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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Origins of Swansea's Metro bus

One of the more fascinating reports on the agenda for today's meeting of Swansea Council was the scrutiny committee report on the Swansea Metro. This has been a matter of great controversy in the City even though the road works associated with it were funded by Government Transport Grant and the bus company paid for the buses themselves. Nevertheless, it is proving very successful.

Some of the harshest critics are the Labour Party themselves who have tried to use it as a stick to hit the administration with. When it is pointed that the scheme originated with them then they deny it vehemently. However, the all-party committee in its report has now put that denial to the sword:

The Environment Policy and Performance Review Board 2002-3 examined bus services in Swansea and sought evidence from operators, bus users and the public. One of Members’ concerns raised with First Cymru was the lack of cross city services. First Cymru stated that city centre congestion was the main impediment to the reintroduction of cross city routes. The Board’s conclusions, which were accepted by Cabinet, included the following:
Resulting from this, the original idea of a new concept cross city bus route in Swansea was raised at meeting between the Chief Executive of First Group and the then Leader of Council and Cabinet Member for Technical Services in August 2003. The was followed by technical meetings between First and Council officers to develop the concept and agree the way forward in late 2003/early 2004.

Council officers and First made a joint presentation to the Welsh Assembly Government’s Director of Transport in April 2004. This outlined a scheme linking Morriston Hospital and the city centre with Mumbles The officials were impressed by the partnership approach and
agreed that the existing Transport Grant bus corridor package funding could be used to fund a feasibility study. Arup, Consulting Engineers, subsequently were commissioned to carry out a feasibility study in June 2004.

The feasibility study included outline design and traffic testing of the proposed infrastructure changes and an appraisal report which assessed the benefits of the scheme. The assessment report concluded that the scheme would result in significant journey time savings (about 25%) and would have major environmental, economic, integration and social benefits. The report also concluded that the scheme could be implemented with little impact on traffic capacity for existing traffic. This report was submitted to WAG as part of the Transport Grant bid in
August 2005.

The Board was informed that the Swansea Metro is a major scheme which is attracting interest from all over the UK and beyond. It is one of a small number of bus rapid transit schemes in the UK which aim to achieve many of the benefits of a light tram scheme but at a much reduced cost. Many cities in the UK have been encouraged to explore the opportunity to introduce Bus Rapid Transit by the Department for Transport because the costs and timescale for introducing light tram schemes is often unaffordable

Labour lost control of Swansea Council in June 2004. Although they did not actually apply for the grant funding themselves the origins of the scheme clearly rested with their administration. Why are they so shy about admitting this?
The Labour administration looked at bendy-bus designs that would not require major changes to the road network. Why did you and your chums in Swansea let First Cymru choose such a large bus? You did not have to accept what the bus company offered.
What about your Party's manifesto commitment to "Openness and Transparency" and "No new large projects without public consultation"? Surely massive roadworks count as a large project?
Actually that is not true. Infrastructure works were always envisaged otherwise why meet with Government officials to talk about transport grant and european funding? Why not just get First Cymru to buy the buses and run them?

As for consultation all the traffic orders involved were consulted on publicly. In addition the report says this:

'Extensive consultation was carried out with key stakeholders in the
preparation of the Local Transport Plan, the Regional Public
Transport Strategy and Swansea Local Authority Bus Strategy.
More recently consultation has been carried out as part of the
preparation of the Regional Transport Plan which is due to be
submitted to the Assembly in draft in October 2007 and in final
form in 2008. Improving public transport services was a key theme
to emerge from these consultations.

The Council’s Environment Performance Policy Review Board
carried out a review of bus services in 2002/3. This highlighted the need to improve bus services in Swansea. Members were
particularly keen to see the reintroduction of cross city services.

Regular meetings have been held with key Welsh Assembly
Government officials since April 2004. This ensured that Transport
Grant funding was made available to develop and implement the project.

A three day consultation exercise was carried out in November
2005 to which key stakeholders and city centre businesses were

You are right that the administration consults whenever possible and I would contend we are more transparent than Labour were, however if you can find that manifesto commitment I will be surprised. The Lib Dem manifesto in 2004 was very sparse amd did not go into that much detail.
This is all very interesting. Do you also have a rationale to explain how children's services in Swansea went from best performing to "needing intervention" in the period from 2003 to 2008?
Clearly it was badly managed though it was not as good as is suggested in 2003 nor is it the worst in Wales.
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