"It's a complete joke": Northampton councillors criticise their own party for controversial new 24-hour bus lane
"I'm embarrassed to be a Tory when things like this happen" - but criticism might lead to rethink over enforcement camera
The enforcement camera on the controversial new 24-hour bus lane in Northampton may be moved after councillors criticised their own party and labelled the scheme a "cash cow."
The new 24-hour bus lane runs from the Audi Dealership, in Weedon Road, all the way to the railway station, which is about a 1.4 mile stretch of road.
Speaking to the Chronicle & Echo, Suresh Patel, Conservative borough councillor for Duston East ward, Paul Clarke, Conservative candidate for the Billing and Rectory Farm ward, Northampton mayor Brian Sergeant, and transport company director Nigel Hinch have all hit out at the new 24-hour bus lane in Weedon Road and St James.
Cabinet member for Highways, Environment and Place at the county council, Councillor Jason Smithers, has defended the new bus lane, saying it has been done to reduce traffic congestion and promote a greener way to travel, as cyclists can also use the lane.
However, there have been complaints that the new bus lane has increased traffic congestion, compounded by multiple roadworks being allowed to happen at the same time in the area. With schools reopening, there is now more traffic in the town centre. There have also been concerns over the positioning of the camera.
As the Chron reported on Wednesday, Councillor Smithers had urged people to find alternative routes and had given suggestions for where motorists could go.
Councillor Suresh Patel, who has served Duston East for 10 years as a Conservative, was not impressed.
"It's a complete joke," he said.
"I'm very, very disappointed the way the county council has behaved on this one. We all follow and want to promote the green agenda but unfortunately the consultation was very, very poor and flawed. I think the county council has lost the plot on this one.
"The county council has only got about 12 more days left and it should be passing this onto the West Northamptonshire unitary council to deal with.
"Hopefully the unitary council will listen and do something. My understanding is I think the county council is now looking at alternative arrangements for the camera."
Councillor Patel went on to explain why the camera was "not good" for residents and what changes he would like to see implemented.
He said: "This camera is completely hidden. It's not good for the residents, the way it's all been handled."
Councillor Patel believes Councillor Smithers and the officers in charge should take responsibility for the situation.
"I've had loads of residents who have complained about this. It's not a big enough road and the way the county council has put this camera is completely to make money and that's not acceptable. I didn't get into politics to rip people off. We are here to represent our communities.
"I'm behind the green agenda but there are ways of doing it, which is not by penalising motorists. My solution would be that the county council needs to stop this camera immediately and look at alternative arrangements.
"The bus lane, we don't have 24-hour buses, it's causing problems to the businesses and everyone else as well. We are in the middle of a pandemic but when life will hopefully go back to normal, when the Saints, the Cobblers are playing, then one lane cannot cope with the motorists.
"This area does have some pollution problems and if the motorists have to wait in a queue then that will create more air pollution, while the bus lane is completely empty."
According to the RAC's website, The Royal College of Physicians estimate 40,000 deaths a year in the UK are linked to air pollution, with engine idling contributing to this.
An RAC spokesman said: "Idling increases the amount of exhaust fumes in the air.
"These fumes contain a number of harmful gasses including carbon dioxide, which is bad for the environment and contributes towards climate change, as well as a range of other harmful gasses including nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons which are linked to asthma and other lung diseases."
The Mayor of Northampton, Councillor Brian Sergeant, also voiced his concerns on the issue, questioning whether it was right that Councillor Smithers, who represents Higham Ferrers, - which is 25 miles and 20 minutes away from the area - was involved in the decision making.
Councillor Sergeant said: "It's been brought in by a member of the Conservatives who doesn't live in the area. So how can a county councillor, who will not be part of this area in the next election, dictate what we have here? He was the man who tried to get a one-way system in Billing Road - never on your life, all the parties united and threw it out.
He also challenged Councillor Smithers to come down to the area on a bike or a car.
"I don't come into town through St James anymore, I go all the way around the town because it's quicker," he said.
"The enforcement camera is hidden. Who looks up there? Even the road signs are too high, they're alright if you're on horseback. The away fans for the rugby and football are going to get a ticket and never come here again - some cafe owners in St James make thousands on matchdays," he added.
Councillor Sergeant said he believed they were trying to drive people away from the town.
Mr Sergeant was asked for his thoughts on a solution for the bus lane.
He said: "Keep it as it was. Why should one brand of vehicle have preference over another? We all pay road tax, petrol, motorists can understand cycle lanes. It's not on. It should be kept as it was.
"I think they've [county council] got money to spend on things they don't really need."
Paul Clarke, Conservative candidate for Billing and Rectory Farm, said: "I actually got fined, which was the first I knew about this lane. I've walked the route now and the signs are quite far away from the camera.
"I've watched traffic when it's turning right into the BP Garage, that's when cars use the lane to prevent congestion and when the camera catches them.
"For all the years that I've used this bus lane, which has been here for about 20 years, I'm confused as to why or what reason there is to put a camera in that lane.
"Yeah great stuff for the buses but over the years there's never been issues with the lane. I just think, what has caused the county council to put the camera there? The only thing I can think of is it's a cash cow for them - is it something to pay for potholes?"
Mr Clarke said: "The right turn is the issue. Are they going to stop the right turn and take BP on? Has the councillor got the money to have that legal battle? No.
"I'm embarrassed to be a Tory when things like this happen. How do I campaign when people are questioning me about this council doing things like this? With decisions like this, I can't find any answers for residents."
Nigel Hinch, director of Ability Community Transport and who is a candidate for the Duston East ward this May, said: "We bring passengers from the South Northants area into the centre of Northampton to help the regeneration. Our problem now is that there is no need for the bus lane to be operational 24/7. All it needs to be is up to 9.30am, when the peak traffic is operating.
"The bus lane is also only on one side of the road so the traffic is nose to tail in both directions. The county council should have consulted more."
In response to the comments, Councillor Smithers said they were looking at an alternative place for the camera.
“The county council, as the highways authority, is committed to ensuring that the bus lane is unhindered for buses in order to promote public transport and active travel.
"Given the concerns about the location of the enforcement camera, we are looking to see whether there is a more suitable location. We continue to encourage motorists to abide by the rules of the road and not to drive in the bus lane.”