EXCLUSIVE: How the roads lobby hijacked air quality and turned it into a by-pass for Camelford
By Julia Penhaligon
Cornwall Council’s support for a Camelford by-pass is based on a highly partisan interpretation of local public opinion, according to documents obtained by Cornwall Reports.
A Freedom of Information answer has established that a statement reported to councillors, claiming that “88% supported the construction of a by-pass,” was in fact the answer to a different question. And the total sample size questioned, over a period of two months, was only 41 people.
The “public engagement” reported to the council’s cabinet meeting last month was not specifically about a by-pass at all. It was carried out between 5th February and 2ndApril and concerned air quality. No research was conducted outside of this period.
Cornwall Council has admitted: “It wasn’t a survey about getting a by-pass.”
A study of how this “public engagement” has now been used to justify a £42.5 million new road goes some way towards explaining why talk of a Camelford by-pass has made little progress for decades: the idea is in fact extremely controversial, even within Camelford. The unpublished data shows how the roads’ lobby has now successfully hijacked the air quality issue and used it for its own purposes.
The question which was actually asked was whether the council should work “with partners to investigate by-pass option?” A total of 36 people replied “yes.”
“Investigating a by-pass option” is not the same as building a by-pass, yet the council’s interpretation of this data continued: “Clearly most residents and businesses support the option of a by-pass.”
What was not reported to the cabinet meeting was the survey detail which said that support for investigating a by-pass option was “closely followed by the option to investigate an alternative route for HGVs. Many people also thought that improving the efficiency and frequency of the current bus fleet was important as well as better enforcement of parking on yellow lines.”
The council has for several years sought to divert northbound traffic away from the town centre during summer months – sometimes to the consternation of local shop-keepers, who claim that this damages trade. The supporting documents presented to last month’s cabinet meeting made no mention at all about the potential impact on local shop-keepers and the air quality “public engagement” carried out in February and March, not surprisingly, did not seek to investigate this aspect.
Green Party activists 30 years ago were among the anti-roads protestors who sought to promote environmentally-friendly public transport, and bicycles, rather than by-passes. Cornwall Council’s cabinet meeting on 24th July downplayed the impact of carbon emissions, looking to as-yet unpublished “mitigation measures.”
Camelford’s Green Party Mayor, town councillor Claire Hewlett, nevertheless spoke in support of the by-pass at the cabinet meeting. The town’s Liberal Democrat Cornwall councillor, Rob Rotchell, is also an enthusiast for the by-pass, as is North Cornwall’s Conservative MP Scott Mann. Yet a petition calling for a by-pass, presented to former transport secretary Chris Grayling in June last year, attracted only 743 signatures. Even an online petition got only 525 names. Its original target had been “at least 3,000 signatures.”
County Hall has claimed that a by-pass could be completeby 2023 and has already committed several million pounds towards the project. But the background report which was not presented to councillors says funding and construction would take at least twice as long: “Whilst Cornwall Council has committed to exploring this option, it is not a quick solution and no funding to develop a business case or construct a bypass is in place,” says the unpublished assessment. “Even if the bypass becomes a reality, it is likely to take up to ten years from now before it is open.
“In the meantime, we still need to act to improve air quality in Camelford and this is the reason for suggesting other options which are likely to be required to help improve air quality until a decision is made on the bypass.
“Changing behaviour is likely to be one of the most effective measures to improve air quality. Many responders felt that the problems were caused by holiday traffic and HGVs, however we know that 45% of pollution is caused by private diesel cars. Therefore, everyone has a role to play in causing the pollution problems as well as solving them.
“If we can all make changes to our travel behaviour we would all see the benefits. Vehicles waiting at the traffic lights and to pass through the ‘pinch point’ at High Street are clearly contributing to the problem and are also a source of frustration for other road users and pedestrians.
“Despite the fact that an anti-idling scheme was one of the least popular ideas amongst respondents, if enough people can be persuaded to switch off their engines when waiting at the traffic lights this could have a positive impact on air quality.
The main A39 road passes through the centre of Camelford, and in places is wide enough for only one vehicle. Below, the suggested “western route” for a £42.5 million by-pass which would consume hundreds of acres of farmland.
Above: This report to Cornwall Council’s cabinet claimed “88% supported the construction of a by-pass….” The council now admits that people were not even asked this question. Below, North Cornwall MP Scott Mann hands in a petition to former Transport Secretary Chris Grayling – more than 2,000 names short of its original target.
“The Air Quality Action Plan will now be updated taking the responses into consideration, and the final plan will be published in due course.”
You can download and read the full “public engagement” document, and the council’s unpublished interpretation of the responses, here: Camelford Air Quality Action Plan consultation survey questionnaire-2 and here: Camelford Air Quality Consultation Summary
In a covering letter to Cornwall Reports, County Hall adds: “Please note – The source of these figures is the public consultation we held to get people’s view on the draft Camelford Air Quality Management Area Action Plan.
“The consultation ran from 5 February – 2 April 2018. So it wasn’t a survey about getting a bypass, it was about the whole action plan and the bypass was one of the proposed actions.
“In order to help us understand people’s thoughts on the proposed actions, we produced the attached survey questionnaire which was available to complete online or download from the website.
“We held a public drop in session where people gave their views both verbally and in writing. People could also write or email us, there was no requirement to use the form. The consultation was open to anyone who wanted to respond, not just residents of Camelford.”