Councillors in Bath and North East Somerset have voted to rule out the reintroduction of a controversial Bus Gate on Bath’s Dorchester Street.
The decision was at a Full Council meeting last Thursday, 10th September, after Conservative Councillors tabled a proposal which called upon the authority to rule out any prospect of the Bus Gate being reintroduced for the foreseeable future.
The Bus Gate was introduced on a trial basis by the Council’s former Lib Dem administration in January last year, despite warnings at the time that the Bus Gate would be confusing to motorists and could result in additional traffic being displaced onto nearby roads.
However, the trial was abandoned after just four months amid a storm of protests, with motorists accusing the Liberal Democrats Council of using the scheme as a deliberate ‘cash cow’.
The saga ended with the Council having to refund over £220,000 worth of fines to motorists caught breaching the Bus Gate.
At the time, the Council said it would review the data gathered during the trial and take a final decision over the Bus Gate’s future after roadworks taking place on the nearby Rossiter Road and Widcombe Parade had been completed.
With work on Rossiter Road now complete, Conservatives, who took over the running of the Council in May, have said it is time to put the issue to bed.
The Conservative proposal was passed by the Council despite Lib Dem Councillors all voting against ruling-out the Bus Gate’s reintroduction – leading to accusations that the Lib Dems have learnt ‘no lessons’ from the Bus Gate fiasco.
Councillor Matt Cochrane (Cons, Bathwick), the Council’s Cabinet Assistant for Transport, who tabled the proposal which called for the Bus Gate not to be reinstated, said: “We brought this issue to be debated at a Full Council meeting due to the controversy caused by the Bus Gate at the time and so that all views could be aired before taking a decision over its future.
“The Dorchester Street Bus Gate caused immense damage to the reputation of both the Council and to Bath as a visitor destination, making headlines in the national media.
“It caused great ill-feeling amongst residents and motorists who were caught unawares by the Bus Gate, and resulted in the Council having to refund more than £220,000 in fines.
“Even if the Bus Gate had removed traffic from Dorchester Street, it would simply have added to congestion on the A36 through Widcombe.
“We believe it’s right that we draw a line under this issue and for the avoidance of doubt categorically rule-out the prospect of the Bus Gate being reintroduced. Instead, we have asked the Council’s traffic officers to look at whether any steps can be taken to improve the flow of traffic on this street to make it easier for buses, cars, cyclists and pedestrians to use this busy street.”
Councillor Anthony Clarke (Cons, Lansdown) added: “I welcome the outcome of the Council vote on ruling-out the reintroduction of the Bus Gate on Dorchester Street.
“What’s needed is a strategic approach to improving transport and tackling congestion, not the piecemeal tinkering we have seen in recent years.
“Unfortunately the Lib Dems appear to have learnt no lessons whatsoever from the Bus Gate fiasco, and refused to rule-out its reintroduction.”
Liberal Democrats branded the motion at the meeting pointless, with Councillor Neil Butters (Bathavon South), the Lib Dem transport spokesperson, saying: “It is a mystery why the Conservative Group felt the need to table this motion.
“With an overall majority on the Council, the Conservatives don’t need instructions from Council to do or not to do anything.
“It appears especially pointless when you note that Councillor Cochrane is the Assistant Cabinet Member for Transport.
“The experimental traffic restriction on Dorchester Street in Bath was intended to reduce pollution in a heavily trafficked part of town.
“This would have improved the environment for pedestrians and cyclists as well as access for buses.
“When it became clear that the experiment was not working as expected, the then Liberal Democrat administration moved promptly to end it and refund all fines, also issuing an apology for any inconvenience or distress caused during the operation of the scheme.
“Poor air quality is a major problem in Bath, with much of the city centre being covered by an air quality management area and many residents finding their health compromised.
“Rather than telling us what they are not going to do, the Conservatives would be better to tell us what they are going to do to reduce congestion and improve air quality.
“This motion smacks of petty political point scoring. The Tories really do have more pressing and important issues to deal with than this.”