Saturday 4 April 2015

Because Buses Cause Congestion*

(*no they don't) First, a massive Hat Tip to Alistair Coleman who runs the angry people in local newspapers blog where he trawls the local newspaper websites for the big stories of the day which are making local people very angry.

I must admit, that this website appeals to me, as working for an organisation which is often on the receiving end of local "journalism" where (in common with many local rags) we are presented with an issue that some local people don't like and then through the written form of talking heads, various people give opinions and that is it. No facts, no background and so much digital fish'n'chips wrapping. Yes, I am indulging in armchair-punditry again, but there is more to this story than meets the eye.

Station Road, Didcot. Image from Google Streetview.
There are some excellent local newspapers which undertake extensive extensive investigative journalism, but it appears that a story in a recent Oxford Mail was of the former variety. The issue is about plans for a bus route along Station Road in Didcot which is linked to the redevelopment and extension of the Orchard Centre. According to John Cotton, Leader of South Oxfordshire District Council;

“It’s great news that Hammerson is now able to progress with the next phase of the Orchard Centre. People living in Didcot and the surrounding area want more shops and amenities in the town centre and I am confident that what Hammerson is proposing will add to the growing reputation of Didcot as a great place to live.”

A bus (plus taxis and bicycle) only road is to be built on which
means shifting the buses (and taxis and bicycles) somewhere else.
Image from Google Streetview.
To enable the redevelopment to take place, an existing bus-only link road will be closed (to build on) and so (according to the article) the developers want to send up to 7 buses an hour along Station Road to access the shopping centre, much to the residents' disgust. They are concerned that the road is too narrow and that buses will end up going through the pedestrianised area at one end of the street. They also claim the buses will cause congestion.

The developers want to reroute the buses so they can avoid the congested Jubilee Way roundabout which sits to the west of Didcot Town Centre and presumably, the natural route to take when the link road through the extension of the shopping centre is to be built on. In other words (mine, from the armchair), the closure of the link road will force buses to use a roundabout which is currently stuffed and so the operators are not happy, so using Station Road will keep them happy.

Station Road ends at a modern, pedestrianised retail park.
Image from Google Streetview.
I admit that I was cynical (!) when I first read the article as after all, who wants buses rumbling past their homes? I chuckled at the residents for suggesting that buses cause congestion as that is clearly nonsense, but I thought I would dig deeper and I think there is a story in here that the paper simply didn't pick up on. 

From what I have read, it seems that the Orchard Centre is in fact Didcot's town centre which opened in 2005. The town is also a growth area and the expansion of the Orchard Centre is an aim of the local authority and it has a supplementary planning document to support this. Actually, I think the residents have a point. Their road does look too narrow to run two-way bus services along, although I think they might be as concerned about the potential to lose parking on the street.

The residents should be asking why the expansion is closing a purpose-built link road when buses could stop right in the shopping centre. They should be asking why their town centre is owned by a private developer. They should be asking why their town centre is essentially a retail park. They should also be asking South Oxfordshire District Council why their town centre is being made the main centre for the sub-region;

South Oxfordshire District Council intends that, by 2026, the town centre will have grown significantly to provide a vibrant, dynamic and living heart at the centre of the town -competing effectively in the sub-region as the principal town centre within the district.

No, it is not buses that cause congestion, it is the policies of the local authority which cause congestion and that is the real story here as it is up and down the country.


  1. Parking on the street? Hold on, the street is only provided and maintained by the Council for passing & repassing of vehicles, what makes these guys think that their Council is going to use public money to provide a small number of private individuals with free places to park their cars?

    In these cash starved times it does make an interesting account to audit just what % of the urban roads network is not actually required to move traffic around on foot or wheels. Ditching that could easily save substantial amount on keeping road surfaces in good repair.

    1. Well, that was my comment rather than anyone in the article, but I can see the objections from people with no off street parking (look at the housing type) - on-street parking often comes out of the wood work at some point!