Liberal Democrats agree that local councils and businesses need to do all they can to combat global warming. This means investing in public transport, buses, trams and railways, and consulting local people properly so they can have their say on plans. It is important to ensure residents contribute to the discussions, as well as enable them to travel more easily while reducing their impact on the environment. Here are the main concerns we have with how what should have been a sound scheme to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, has been mismanaged through poor communication.
Low-emission vs Zero-emission Vehicles
Transport for West Midlands (TfWM), and the Tory mayor for the West Midlands, have now published revised plans for public transport in the West Midlands and what TfWM calls a “low-emission” bus service between Walsall and Birmingham. However, despite the availability of zero-emission double-decker buses that could be used for this, TfWM staff have said the scheme is expected to use diesel “bendy” buses when the service launches. This appears to be in an effort to provide a service that is similar to a tram, so beloved of West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street. Transport for West Midlands staff themselves have emphasised cutting carbon emissions as their main goal.This apparent insistence on tram-like bendy buses, at the expense of zero-carbon alternatives, is very short-sighted and will add to the already high cost of implementing the scheme.
Removal of Perry Barr Flyover
The first phase, of the Sprint plans, between the One Stop shopping centre and the Scott Arms, is scheduled to be completed by December 2021 and would see changes along the Walsall Road (A34). This includes the demolition of the Perry Barr flyover, and Jon Hunt, LibDem Councillor for Perry Barr, has led opposition to this, and organised the petition against it presented to Birmingham City Council, last year. It will cause chaos while the flyover is being taken down, and we are not convinced the plans have been scrutinised sufficiently in the rush to “cash in” on Games funding.
Junction 7 Park & Ride Scheme
Sandwell Liberal Democrats attended several of the Transport for West Midlands consultations over their Sprint bus plans, last year. These revealed that the site for a proposed Park & Ride scheme is likely to be on land near the Handsworth Rugby Football grounds, off the Birmingham Road. Although this is in Walsall, it would effect Sandwell residents near the site, on the Birmingham Road, and Chapel Lane. However, Sandwell Council seems to be taking little interest in these plans and did not send anyone to attend the Combined Authority meeting that discussed them in February.
The plans for this proposed Park & Ride are part of Phase 2 of the Sprint plan, which would be implemented between 2022 and 2024. They have still not been approved, but Conservative-led Walsall Council could well decide this without any proper consultation with local residents. There is also the danger that the planned location for this could change to somewhere in Sandwell, and we all know who inept Sandwell Labour are at pushing back against these sort of plans.
Feeder Bus Services (424, 907, etc.)
The report on the Sprint bus plans to the West Midlands Combined Authority specifically mentions that other bus services that link to the Sprint route will benefit from the service. However, we have heard that the 424 service is expected to come to an end in June. This will almost certainly mean that people who use this service will not be able to get onto the main route easily, and could well mean that they will resort to using online shopping rather than travel into town.That report says: “Over 30 million trips per year on other bus services using parts of the route are expected to benefit from additional bus priority (such as 51, 52, 77, 424, 907, 937, X51, X12, 17, 58, 60, 72, 73, etc). In addition, several school services will also benefit.”
All these schemes have been brought forward, or newly introduced in the case of the flyover, so that they would be completed as part of the Commonwealth Games plans. Sandwell LibDems are worried that trying to complete both the Sprint scheme and removing the flyover will cause severe disruption while the work is being done. This will reduce support for the Games, and the number roadworks occurring at the same time runs the very real risk that one or more of the projects will not be completed before the Games start.