LIME STREET: Key hurdle cleared to shut off buses
A contentious proposal to formally shut off Lime Street to buses cleared a key hurdle on Thursday despite heavy opposition from within the ruling Labour group.
The move, if given final sign off, will allow a major redesign of the area around Lime Street and St George’s Hall to proceed as originally planned.
It was the third time the council’s highways and public spaces representation committee has considered proposals to issue a traffic regulation order (TRO) to formally close the road off to all traffic except cars accessing the car park at St John’s Shopping Centre.
The proposal is part of a wider overhaul of how traffic flows through the city centre that will see major changes to other roads such as the Strand.
The committee’s decision to implement a TRO on Lime Street will go to cabinet in the coming weeks to be formally ratified.
The committee said the closure would be continuously reviewed over the next 12 months, with the potential for alterations after that time.
Buses have not been using Lime Street since the implementation of a new timetable earlier this year that was developed to be compatible with the city centre’s overhauled road network.
However, the proposal to close the road off to bus access completely has been increasingly controversial, with councillors in numerous committees having raised concerns.
Twelve councillors from the Labour group spoke against the plans at Thursday’s meeting, raising a range of concerns about the ramifications of formally stopping buses from using the route.
They included councillor Laura Robertson-Collins, who resigned her role as cabinet member for the environment last week over the issue.
She said she was particularly concerned about how it would affect bus users wanting to then get long distance train services from Lime Street Station, where bus stops have been removed.
Councillor Robertson-Collins said: “There are many excellent elements of the [city centre connectivity] scheme and I imagine the scheme as a whole is supported by everybody here.
“However, I remain excessively concerned about the lack of integration in terms of bus transport on Lime Street and bus transport integration with the main line train station, which is of course our main link out of the city.”
Councillor Robertson-Collins said she resigned because she did not want to be part of a project that left the city’s public transport “less integrated than it was a few months ago” and said she had concerns about the way the scheme was taken through cabinet.
Many councillors made similar comments and said the plans for Lime Street, which began development a number of years ago, did not match the city’s climate ambition and goal of getting more people on to buses.
Councillor Nick Small said: “We are supposed to be supporting pedestrians and cyclists and then buses.
“It seems strange that we are prioritising access for cars to a car park in a quite an unsustainable way at the expense of buses being able to go along Lime Street and Queens Square.”
Officers said the closure of Lime Street to buses is crucial to making other parts of the scheme, such as a reduction in the number of lanes of vehicle traffic on the Strand, work effectively.
They have maintained that the plans could be amended to allow some bus travel – but that costs would mean this could only be considered after the current scheme of work is completed.
Cabinet member for highways Sharon Connor, speaking before the committee approved the plans, said the council would continue to review the city centre connectivity scheme.
She said: “The whole point of this meeting is to listen to objections and consider our options and I believe we’ve done this.
“This is the third meeting we’ve held to discuss this TRO.”
Estimates provided to the committee for a range of potential changes to the Lime Street proposals ran into the hundreds of thousands.
Officers said costs were set to be particulary high, up to £59,000 for each week of delay, because construction work at Lime Street linked with the plans is already underway.
Any changes would therefore have required costly changes to contracts.
However, many councillors opposing the implementation of the new TRO said the costs of altering the scheme afterwards is likely to be significantly higher.
The committee has committed to reviewing one of the options to allow for some usage of Lime Street in a year.
Words: Nick Tyrrell, Local Democracy Reporter
Watch the channel on TV