware of those who had concerns about the measures within his own Ward. He added that, if only a small number of responses had been received to date, Officers should be urged to be more proactive in seeking these from businesses across the City.
Another Member highlighted that this was in line with the climate Action Strategy and Recovery Taskforce work and that it was important to remember that this was about the quality of the experience of those coming to work in and visit the City. She commented that the reason why workers might not return in the numbers that they had previously would be connected, in large part, to the convenience and better experience of working from home and so having more space on the City streets may therefore impact upon and improve their experience.
A Member stated that he was concerned about the 82% of negative responses being misrepresentative as he was of the view that the website tended to be a place for people to lodge complaints rather than a place where those in favour of the scheme could come forward.
Another Member commented that many of the vehicles now in the City – including buses and taxis were electric and that this must also be taken into account.
A Member questioned why Officers were seeking to remove some of the measures at a time when people seemed to be returning to the City and a real test of their effectiveness could be undertaken. He noted that it was suggested that any removal of measures should be gradual over the next few months but asked Officers to confirm whether there would be a global assessment of all measures that would be reported back to the Committee.
Another Member urged the need for some flexibility here in recognition of the fact that the situation and people’s behaviours were changing, particularly as larger groups of people were being vaccinated. She added that it was key that these measures did not result in any grid-locked traffic and also voiced concerns around the further rollout of electric scooters and the impact that these were also likely to have on pedestrians.
A Member commented that much of this appeared to be for the benefit of people who were not currently coming into the City but would hopefully return in the very near future and it was difficult to imagine that responding to a consultation on these measures would by high on their list of priorities once they did. He therefore underlined that it was important to be creative and devise a way to reach those who would be returning as opposed to just those currently using the City.
Officers clarified that, essentially, this report suggested removing measures from some streets such as Cannon Street where they had quite a significant impact on how easily vehicle traffic could move around the City. However, with the majority of other on-street measures, the proposal was to take these out of the COVID recovery programme, keep the changes in place over the coming months and review them holistically alongside other projects such as All Change at Bank. This process would also involve further stakeholder engagement and, where appropriate, some schemes would be brought forward as experimental traffic orders to then be further monitored and consulted upon. It was recognised that the current situation was difficult in that some people had begun to return to the City recently and would continue to do so over the coming months. It was also acknowledged that there would be ongoing need for social distancing, even as vaccines were rolled out. It had originally been envisaged that the temporary changes would have provided enough of an understanding of what street users thought and what the overall impact of these changes were so that they might have been rolled over into more permanent changes. It was recognised that this had not, however, been the case which was why it was now proposed that this experimental route be taken. This would allow consultation to take place as people returned to the City and refamiliarized themselves with the City and adapted to new and different ways of working. It would also allow for ongoing monitoring around things such as traffic levels which may well remain lower post-pandemic as they had done following previous major economic disruptions.
Officers reported that people had provided feedback in various different ways – some through the website which did not allow Officers to follow up with individuals but did allow for as wide a range of views as possible and some people businesses/organisations who had written directly to Officers and had received a response. It was highlighted that some changes had already been made to what was on street in response to some of this feedback. Officers stated that they were happy to receive any additional feedback received via Wardmotes or other similar forums.
In terms of next steps, Members were informed that the intention was that these projects would be considered by the Streets and Walkways Sub-Committee as was customary with other similar programmes and projects. It was suggested that a number of the projects be moved into a new Pedestrian Priority Programme which had been established in response to both the Transport Strategy and the Climate Action Strategy.
With regard to flexibility, Members were assured that the coming months would be a real opportunity to take stock and to take into consideration the advancement of the vaccine programme and any ongoing requirements around social distancing whilst keeping the measures in place to ensure the safety of those returning to the City.
RESOLVED – That the Committee:
a) Agree that the Covid-19 Phase 1 and 2 transport measures set out in Table 1 in Appendix 2 will be removed after this report is approved. Timings for this will be determined by the Transport and Public Realm Covid-19 Bronze Group in consultation with the Chair of the Planning and Transportation Committee and the
Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Streets and Walkways Sub Committee.
b) Agree that Covid-19 transportation measures set out in Table 2 in Appendix 2 remain on street (for the short term under the existing temporary traffic orders).
c) Note that these interventions will move into existing or new programmes (as set out in Table 2 Appendix 2) within the next few months. Within these programmes
further assessment of measures for retention is proposed to be undertaken through Spring and early Summer and an assessment of whether these should be retained longer term and promoted through Experimental Traffic Orders is proposed to be reported to Streets and Walkways Sub Committee for approval.
d) Agree to retain the temporary cycle parking spaces for continued use for cycle parking, dockless bikes and escooters until May 2022, as a minimum, for the reasons set out in the report paragraphs 4.5 to 4.6.
e) To note that a future report will be taken to Planning and Transportation Committee by May 2022, seeking permission to make the cycle and e-scooter parking places permanent or remove as appropriate.
f) Agree that Phase 1 and 2 of this project can be closed. Final finances as set out in Tables 1 and 2 will be verified and closed. Costs associated with the removal of the measures should recommendation (a) be approved are expected to be and will covered by local risk budgets. No further costs will be incurred following the closure of Phases 1 and 2 of this project
g) Note the lessons learnt in Appendix 3