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Newcastle Council set for bus lane grilling

Newcastle bus lane clash as council transport chiefs set for grilling after Coast Road plan denial

Transport chiefs in Newcastle look set to be grilled over the prospect of installing new bus lanes on some of the city’s busiest routes – after denying that they are preparing to do so on the Coast Road.

Newcastle City Council was last week forced to refute the idea that they want to put a dedicated bus lane on part of the A1058, a major traffic artery between the city and North Tyneside.

Opposition councillors have now called for answers over whether that and a raft of other bus infrastructure schemes are in the pipeline or not.

A recently-published document names the Coast Road proposition alongside numerous others across the North East as part of a funding case to develop a series of “bus priority corridors”.

Also included in that list are bus lanes on Stamfordham Road and Grandstand Road, an extension of the existing one on Sandyford Road, and the creation of a no-stopping ‘red route’ on Westgate Road.

However, the council has insisted that all of those are merely “an indicative plan of proposed schemes” and that there are currently no plans to proceed with any of them.

The document, a 327-page study prepared for Transport North East, was published alongside a £9 million funding decision notice – which civic centre officials in Newcastle say is “entirely separate” and will result in £6.5 million being spent in the city over the next 12 months to install new technology upgrading traffic signals on the Coast Road, Barrack Road and Scotswood Road to prioritise buses at key junctions.

Liberal Democrat and independent councillors have now mounted a ‘call-in’ of that decision, which will see it debated at a public scrutiny hearing on Thursday, 7 March.

In their call-in request, nine Lib Dem councillors said they “fully recognise the importance of ensuring high quality public transport services on key corridors, enabling modal shift, and improving air quality in the city”.

However, they question whether there has been “appropriate scrutiny and consultation” of the bus lane ideas, saying they had been published only “on an obscure part of the council website where only the most dedicated council-watchers will see it”.

They added: “We understand that the council’s transport team has drawn up detailed designs and modelling for several of the routes and junctions identified in the schemes but has to date not disclosed these to ward councillors or local communities. Nor has it consulted with local stakeholders on the acknowledged implications of proposals such as the West Road red route arising from displacement of local business traffic to nearby side streets.”

The Transport North East study says that extended bus lanes “would make bus a more attractive travel option” and thereby improve air quality by reducing the number of cars on the road.

But it also admits that several schemes, including the Coast Road, would “likely result in redistribution of traffic, which could have an adverse impact elsewhere on the network” and that this “has not been accounted for”.

Seven independent councillors warn in their call-in submission: “What is currently being considered is a substantial change to the highway network, which if not implemented correctly will lead to a number of pinch points, stationary traffic and greater congestion.”

They aired particular concerns about tailbacks around the A1 roundabout at Westerhope and claimed there is “no evidence of how there is going to be greater bus use as a result of this change”.

A Newcastle City Council spokesperson said: “Call-in periods are an important part of the council’s decision-making process, and we welcome the opportunity to discuss further with members. The delegated decision relates to the approval of over £9 million to upgrade traffic signals and improve bus flow across the region, of which £6.5 million will be invested in key bus routes in Newcastle, including Coast Road, Barrack Road and Scotswood Road.

“This is entirely separate to the Bus Priority Infrastructure which is an indicative plan of proposed schemes for infrastructure improvements across the region. A number of schemes in Newcastle are listed, but there are no further plans beyond the £115,000 awarded to conduct feasibility studies for mitigation for the forthcoming Tyne Bridge works.”

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