Rapid transit scheme still in with a chance

Rapid Transit Bus

A proposed rapid transit scheme that could see a high-speed bus service linking Bradley Stoke with Bristol city centre and Cribbs Causeway has made it through to the final stage of a competitive process to secure  Government funding.

The North Fringe to Hengrove Package (NFtHP), a bus rapid transit scheme linking north and south Bristol, which had previously been assigned to the second-tier “pre-qualification” pool, has now been promoted to the top-tier “development” pool of 45 proposed transport projects competing for £630m of Government funding.

An announcement by the Department for Transport (DfT) last Friday (4th February) stated:

“The Department hopes to fund the majority of the schemes now in the development pool subject to their business cases being of an acceptable standard. However, the total likely funding request to DfT is nearly £950m, so the process remains competitive and local authorities will need to look for further savings to stand a good chance of funding.”

The DfT says it will decide on the schemes to be funded by the end of 2011.

North Fringe to Hengrove Package

The scheme is doubly important to the Bradley Stoke area because as well as promising much improved bus services it also incorporates the building of a Stoke Gifford by-pass, linking Great Stoke Way with the Avon Ring Road via a new bridge over the London to Bristol railway line.

The West of England Partnership (WoEP), which is fronting the NFtHP bid on behalf of South Gloucestershire Council (SGC) and Bristol City Council, originally estimated the total cost of the scheme at £194m with £170m funded by the Government and £24 from local sources.

In the latest submission to the DfT at the beginning of January, big cuts to the scope of the scheme saw the total cost reduced to £102m with a Government contribution of £51m and  local funding rocketing from 12% to 50% of the total.

Cost savings made include:

  • Revising the route between the Aztec West Roundabout and Cribbs Causeway to run on the A38 instead of passing through the Aztec West Business Park and emerging on Coniston Road in Patchway.
  • Replacement of a guided busway with conventional bus priority [lanes] and the retention of existing roundabouts [through] Bradley Stoke.
  • Reduction of the Stoke Gifford Transport Link (by-pass) from dual carriageway to single carriageway with additional bus priority [lane] in one direction (either north or southbound).
  • Deferral of the previously proposed M32 park and ride site close to the Coldharbour Lane bridge.

The projected completion date of the scheme, should it be approved, has also slipped by a year to March 2018.

Cllr Brian Allinson, SGC’s executive member for planning, transport and strategic environment, said:

“I am delighted that the Minister for Transport has recognised the strength of the North Fringe to Hengrove business case. This scheme will transform public transport in South Gloucestershire, reducing congestion, improving road safety, air quality and access to jobs. The council is determined to improve our local public transport provision and support our economy and this announcement is a major milestone on that journey.”

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  1. Yet again, a once potentially fast public transport link, which could have finally tempted people away from their cars, has been completely watered down to the point where it will clearly be a white elephant, for the sake of saving a notiional amount of money!

    The whole point of this scheme was that guided buses, of the type used in Melbourne and other cities, can run at much higher speeds when in guideways (usually about 60-70mph) and only had to slow down to regular speed limits when on shared roads or normal bus lanes.

    So, this has now become a regular bus route that just uses the M32, with yet more “painted-on” bus lanes – that Great British solution to traffic congestion which involves squeezing all other traffic into a smaller space in order to give a veneer of a planned public transport network.
    And behold! It now seems that north Bristol’s largest employment hub *still* won’t get served by public transport, because apparently the cost of removing the metal barriers and bit of raised pavement on Waterside Drive is just too great…..yet more logical thinking!

    I’m not usually a big moaner when it comes to government frippery, but things like this really annoy me. If you want to do public transport, do it bloody-well properly, otherwise it’s just a waste of taxpayer’s money! Things like this will only be worth it if it means people can travel between the noth fringe and the city centre either more quickly than by car or cheaper than by car. I have a deep suspicion that it will satisfy neither, and that First will retain their monopoly on providing a crappy, expensive bus service that the small minority are forced into using.

  2. We could have had Rapid Transit Scheme linking Bradley Stoke with the City over 20 years ago but some LibDem councillors vetoed it. (they may have been just Libs then!)
    And those same councillors are still on the South Glos Council!
    Just goes to show how some local councillors can be very short sighted-almost blind to the need for progress!

  3. To be fair to that Lib Dem councillor, in 1990 there weren’t that many houses in Bradley Stoke and it had been fields just three years prior. There wasn’t the demand to justify it at the time, but they at least reserved the land alongside Bradley Stoke Way for any future scheme. There is now a population that can justify it, and even a large shopping centre at the far end (and another in BS now) which would boost passenger numbers.

    However, there’s no point in making a rapid-transit system a standard bus route. If you actually want anything half useful, then I believe it is Cllr Brian Allinson you need to pester this time – he’s the S. Gloucs transport officer who is responsible for the plans.

  4. Interesting to read yesterday’s “exclusive” report in the Bristol Evening Post: Park and Ride Plan Faces Axe

    Exclusive? BEP reporters clearly need to pay more attention to The Journal.

    Their article appears to have been based partly on a report submitted to today’s meeting of South Gloucestershire’s Planning, Transport and Strategic Environment Select Committee, which contains a summary of the NFtH section of the WoEP Strategic Business Case referenced above.

    Interestingly, the latest report has added a statement about future-proofing that didn’t appear in the DfT submission:

    “The Stoke Gifford Transport Link [SGTL] would be reduced to a single carriageway with additional bus priority in one direction either north or southbound; however, bridges would be built for 4-lanes to future-proof the alignment.”

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