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WSP relief road reports

1st March 2019

What a major road across the Nidd Gorge might look like
What a major road across the Nidd Gorge may look like

WSP are North Yorkshire County Council's (NYCC's) expert consultants on congestion reduction. They have produced two reports on the so-called Harrogate relief road.

The reports are the Stage 1 Report from November 2017, and an Addendum Report in October 2018.

WSP relief road reports: Stage 1 Report November 2017

This is a curate's egg of a report. While WSP do not make a whole-hearted push for the so-called relief road, they do seek to make a case for it using assumptions and arguments which are highly questionable and, I suggest, not always based on sound facts or logic.

It is a long report, perhaps because there are complex issues to discuss. On the other hand, how many local people have the time or inclination to wade through 72 pages of text? Publishing such a report is the democratic thing to do, in theory, but if in practice hardly anyone reads it, that's effectively a way of avoiding scrutiny.

These are some of the points I would pick up from the report:

1) 20 to 40% reduction in traffic on Skipton Road!

Paragraph 1.2 refers to a Strategic Transport Model commissioned in 2015, and states that '...high level testing of a 2035 future year scenario has suggested that the 'Inner Relief Road' options demonstrate the highest benefits, including a forecast reduction in flows of between 20-40% on Skipton Road.'

Anyone who knows Harrogate knows that will not happen. A 20-40% reduction in traffic on Skipton Road? I would be flabbergasted. It is fantasy.

This figure appears to come from someone else's model, not from WSP themselves. As WSP are including it in their report to support a case for the road, we need to know whether or not they are adopting it. If they are, the fees for their consultancy work could be made conditional on the projection coming true. If they are not, it should be deleted from the report.

2) Study objectives

WSP list the objectives of their study. They include investigating urban congestion in Harrogate, and considering measures to reduce delays and improve journey times.

The third objective is 'to support wider strategic east-west connectivity in order to maximise sustainable economic growth' (my emphasis).

Further on, in paragraph 2.5.4, WSP refer to an ambition on the part of Leeds-Bradford Airport to increase passenger numbers by 114%. That does not meet my definition of 'sustainable' - more than doubling passenger numbers. Australia has beaten its record for the hottest ever summer by 1C, which is huge; the Yorkshire Moors are on fire. Global warming is happening now, it's not a problem for the future.

WSP fail to consider or mention whether doubling flight capacity might be a good idea. This makes me think that the word 'sustainable' is in their report but not taken seriously; once the word has been put in the report, that's the end of their obligations to sustainability - there's no requirement to apply it in practice.

3) Urban congestion

In one of the better sections of the report, WSP point out that 56% of people who live in the Harrogate urban area travel to work by car or motorbike (paragraph 2.6.5). They point out, '...the analysis shows that internal car trips in Harrogate are travelling very short distances, suggesting there may be potential to shift to more sustainable modes.'

The paragraph 2.6 summary emphasises the point: '...over half of internal commuting trips are made by private vehicle despite internal trips having an average length of no more than 2.6km in any peak period. These internal trips are hosted entirely upon the local network, exacerbating issues of local congestion and resulting delay...'

To me, that's the problem (very short journeys by car) and the solution (walking and cycling) in a nutshell. We shouldn't even be talking about driving a road carrying 1,000 cars an hour through the Nidd Gorge.

4) Cycling

Paragraph 2.7.2 deals with cycling, and points out that most existing infrastructure for people on bikes is either just signage, or shared use paths. '[T]here is a lack of cycle infrastructure on the main highway corridors, and [this] is likely to form a barrier to cycle use and may be a contributory factor to incidents involving cyclists on these routes, as set out in the road safety analysis...'

Cycling accounts for 4.5% of internal commuting trips in Harrogate, and it could be more, but for the heavy traffic and lack of infrastructure supressing demand.

5) The A59 as an east-west corridor

One recurring theme in WSP's report is the idea of increasing HGV traffic along the A59, as 'a key east-west corridor' (paragraph 2.9.1). 'Harrogate will remain a pinch point on an otherwise improved east-west link' (paragraph 2.9 summary). Again, paragraph 3.3.3: '...freight movements on the A59 may increase as east-west connections become increasingly viable through improvements to the A59...[t]he A59 acts as a key freight route across North Yorkshire linking to the areas east and west of Harrogate.'

I suggest that the interests of local people in Harrogate and Knaresborough, and the interests of Transport for the North (TfN) and North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC), diverge.

I can imagine that TfN and NYCC might want to boost trade and traffic at any cost, even if that means sending platoons of HGVs along the A59. As far as I'm concerned there are more than enough HGVs already, and it would be a total nightmare to see even more barrelling up Kex Gill, to Skipton, and through the villages beyond.

Are we being sold this road as a congestion-reliever (albeit one that won't work), when in fact it is a scheme to send ever more HGVs thundering through our Borough?

Again, has the 'sustainable' aspect of development been forgotten or ignored?

6) Removing traffic from the town centre

Paragraph 3.3.2 is titled 'Visitor Economy', and mentions that traffic congestion is a threat to the attractiveness of the town centre. '[T]he removal of traffic would help to achieve the quality public realm that is a distinct part of this vision.'

Again, that should be the end of the argument about the road. 7% of traffic is through traffic, 93% is local. You're never going to remove traffic from the town centre by building a bypass. In fact, you are sure to make it worse: new roads generate more traffic.

This may sound obvious, but apparently it isn't obvious to WSP or NYCC, so I'll say it: you reduce traffic by reducing traffic, not by encouraging more. You have to give more space and priority to people going to town on foot and by bike.

7) Induced demand

When you build new roads, you generate more traffic. It is a well-established and real phenomenon.

A Dutch Professor of Transport Policy at the Technical University of Delft puts it very well. 'Building more roads is in any case senseless. It is often the first reaction from ministers who want to look as though they are doing something. Of course you do sometimes have to make roads wider, and re-work junctions, but if you think you're going to solve the problem of congestion like that, you're wrong.'

If the Professor at Delft University knows about induced demand, why don't WSP? Or are they perfectly well aware of it, but choosing to ignore it?

One of the main objections to the so-called relief road is that it will generate more traffic and exacerbate congestion. If WSP think there are special factors in this case that mean the normal principles don't apply, they should say so. Instead, they say nothing at all on the subject.

If this road were ever built, it would have a very damaging effect on people's lives, particularly those in Bilton where the community and quality of life would suffer badly. Those people are entitled to hear WSP's response on this point. Silence is not appropriate, and people are understandably angry with WSP as a result.

WSP relief road reports: Addendum Report October 2018

This draft report stated that it was to be presented to the Executive on 15th January 2019. In it, WSP assess 'packages' of measures - package B, which is sustainable transport options, and package E, which includes the so-called relief road.

According to paragraph 3.12, WSP used various DfT models to test the effectiveness of the packages. Again, there is no mention of induced demand. If you omit a principal factor from your model, I suggest you shouldn't expect to come up with a reliable result.

WSP say that package B represents a Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) of 1.1 (low, but apparently the formula doesn't take account of benefits to those using sustainable transport - paragraph 3.19), and the various iterations of package E are between 1.2 and 1.9 (low to medium).

You can put whatever numbers you like into a formula, but if the formula is flawed, the result will be of little value. I think the BCRs should probably be disregarded, but even if you do give them some weight, they are hardly a convincing case for a new road.

WSP relief road reports: summary

The WSP reports are long and detailed, which is a good thing in some ways, but makes them less accessible to local people.

The claimed future traffic reduction on Skipton Road seems highly unlikely.

Sustainability is mentioned as a study objective, but in my opinion not applied thereafter.

The report makes clear that too many short, local journeys by car are the main problem. A bypass won't solve that.

People are being put off cycling by hostile conditions. Give us proper, safe, convenient routes, and a complete network.

Much of the motivation for promoting this road is so as to be able to send HGVs on long-distance journeys thundering through Harrogate Borough.

Removing traffic from the town centre is a laudable objective, but cannot possibly be achieved by building a road through the Nidd Gorge.

WSP appear to have wholly failed to consider a highly relevant factor, and main objection to the road plan: induced demand.

The BCR figures in the Addendum Report are only worthwhile if the models used to calculate them are accurate. Since the models do not appear to take account of induced demand, I suggest that the figures can be disregarded.

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