I have had a little time to reflect on the full council meeting held on 9th August which resolved, by a clear majority, to withdraw Elmbridge BC’s objections to the Highways Agency’s traffic orders made in respect of this development.
The argument boiled down to this. Those arguing for the objection to be maintained were of the view that it failed to take adequate consideration of the risk of overspill from the M25 onto the local roads. There were a number of factors likely to increase overspill, including motorists choosing to avoid the construction area altogether, the possibility that the farmer’s tunnel already in existence under the M25 would prove unable to accommodate the construction vehicles and the uncertainly over where earth dug out of the construction site would be taken.
Those in favour of withdrawal pointed out that there was no objective basis, given the information provided by the Highways Agency, that there would be any overspill. They added that, if the objections were not withdrawn, there would be a public inquiry in which the burden of proof would be on the Council to show that the Highways Agency had provided inaccurate information. The objections were, it was alleged, speculative.
What struck me was that the whole consultation process was a charade. The Highways Agency had not informed Elmbridge that it was a statutory consultee until very late in the day, nor had it spelt out the consequences of a refusal to withdraw the objections. Further, the evidence provided by the Highways Agency, a report from a company called Hyder consisted solely of a table of figures indicating changes in vehicle journey frequencies over several roads, without any explanation of the methodology by which these figures had been arrived out. The queries raised by Elmbridge had largely gone unanswered, unless one considers a reply which in essence boiled down to “we know what we’re doing” amounts to an answer. Most galling was the suggestion from the Highways Agency that if Elmbridge maintianed its objection there would be “reputational issues” for the Council to consider.
This Council was in no position to challenge or query the evidence being put before it and was being told simply to agree or face a risk to its reputation. That is not consultation. The Highways Agency will no doubt announce that it has carried out the proper consultation with the relevant bodies, but in fact those bodies were never provided with any material which might allow them to disagree with the Agency. If that is proper consultation, then I am Napoleon.
We are supposed to be living in a world to be run by the Big Society, but the Highways Agency are still firmly stuck in the era of Big Government, where the bureaucrats know best and the little people in the borough councils should be grateful for being informed of what is going on. If David Cameron is serious about changing how this country is run then he must change the way decisions of this nature are made. Local people and their representatives must have a proper opportunity to question, and must be provided with the reasons behind the decisions. Otherwise, we will just carry on going through the motions.
Given that I could not advance a positive, evidence based case that the evidence produced by the Agency was wrong, I was driven to abstain.