The latest in a long line of Cornwall Council cock-ups is the ill-fated bus lane into Truro from the curiously named Eastern District Centre (of what?) This is part of a cunning plan put together by Waitrose, those ‘carers for our countryside’ the Duchy of Cornwall, and probably the best council in the world – Cornwall Council. Having got planning permission back in 2012 the scheme has been subsidised to the tune of £4 million from European Convergence grants with another £2 million thrown in by the Local Enterprise Partnership. Is underwriting the profits of Waitrose/John Lewis and house builders, while indirectly enhancing the rental value of Duchy land really the best use of that grant money? Oddly, that particular debate has still to take place.
Why is the park and ride failing? Public comment has tended to focus on the fact that the portfolio holder for transport can’t drive. But it’s a bit more than that, revealing how relatively well-paid planning officers are well able to get things hopelessly wrong. The road traffic experts at Cornwall Council had claimed that people coming into Truro from the east would leap out of their comfy, warm cars, brave the howling gales and driving rain and switch to a bus for the last quarter of a mile of their journey. Any idiot could have told them people wouldn’t use a park and ride located so stupidly close to a town centre. And they haven’t.
But the danger is that the bus lane blunder blinds us to the bigger picture. Traffic levels in Cornwall are rising by around 3% a year. Every year. There will be dips and rises in this as oil prices fluctuate but the basic growth is driven by the steady growth in population. If the Independent/Lib Dem Council and the Tory Government are looking forward to at least another five or six Truros being built in Cornwall in the next 20 years, then they can hardly complain about traffic jams or expect them to be solved by a park and ride.
Actually, it’s quite the reverse. In fact, studies of park and rides have shown that they tend to generate extra traffic in the vicinity rather than reduce it. But putting that uncomfortable evidence aside, in most cities with a comprehensive park and ride system (like Oxford or York), they’re stuck well away from the city centres, not a quarter of a mile up the road. Furthermore, they haven’t usually involved the novel idea of dumping a supermarket right next to them. This isn’t a park and ride too far; it’s a park and ride too near and built in the wrong place.
Cornwall”s planners refuse to admit we have a looming capacity problem, caused by their insistence that Cornwall must grow. And grow. And grow. Instead, we’re promised a few meaningless ‘green’ palliatives that do nothing to solve the underlying systemic problem. In the case of this ‘EDC’ it was originally a state of the art biomass centre, a Cornish Food Centre and the park and ride. These ‘green’ measures were tacked onto groundless claims that traffic congestion would somehow be magically eased. Overcome with joy at the anticipated ‘improvements’, sufficient councillors were unable as usual to look at the longer term issues and, like lemmings, voted for the destruction of the valley and the gratuitous extension of Truro eastwards.
Having got the permission, we then find that those ‘greenish’ inducements were gradually stripped out of the plan. First, the Cornish Food Centre was scrapped. Instead, Waitrose promise to stock some local produce. Then, in June this year the biomass energy centre was quietly dropped to very little publicity. Waitrose had discovered it wasn’t ‘viable’. In an interesting correspondence available on the Council’s website, Cornwall’s planners agreed an amendment to the planning conditions. The wording was even supplied to them by Waitrose’s agents. (For this see PA15/05881). The biomass centre was duly erased from history and no mention of it now appears on the Council’s website. Having lost these two greenish aspects, now it seems the park and ride doesn’t work either, as people aren’t parking and riding in the park and ride but driving through it looking for a short cut.
So what are we left with? A giant car park for Waitrose, 95 or so houses that look like Bath rather than Truro, a strategically placed rat run that will allow the boy racers and others to avoid the Tregolls Road/Trafalgar roundabout snarl-ups and cut down through Bodmin Road and Moresk Road to the town centre. Oh, and an upmarket supermarket that will attract God knows how much extra traffic from a 50 mile radius. Was that the intention all along? Were the ‘green’ bits only sops thrown in to confuse and pacify potential opposition?
Having seen the eastern district centre now shrink to just a supermarket and some retro-housing, the original decision to give this permission becomes ever more ludicrous and irresponsible. Worse than that, it amounts to a crime against the local environment. In a world of rational justice, those who voted for and supported this insane scheme would now admit that they made a mistake, apologise for ruining the countryside, take the only honourable course and resign. Little chance. Instead, this Christmas no doubt they’ll be patting each other on the back for being shortlisted as one of the most excellent councils of the year by their mates on the Local Government Chronicle and toasting the Great Leader.