A Virtual Stroll Along the Mickle

Notes for a controversial history part III- back to parts I and II

O, heavy ignorance, that praises the worst best
Othello: 2. 1. 143

In early February 1999, Sustrans got cracking on preparatory work for the construction of their cyleway and footpath along the edge of the disused Mickle trafford railway.

Work interestingly commenced just behind The Glen, where, you will remember, there was considerable- apparently successful- resident objection to an access gate.
This open letter from Graeme Lyall puts Sustrans' placatory statement that "There will be a loss of saplings along the very bottom of the embankment" into its true light:
"Dear City Councillors, I ask that you all find the time to go down to the old Blacon station / 'The Glen' site and see for yourself the wholesale destruction that has been taking place in the past week in the name of installing a two metre wide footpath / cycleway!
It is utter madness that such a "scorched earth" policy has been allowed just in case the Busway gets through the public enquiry and then meets the even bigger hurdle of securing the funding necessary to proceed. Those of you able enough should also walk as far as the track adjoining the cemetery to see the size of the log pile and the girth of the trees they have cut down. Now imagine this along the whole length of the track and the effect it will have on the skyline. The track that backs onto to Thirlemere Rd and Chatsworth Drive will be witness to some of the worst destruction in my opinion.
I especially urge those of you who are on the planning sub committee to go and witness what you have allowed to happen. Next week will be too late.
I would be grateful to hear your responses"

"I have today been along the old Railway track near Blacon and was appalled to see the extent of the clearance being made in order to install the "Cycleway".
Let me remind readers that this part of the old trackbed is not even included in the first phase of the Busway proposal (and even that still hasn't got planning permission). There was therefore absolutely no need to devastate the vegetation in this way. We were advised that this was to be "undergrowth & shrub clearance" and yet trees with a trunk diameter of over one foot have been felled, which is certainly not necessary in order to install a footpath/ cycleway.
It appears that Sustrans have been "conned" into doing the Council's dirty work for them. Given the extent of the removal of the hedgerows and vegetation, there is going to be massive disruption to the wildife in the area. To all readers with properties adjacent to the line in the Hoole area, I strongly urge you to have a look at what is being done in Blacon. IT'S YOUR TURN NEXT.
Make your local councillors aware of how you feel.
To all our Local and County Councillors and prospective candidates: I would urge you to have a look at the line too- see what you are being asked to approve in order to allow for future Busway development. Then be very clear in your manifestos as to what you believe is the correct future for the line. The electorate has a right to know".

We visited the area on February 9th, just after a surprise fall of snow, and were indeed horrified at the destruction that had already taken place. After taking photographs- and some conversations with irate locals- we contacted the city council landscape officer with responsibility for the old railway line, Tom Walker, in order to draw his attention to the situation. An interesting conversation followed, during which the courteous Mr Walker expressed the opinion that "in his view Sustrans had gone 'over the top' with their clearance work". Unfortunately, he told us that there was little that the city council could do as Sustrans had planning permission, and we should therefore direct our complaints to them.

Upon contacting a harrassed-sounding Peter Foster at the Sustrans local office in Crewe, we were told that "all necessary precautions were being taken to ensure as little damage as possible was being done to the trees" (? See illustration) and that they also were unhappy about having to rip up the edge of the embankment when their normal practise would, of course, be to construct their cycletrack down the centre of the old track bed, where virtually no damage would have been done. This, we need hardly remind you, is not possible here because of the stipulation that this central area should be reserved for the possible future construction of the Busway. Mr Foster also told us that, because of the NIMBY campaign waged by the residents of Cranleigh Crescent and The Glen against bicycle and foot access to their estates, the access ramp was having to be constructed next to the road bridge instead, and hence the extensive clearance work.
Nontheless, we gather that there has been a very large number of complaints by local residents, and, at the planning committee meeting at Chester Town Hall the following day-10th February- the director of the CDTS scheme, Mr Carlton Roberts-James responded to these by declaring before all the assembled councillors and members of the public that all clearance work on the line had now stopped pending an investigation.

Left: The Mickle Trafford-Deeside railway as viewed from Newton Lane Bridge on a frosty day back in February 1955. (Thanks to Ralph Hodgkinson- who drove trains on this route throughout his career and still lives in one of the houses on the right- for the picture).

How very curious then, that we should have been contacted by residents the very next morning to inform us that tree felling was in progress on the stretch of line next to Brook Lane! We visited the area that afternoon, together with other members of the local community- and even the odd county councillor put in an appearance- and saw the stumps of what had been some very large sycamore trees which had once proudly stood well to the side of the course of the planned cycletrack. We were told that these had been removed because "their branches were overhanging", and also learned that orders had been given to clear the area for ten metres to each side (in other words, almost the entire width of the track bed and embankment) to allow access for the heavy machinery which would be used to construct a mere three metre wide path. The driver of a JCB parked nearby denied all knowledge of any orders to cease work.
It would therefore seem that our planning sub-committee had experienced a little of the Busway lobby's 'alternative' version of the truth that has become familiar to all those other citzens who had attempted to express their opposition to this folly.

Mr Carlton-James told them all work had stopped. It had not. What did this mean?

At he same council meeting, he was also asked about the legality of destroying environments where birds were constructing nests- forbidden under the terms of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. He said he didn't know anything about that (isn't it his job to know?)- but that no doubt all necessary precautions were being taken. Sustrans' Peter Foster was clear that no nesting was yet taking place, and that was why they were doing the work at this time. Which shows what he knows.

It may have been February, but we had been watching the birds coming and going with nesting material for some time previously.

Ironically, the very next day, the local press reported the welcome news that the pair of Ravens that have nested and reared their young for the last few years on the towers of the Town Hall and Cathedral were back- building a nest! A local 'twitcher' was quoted as saying that "Since the weekend I've been watching them taking twigs to the nest..."
So were Sustrans breaking the law? Was Carlton-James lying through his teeth or was it the 'experts' paid to advise him?

You may, along with us, have become wearily familiar with numerous references to the fact that "three councils are working together to carry the city forward into the next century". That is, Chester city, Cheshire county AND Flintshire County Councils. You may, therefore, have been as surprised as we were to discover that over-the-border enthusiasm for the great white elephant was somewhat less fervent than Cheshire planners would have had us believe. In fact, Saltney Green Party councillor Klaus Armstrong Braun declared that Flintshire County Council were "very unlikely" to ever proceed with developing their end of the disused line. He told us that, although the proposals were being 'looked at' by transport and highways officers, when it came down to it Flintshire councillors were likely to be less-than-happy at the idea of coughing up millions of pounds in order to help bail Chester out the problems it has created for itself through years of backward transport planning. This view was largely concurred with by their Transport Officer, David Blaney who was "most uncertain that the Welsh end of the CDTS would ever go ahead", that "there would be no funding available for at least the next five years and that there was not even an allocated timescale for any further planning". Curiously, though, Flintshire's shiny-new cycling officer, Richard Flood was of the opinion that "progress on Phase III was proceeding as planned". Who was right? It all seemed to make the acronym CDTS, which of course stands for 'Chester-DEESIDE Transport System' suddenly sound rather misleading, what?

On March 19th 1998, to the surprise of nobody at all, the Chester Chronicle once again showed its unbiased openmindedness on the Busway issue with its frontpage headline: "Why YOU should support the Busway bid" together with a two page centre spread- headlined "Ambitious £7 million transport system will provide a 'green' option for commuters and ease traffic congestion in busy city centre"- and featuring those by-now familiar artist's impressions of the completed scheme (seeming to appear almost as wide as the M6) and the unholy alliance of CDTS steering group members Bailey, Byrne and Hale hovering over that scale model of the Busway that so impressed small boys of all ages at last year's European Transport Summit.

Among all the pretty pictures and assurances that the busway would mean the end of traffic congestion as we know it were one or two more pertinent facts relating to the small matter of funding. Phase I, we were told- the section running from a 1,200 space car park on greenbelt land at Mannings Lane into the city centre- would cost an estimated £7 million, EXCLUDING the Park and Ride, which would cost a further £3.5 million. The entire three-phase project running all the way to Deeside (Oh yes? see above) was estimated to cost at least £50 million (Although judging by the contemporary scandalous hike in costings for the proposed buslane to the Chester Business Park any such proffered figures were considered at the very least unreliable).

After discussions with the Department of Environment, we were told, it was decided that the scheme was "not deemed suitable" for a joint public/private venture. (ie it was judged likely to prove embarrassingly difficult to get the private sector to cough up good money to fund a white elephant without at the same time allowing them free rein over all that 'wasted' greenbelt land around the Park and Ride. Mind you, if Tescos and the like got their way, this was likely to happen anyway). Instead, the project may be funded as a major named scheme, extracting at least £5 million out of the Local Public Transport Plan. What sort of a shortfall in funding for all other areas of Chester's already-struggling public transport needs this would result in hadn't of course been mentioned.
Central government was expected to cover around 75% of borrowing requirements through the Revenue Support Grant, and local council tax and business rate payers would be asked to pick up some of the debt repayment, though "it is not known how great this burden will be". Not much it wasn't. Did we hear alarm bells ringing?

Another round of 'public consultation' got under way on 22nd March 1998
when glossy leaflets started dropping onto 200,000 doormats in the Chester area, with, interestingly, an entirely different leaflet being delivered to those homes situated within 200 yards (we kid you not) of the line. In addition, public exhibitions were held at two locations in the city- 25th March for three days at the New Scene Youth Club in Newton Lane and then for five days in a caravan parked in the Town Hall Square from April 7-11th. Officers from the city and county councils were in attendance "to explain the scheme in greater detail". Comment forms were available at these exhibitions so members of the public were able to submit their views to the planners and a decision would then be taken whether to submit a formal planning application to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

The Chester Chronicle operates an 'archive' search facility at its website. Tellingly, searching for articles on 20th March 1999 under 'Mickle Trafford', 'Busway', 'CDTS', 'Sustrans' etc all yielded the result "No articles found"...

It was illuminating to note that, while the 22nd April edition of the Chester and District Standard contained nineletters of objection to the busway, the following day's Chronicle contained none at all! Why should this have been? Had objectors given up writing to the Chron, knowing that organ's declared bias upon the subject? ("Why YOU should support the CDTS" etc etc) Or did it actually receive equally large amounts of mail objecting to CDTS- and simply chose not print them? This obvious imbalance between Busway reporting and comment in the Standard and Evening Leader on one hand and the Chronicle on the other has in fact remained constant throughout the years of the Busway struggle, as is made obvious here.

The following week's edition was very different however. When the story of the CDTS project manager's sabotaging of a Hoole resident's meeting broke (see below) the Chron, having effectively alienated much of its readership as a result of its rabidly pro-Busway stance, found itself- long after the rest of the local press had got their stories sorted- having to ring round members of the public to find out what had been going on. One of our regular contributors was contacted by a reporter attempting to learn if a new meeting had been arranged, and who retorted to criticism of his rag's blatant bias by stating, "We always print every letter we get"- and then abruptly hanging up. Many long-term objectors to CDTS and other local planning idiocies recognised this as an absurd claim, but nontheless, the message seemed to have sunk in, as the letters section of the 30th April edition devoted an entire page, to reader's criticisms of the busway- including those retrieved from the wastebasket which had already appeared in other papers over the last few weeks. We warmly welcomed the Chron to the REAL debate, and looked forward to their continuing recognition of, and respect for, the views of the overwhelming majority of its readers regarding the folly that is CDTS, but such an event never occured again.

Around this time, posters appeared around the Hoole area informing the local populace that a public meeting to explore the many issues associated with the planned conversion of the disused Mickle Trafford-Deeside railway into a guided busway was to be held at Newton County Primary school on 28th April 1999.
Early in the morning on the day before this meeting was due to take place, we were contacted by a concerned resident informing us that it had been cancelled "at the request of the organisers" due to the fact that the head teacher of the school, Eileen Harding, had been made aware of possible 'problems' arising as a result of the high degree of public feeling over the issue.
A phone call to the school secretary (the headmistress was unfortunately 'unavailable') assured us that "the school had absolutely no part in cancelling the meeting and had no knowledge of the circumstances leading to this decision".

How interesting, therefore, to discover that the project manager of the CDTS scheme, Mr Carlton Roberts-James had shortly before, "at the request of candidates and local members"- taken it upon himself to telephone Mrs Harding- without first attempting to contact the organisers- allegedly to 'find out' about the meeting: "We understood there had been a public meeting organised... but the county did not hear about it formerly or receive any invitations". Were they expecting one? (He has stated that County Councillor Molly Hale made this request of him- a claim which she flatly denied. Cllr Hale had nontheless succeeded admirably in stirring up local feelings about the Busway as a result of her abruptness in dealing with people attempting to express their concerns to her about it- to the degree of turning her back and walking away when challenged on the issue)

Patently miffed about not being invited to the party, and during the course of a "clear and frank discussion" (his words), Roberts-James then took the trouble to enlighten the head teacher upon matters such as:

  • Health and safety issues
  • What did she know of the 'responsible organisers'?
  • What arrangements had been made for the control of potentially large numbers of people?
  • Was this an appropriate use of school premises? (ie Council property?)

In addition, it appears that hints were dropped to the headmistress that, due to the divisive nature of the subject under discussion, there would be a possibility of 'trouble' arising during the course of the meeting: "It was suggested that pro-CDTS supporters may turn up and cause a 'volatile situation'" (sounds more like an old-fashioned football match than a gathering of civilised citzens- and not too complimentary to CDTS supporters either, If any such actually exist. Or was he referring to councillors?) References were made by him of problems arising at an earlier meeting, which was "attended by 250 people"- the nature of which were entirely mysterious to us.

Roberts-James stated that "No attempt was made by him to persuade her to cancel the meeting" and the school is equally adamant that it was "The decision of the organisers to take this step". He added, "I have experience in organising public meetings, and there were reservations expressed about the numbers turning up". Reservations expressed by whom? And how was he to know what numbers would turn up?
Nontheless, soon after his 'little talk', an approach was made by the school to one of those residents involved in calling the meeting- unconnected, naturally, with the fact that his children attend the school and his wife is employed by them- questioning his wisdom in continuing with the event, in the light of this new knowledge regarding large numbers of attendees including potentially 'unruly' elements.

Right: This evocative photograph shows the old railway as it appeared on a snowy day back in February 1955 as locomotive 62661 roars towards us after passing under Newton Lane Bridge.

Wishing merely to give local people a chance to express their views upon the proposed busway scheme- independent of the Town Hall and its widely-distrusted and discredited 'consultation' exercises, and aiming to commence a process of organised neighbourhood opposition to the CDTS- but sensing the potential folly of crossing the 'powers that be' regarding the well-being of his family, this individual seemingly concurred with the newly-acquired concerns of the headmistress and unilaterally cancelled the meeting. Much, needless to say, to the frustration of those many other- and unconsulted- members of the community who had much to contribute to and learn from it- but allowing the school and council to deny that the decision to cancel was theirs.

We wondered at the role of the school's governors- who were responsible for the hiring out of the premises in the evening and at weekends- in all this. Were they ever consulted regarding this decision to exclude members of their local community from the premises in this shabby fashion?
As a result of the short notice of cancellation, around 70 people actually turned up at the school expecting to attend the meeting. As it was a lovely evening, many stayed for an hour or more getting to know each other, comparing views and exchanging phone numbers, email adresses and websites, so the evening turned out to be far from a waste of time.

So here we had a snapshot of the sorry state of local democracy in the city of Chester during the final year of the Twentieth Century. Glossy leaflets, exhibitions in the Town Hall Square and unlimited budgets for the proposers. Lies, fear-mongering and veiled threats for the opposers. And, despite years of obverwhelming opposition to CDTS within the letters pages of the local press and elsewhere, a mere handfull of councillors with the courage to represent them.

Did you notice how prospective candidates in the 1999 council elections seemed to be reluctant to knock on doors to listen to our views and concerns, preferring instead to sling mud at each other in the local press and scuttle around under cover of darkness, shoving scraps of paper througth our mailboxes? Were they no longer bothered about talking to those they aspired to represent- or were they just getting more of an ear bashing on matters such as THAT Busway- than they were used to this time around? But then, what is the point of debate when party lines must prevail?

And was it not outrageous that any mention of CDTS- surely the number one issue in the Hoole and Newton areas- was so entirely absent from any of their election material?

Tory candidate for Newton, John Ebo told a packed anti-CDTS meeting the evening before the election that he was actively opposed to the Busway- the only elected or prospective councillor to publicly do so- and successfully took the seat largely as a result. Following some sour grapes implications from defeated opponents, he said the following:
"For the sake of greater clarification, I am issuing this note on my stance on the proposed busway, commonly known as the 'CDTS'. I am advised that my views, as expressed in my electoral address, demonstrated an apparent weakening of my opposition to the proposal. Nothing could be further from the truth. My position on the busway is and remains quite clear: I oppose the development..

  • As being irrelevant to the needs of the local residents
  • As a costly development which will not allevaite traffic congestion
  • As a lost opportunity for a safe traffic-free zone through a highly built-up area
  • Which does not have the support of local people
  • Which is likely to increase traffication near to the accident black spot that is the A41 roundabout
  • Which is likely to create parking problems near to the proposed intermediate stop at Newton Lane Bridge
  • Which is likely to effect existing bus services detrimentally.
I believe that the battle is there to be won by dint of public opposition outside the Council Chamber and opposition within. I am the only candidate who opposes the busway. This is not a time to sit on the fence; one is for the busway or against it. I am against the busway"

Bravo. Mr Ebo will doubtless now be under pressure from a worried and angry electorate to ensure he remains as good as his word: Active opposition- the abstention practised by the rest of his party will not do.

And just how much of our money have the city and county councils squandered upon this business so far? What cost those thousands of man-hours spent preparing plans and exhibitions, doing surveys, shuffling documents- staffing the 'CDTS Hotline' for heaven's sake? And, of course, dealing with a stroppy public: also on the payroll, and a new one on us, is Neil Anderton, who now fulfills the vital role of CDTS Objections Manager. Just what that may involve we're really not sure, but it sounds to us like a full-time job.

Expenditure to date must be in the region of several hundred thousand pounds- at least. And that's just for starters. Many feel that when it's moneymoneymoney for the construction industry and property speculators and jobsjobsjobs for the boys at Backward Hall, the sky, it seems, is the limit.

But when it comes to we lowly citzens getting together to discuss a matter that will affect us and our children deeply- for good or ill- for years to come, we are seemingly not to be trusted to do so without the event threatening to turn into some sort of riot. In the words of one correspondent to Mr Roberts-James, " Frankly I am very disappointed that, having spent so much of the Council's (ie ours, the tax payers') money on your exhibitions, you seem to be panicked by the prospect of a local resident's meeting which might have given some indication of the true depth of opposition to the CDTS".

Letters apologising to would-be attenders of the Newton school meeting and explaining the shabby circumstances behind the organiser's reluctant decision- and the role of the Chester-Deeside Transport System's project manager in same- duly appeared in the Chester local press, and sterling efforts resulted in the rapid rescheduling of the meeting, which eventually took place at Hoole All Saint's church hall on 5th May 1999, attended by around 250 people and a second, equally-packed meeting was held at the same venue on 19th May.

Northgate Village Beware! A notice appeared in the local press on 7th May 1999 informing us of the council's intended so-called disposal of the extremely attractive and well-maintained green open space behind the village- a Granada TV green award winner- in readiness to concrete it over as part of their insane scheme.

We wonder if you were aware of the planning application for 120 caravans and 60 tents on 55 acres of greenbelt land outside Mickle Trafford? The application is by Fordent Properties, the code number is 99/181/COU and the location is land adjacent to Rose Manor Farm on Warrington Road.
Residents are, not surprisingly, up in arms about the proposal. The Parish Council has resolved to object strongly and the Action Group that is still forming are calling for a public meeting. They already have town planners, landscape architects, solicitors and environmental consultants on board, so a decent scrap is assured. Just possibly the 'developer's friends' in the Town Hall may have bitten off more than they can chew this time.
This is a blatant attempt to try to develop Green Belt land by trying to link to the proposals for the disused railway and also to attempt to 'set a precedent' in order to eventually commercially 'develop' the land- a crucial element of the economics of the CDTS. Interestingly, the applicant proposes a 'bike and ride' facility to take advantage of the Sustrans cycleway.

In early June 1999 this interesting letter about the busway from Councillor Ebo appeared in the local press. In contrast, we note that most of those councillors who were busily stuffing our letterboxes with paper a while back have barely raised their heads above the parapet on this matter since the election.

Unlike (unfortunately) the bowtied bigot in the pages of the Chester Chronicle. Here's his latest words of wisdom regarding the CDTS.

Published in two volumes in June 1999, the council's vast, expensive- and patently biased- 'CDTS Environmental Statement' nontheless contains a wealth of statistics and data, maps, plans and 'artist's impressions'- in addition to which, if you look hard enough, some very revealing figures. For example, paragraph 2.10 tells how the granting of a Transport and Works Act by the Secretary of State- for which the council have indeed applied- "means that works would then enjoy the status of a statutory undertaking, conferring on it certain privileges, such as immunity from claims of nuisance which may arise from its construction and operation." Which would seem to make a nonsense of Cllr Peter Byrne's reassurances of the likelihood of compensation at the recent public meeting in Hoole.
The absolute core reason for the construction of Phase I of the CDTS is, we're told, to take traffic off Hoole Road. How interesting then, to read in this same Environmental Statement that that the reductions in traffic flow that are being claimed for CDTS are pitifully negligible- for example, in the order of 2-3% only on Hoole Road! Also, by the study's own admission, there could only be a maximum reduction in vehicle emissions of 3% due to CDTS Phase I, against which should be set the additional emissions of the buses. If these are added together, there is no effective net reduction.
The Statement was produced by Chester-based Chris Blandford Associates, who have been contracted by the Council over a number of years to produce material in support of the CDTS project and who presumably expect to get additional work from it in the future. Could it be that a truly independent assessing organisation would have reached very different conclusions from those reached by CBA?

The front pages of the two Chester free newspapers of 7th and 8th July 1999 were an interesting study in contrasts on the subject of CDTS. While that of the Standard carried a photograph of the previous Wednesday's anti-busway demonstration at Chester Cross above an article entitled 'Busway protest gathers strength', the recently re-titled Chronicle offshoot, the Chester Mail (formerly the 'Herald and Post'- nice new name, same sorry content) carried the banner headline, 'Ask Your Mum' which told us that Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott "has an easy answer" in deciding whether to allow the go ahead of CDTS- all he has to do is ask his mother!
The Evening Leader of July 13th, in the course of a story about Mr Prescott's recent visit to the city, revealed the remarkable coincidence that his father, Bert- who lives in Newtown- also thought the busway will be the answer to Chester's traffic problems and was in fact one of the SIX supporters who have so far signed the Leader's CDTS reader's poll. (By which time 1,378 OBJECTORS had also signed the same poll- soon to reach over 1,600- see below)
The same evening, Chester's city councillors assembled together- having run the gauntlet of a large group of demonstrators outside the Town Hall- and, like the County councillors before them, dutifully voted in favour (45 for, 5 against, 1 abstained) of proceeding with the construction of CDTS.
So now it seems it's all down to Phyllis, Bert and little John....

An important article by Andrew Baxter was recently published in the Daily Telegraph entitled End of the Road for Park and Ride? It described the findings of the University College of London's influential Transport Studies Unit which tells us that, far from easing congestion and pollution in our cities, evidence suggests that ferrying drivers into town by bus from giant car parks in the greenbelt is only making matters worse. (There will be around 200 extra buses per day clogging up Chester city centre if CDTS goes ahead.) It should be obligatory reading for all Chester's councillors and planners.

A report from Cheshire County Council's environmental forum, Agenda 21 a while back told us that "building new roads in Cheshire is no longer a viable option". Not that we doubted it for a moment. The message doesn't yet seem to have got across to Chester's Tories, however.
At a full council meeting in mid-July, the controlling Labour and LibDems introduced a resolution to investigate inplementing the government's proposals for a workplace parking levy- designed to be draconian enough to provide a real disincentive to bringing a car into the city centre, but also to raise new locally-spendable funding for alternative transport schemes.
(Whether these 'draconian' parking charges will also be made to apply to the city and county council's own thousands of workers- whose cars currently clog up the city centre at no cost to their owners whatever- is currently unclear).
Leading the Conservative protests, Cllr John Boughton, whose strongly pro-busway views are well known (and some of which may be read here) said the proposed charges were "another unnecessary burden upon businesses and motorists" and that the Tories would "oppose the plans every step of the way". Should be an interesting scrap.
He also called on the government to start providing a realistic programme of new roads, railways and busways from the £31 billion raised every year from the road tax.
Fat chance of that, Cllr Boughton. The obvious (to the rest of us) fact that enbarking upon multi-million pound megalomaniac schemes like CDTS means they have to be paid for- by local council and business taxpayers and certainly by motorists- may be even starting to sink into our councillor's thick heads. Should be a great vote winner- we don't think.
Watch this space for news of more desperate plans to raise the busway millions...

In early August 1999 a poster outlining people's concerns about the CDTS busway was put up, with permission, in Hoole library by a resident. She noticed upon her next visit, however, that it had been removed. Upon enquiring, she was told (subsequently confirmed by us) that it was City and County Council policy NOT to allow the display of any material pertaining to CDTS- upon the grounds that "the project had already received full council backing"- in any council owned premises, for example libraries and schools.
Had the Secretary of State given the go-ahead for the busway then? Was the battle lost? We think not. This attempt to strangle the debate and obstruct the dissemination of lawful information on a matter of great public concern in the very places the public are best able to find it strikes us as both undemocratic and exceedingly mean spirited. The councils held their glossy and expensive 'consultation' exhibitions in these publicly-owned locations remember, so what's the problem with a bit of A4 on a library noticeboard? What are they so afraid of?

In a letter of 12th August, County Councillor Peter Byrne denied censorship, stating simply that "The posters referred to were removed from County Council premises because they were inaccurate". A perusal of the many other letters by this gentleman (who seems to have been lumbered with the task of publicly defending the undefendable by the rest of the close-lipped pack of councillors who voted for CDTS) make it clear that he has long since 'shot his bolt' as far as rational debate goes while continuing to refuse to answer repeated requests from residents for further information upon such matters as the deeply-worrying 'complementary measures' planned for Hoole Road- see below- while at the same time issuing courtious invitations to residents to meet with him to discuss "minimising any unwanted effects" the busway will have upon their communities- and his most recent attempts to persuade an increasingly-sceptical electorate comprise little more than a string of wild accusations about "inaccurate and misleading" claims by the increasingly-organised objectors.

Here is a website containing a body of research by Graham Parkhurst under the collective title Does Bus-Based Park and Ride Assist the Integration of Local Transport?- more material for councillors and planners to study before continuing to commit Chester to something that is firstly not going to solve our traffic problems and secondly does not have the support of the local people.

In early September 1999, having received over 1,100 letters of objection to the CDTS busway, Transport Minister Keith Hill has unsurprisingly decided that the matter should now become the subject of a Public Inquiry.
Remarkably, the poll of readers carried out by the Chester Evening Leader earlier this year and forwarded to John Prescott, which included over 1,600 signed objections to the scheme, will count as only ONE of those eleven hundred registered objections (as would any other letter containing more than one name)- giving a fair idea of the level of public concern. The most common grounds of objection concerned green belt, ecology and wildlife issues. In addition to which, lack of public support, the unlikelihood of any meaningful traffic reduction and the scheme's perceived failure to benefit local people were mentioned.
And not all the letters of objection received by the DTI were from mere members of the public. Oh no. Organisations such as British Gas/Transco, British Telecom, the Environment Agency, English, Welsh and Scottish Railways, the Highways Agency, Manweb, Railtrack, Welsh Water and, interestingly, Tescos were among the 27 statutory bodies, elected representatives (Councillors Ebo, Bain, Biddle and D and J Evans), companies and campaign groups (Chester Green Party, the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and Upton Green Belt Preservation Group) who have registered concern about, and objection to, the scheme as it stands.
According to the council, the results have been analysed on a purpose-built computer database (more expense) and the 1,102 objection letters contained about 4,300 overlapping points of concern, an average of four points per letter. Objections received from different areas of Chester broke down thus:

  • Backing onto the route: 197
  • Postcode CH2 1- Upton area: 83
  • Postcode CH2 2- Newton area: 353
  • Postcode CH2 3- Hoole area; 424
  • Postcode CH2 4- Mickle Trafford: 10
  • Others: 35
In the words of Audrey Hodgkinson (seen above, with husband Ralph and fellow campaigner, Catherine Green), tireless campaigner against the great white elephant, "This is what we were aiming for. We've shown we're no piffling minority, as certain members of the council told us... It is now time to swing into action on the money front as we have to get the law sorted out and find somebody to represent us at the enquiry".
A date and place for the inquiry has yet to be made public (much like most of the council's plans), but it will be held locally, probably sometime early in the New Year, before an independent inspector who will listen to the evidence from both sides and then decide whether or not to grant planning permission for the scheme to proceed. He will also report to Secretary of State John Prescott, who will have the final say.
Remember- everybody has the right to speak at a Public Inquiry. Now is the time to start preparing your statements- and to start giving some serious thought to fund raising ideas- bearing in mind that the council have 'set aside' (you may be able to supply another phrase) the almost-unbelievable sum of £900,000 of OUR money to pay for the battery of lawyers they're hoping will crush all opposition to their unpopular, undemocratic and ill-considered plans...

Much, very much, has happened since the last entries in these brief notes. However, lack of time and the need to make a living has, for the moment, sadly prevented us from keeping things even remotely up-to-date and for this we apologise. This situation will hopefully be rectified in the near future. Much more, however, may be learned by perusing our growing collection of letters to these pages and the Chester press in favour of the busway and- far, far more numerous!- letters against it. A true and accurate indication of public opinion!

But then, in February 2003, the long. long battle seemed to be at last at an end, as this remarkable statement by Chester City Council indicated...

Back to parts I and II of our brief history of the Mickle Trafford-Shotton Railway- or take A Virtual Stroll Along the Mickle Trafford Railway for yourself!

If you still have your doubts after wandering through all that lush greenery, prepare for a nasty shock as you view some so-called artist's impressions of the completed busway...

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