Newcastle Lib Dems call for answers on city centre traffic changes


Opposition Lib Dem councillors on Newcastle city council have called for answers on the council's controversial proposals to radically change traffic arrangements in the north of Newcastle city centre which look set to motorists (buses excluded) from using Percy Street, Barras Bridge, St Mary's Place, and Queen Victoria Road. They have challenged the council's leadership to be up front with the public, businesses, and road users about their intentions for the city centre.
Opposition Lib Dem councillors are yet to be fully briefed by council officers about the proposals despite requests, and submitted questions to the council's transport planners over a week ago but are yet to receive a reply.
Opposition transport spokesperson Cllr Greg Stone said:
"We are ready to engage in a proper debate about the council's proposals for Barras Bridge / Percy Street and for the city centre as a whole, but we think it is very important that the council administration is clear and up front about its intentions, and answers the questions that have arisen. There are a lot of rumours within the Civic Centre about wider transport plans, including plans for express bus corridors from the  city's boundaries to the city centre, but we think the council should be more open about its intentions, particularly with regard to pedestrianisation and cycling and the potential implications of what is perceived to be a strategic goal of taking cars out of the city centre completely.
"We are in favour of greater use of public transport and a walkable / cycleable city centre but we feel work needs to be done in respect of congestion and air quality concerns around the city centre as well as within it. Preventing vehicles from using the city centre may sound attractive but we are aware from our discussions with business and transport operators that there are real concerns that the council's proposals will simply displace congestion to a ring around the centre. We also believe further assurances are needed with regard to the impact on city centre accessibility, particularly as we are conscious of significant concerns about the council's existing changes to John Dobson Street.
"It would appear that the council wishes to make it impossible for vehicles other than buses to cross the north of the city centre using Percy Street or Queen Victoria Road, and the consequence is likely to be more congestion on the Barrack Road / Central Motorway diversion and rat-running through Spital Tongues. It also raises the question of whether similar restrictions will follow in the southern part of the city centre, preventing cross-town journeys using Mosley Street, Collingwood Street, and Neville Street. If this is the council's long term goal, it should say so explicitly rather than proceeding by stealth and secrecy."
"We think it is important to establish whether these changes have been backed up by a traffic simulation modelling the effect on the local network, and we particularly want to know more about any feedback received from businesses in the city centre and other transport operators, including the impact on bus services, freight deliveries, and on journey times and congestion on the city centre fringes. The council's record on major transport schemes such as Gosforth High Street in recent years has been chequered, and the council needs to work hard on transparency and communication to avoid such concerns arising again."
The Lib Dem group has raised the following questions:
- What assessment has been made of the likely displaced traffic flow and congestion on nearby roads in the city centre network - particularly Durant Road / New Bridge Street roundabout, the Great North Road and Blue House roundabout, Swan House roundabout, and the Boulevard / Barrack Road junction
- Has the council commissioned a traffic simulation model to assess the impact on the local network - and if not, why not?
-  What assessment has been made of the likely impact on air quality in these locations?
- Is it correct that safety concerns have been expressed in respect of proposals for Percy Street?
- What consultation has been carried out with bus operators and what efforts have been made to address their concerns over the changes to John Dobson Street?
- What feedback if any has been received from NE1 and representatives of Newcastle city centre retailers and other businesses?
We understand that the British Retail Consortium is concerned about declining footfall in Newcastle city centre.
- What assessment has been made on the anticipated impact on Spital Tongues (Hunters Road)?
- Are further restrictions anticipated on the remaining "cross-city" route (Swan House - Cathedral - Castle - Westgate Road - Neville Street?)
- What estimate has been made of the likely impact of these changes on journey times for a) buses b) other vehicles using the Great North Road corridor?
- What arrangements are envisaged for freight deliveries to e.g. Eldon Square servicing entrances
- What arrangements are envisaged for access for Shopmobility users and for disabled drivers generally?
- What additional traffic impact has been assessed in connection with the council's proposals to attract new office tenants to the Civic Centre precinct?
- What confidence does the administration have that the reliance on intelligent traffic signal systems will manage traffic problems effectively?

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