Devon County Council has announced “enhancements” which it claims will “mitigate the impact” of the South West Exeter extension on the residents of Alphington village, through which much of the traffic the development is expected to generate will pass.
The changes, which constitute the widening of short sections of pavement and installation of a zebra crossing (or possibly two, “subject to funding availability”) are to be made following a public consultation which ended in January.
The consultation’s design produced ambiguous results which enabled a wide range of interpretations, as the county council demonstrated in deriving its conclusions from the data.
It also made no attempt to compensate for the dominance of older respondents by weighting consultation responses to be more representative or address the fact that younger people will spend much longer living with the consequences of the minor changes it intends to make.
The cost of the changes will be met from a £55.14 million grant from the national Housing Infrastructure Fund for South West Exeter extension infrastructure spending.
The county council allocated just 1% of its bid for this money to Alphington traffic impact mitigation: £500,000.
It has not increased this allocation despite more than £3 million of the original budget having since become available for other uses and the failure of the South West Exeter extension district heating network scheme to which it had allocated another £5.3 million.
75% of the Housing Infrastructure Fund grant, more than £41 million, was to be spent on new roads or increasing the vehicle capacity of existing roads in the area.
The development is expected to mean more than 3,500 additional motor vehicles using the Alphington corridor to drive into and through Exeter when it is complete.
The predominantly greenfield 90 hectare South West Exeter extension site stretches from Alphington to the M5 with the A379 dividing it in two.
The development will be larger than Exminster and will include 2,500 new homes, a school for 1,400 pupils, shops and other facilities.
It is an extension of Exeter’s suburbs, although 80% of the housing will sit in the neighbouring Teignbridge district.
Employment land is also allocated nearby, where Global City Futures, Exeter City Futures’ parent company, and LDA Design, which is partly responsible for the city council’s Liveable Exeter property development scheme, are part of a consortium building a 60 acre business park.
Planned housing at the development is characterised by low density layouts with multi-car parking spaces or garages and driveways, and there is nothing in the city council’s South West Alphington development brief or the Teigbbridge Local Plan to prevent this continuing.
In many cases pavements are not provided and developer marketing materials promote car use, including driving to local schools and “easy access to the A30, A38 and M5”.
There are already more than 25,000 motor vehicle movements a day along Alphington Street, and further major housing developments are expected alongside the South West Exeter extension, on the other side of the A30, which will also rely on the Alphington corridor to access Exeter.
Alphington village traffic impact mitigation measures were initially proposed in 2014, following the publication of the South West Exeter development masterplan.
They were included in the South West Alphington development brief, which forms part of the city’s planning policy framework.
It describes their purpose as the enforcement of a 20mph speed limit through the village.
The measures ran from Alphin Brook roundabout along the length of Church Road and on to the Chudleigh Road double mini roundabout.
They included extensive pavement widening and three raised zebra crossings, two at the St Michael’s and All Angels Church triangle and another beside the double mini roundabout.
The county council said they were aimed at “improving the public realm in Alphington, supporting walking and cycling and discouraging through traffic”.
It confirmed that the scheme’s aims remained the same late last year when it launched a public consultation to revisit the proposals.
However the consultation that took place introduced revised proposals with reduced scope and scale which divided the original scheme into three sections and presented each as separate locations for “potential public realm enhancements” .
Three options were offered at each location, with consultation respondents invited to rank each option at each location in preference order, as well as ranking each location in preference order on the basis “funding may not cover all the work identified”.
Two of the options at two of the locations included similar proposals, skewing the results.
Preference-ranking proportional representation voting systems only function correctly when the choices on offer are discrete: overlapping options make their results unrepresentative.
The county council also said elements of the options it offered could be “removed or swapped to allow for other proposals to come forward”, although it didn’t make clear whether this meant it would consider consultee proposals or simply that it might decide to change its proposals again.
Instead of simply reproducing response preference numbers in its consultation results report, as it did with age group bandings, the county council converted them into percentages.
Not only did this introduce rounding that did not accurately convey close margins between preferences with similar levels of support, it also disguised the fact that not all respondents ranked all options.
As the county council did not say how many respondents fell into this group, or whether some ranked only one and others two or three options, its use of percentages may misrepresent the results altogether.
The county council nevertheless went further, adopting highly selective result interpretation methods.
The largest number of first preferences were cast in favour of no change at Alphin Brook roundabout. The county council instead emphasised that “installation of a zebra crossing was included in the first choice of 60% of the respondents”.
It derived this figure by adding together first choice preferences for options two and three, which it described as respondents “choosing” these options, thus counting preferences for the same zebra crossing installation twice.
It apparently nevertheless did not consider there to be any significance in option two gaining 75% second preference support in addition to 20% first preference support.
Does this mean option two was more or less popular overall than options one or three, which gained 41% and 40% first preference support (notwithstanding rounding errors) but only 12% second preference support?
And how might our conclusions differ with the knowledge that not all respondents ranked all options?
The county council’s approach to the Church triangle results was similar. Here it emphasised that 59% of respondents least preferred option three.
If it thinks the largest share of third preference votes was decisive at the Church triangle, then why not also so at Alphin Brook roundabout?
It was at least consistent in ignoring the support for option two conveyed by 95% of respondents again choosing it as their first or second preference.
At Chudleigh Road it changed its tune again, this time emphasising that the most popular first choice was no change.
Here, however, it noted that 62% chose option two as their second preference. This is 13% less than the second choice preference share at the other locations, and the first choice preference share for option two at Chudleigh Road was also lower.
It further failed to explain what it made of the largest share of third preference votes going to the same option that received the largest share of first preference votes.
Does the county council think this makes this option the most popular while simultaneously disqualifying it?
At least the county council acknowledged that the location options results were more decisive, with Alphin Brook roundabout most preferred and Chudleigh Road least.
However it still found that as Chudleigh Road “did have some support” both options two and three might be progressed there. It would definitely make no changes at Church triangle, though.
It also concluded that the public had chosen option three at Alphin Brook roundabout, which it said was supported by “the majority of the responses” despite the data.
It said it derived these conclusions on the basis that the “main aim of the consultation was to identify a deliverable scheme using funding secured from development in the area”.
This was not what the consultation documents said. They described its aims as the improvement of public realm, providing support for walking and cycling and discouraging through traffic.
Despite the largest share of first preferences at all three locations favouring no change, the county council then announced public support for its proposals.
The county council also said it had relied on additional comments and suggestions from consultation respondents for its verdict.
These comments were dominated by support for traffic speed limit enforcement and speed reduction interventions as well as improved active and sustainable travel facilities including modal filters and cycle lanes.
Exeter Cycling Campaign urged the county council to employ a “high raised table and a sharp approach gradient” at all zebra crossings.
Alphington Village Forum pointed out that without such speed table construction, zebra crossings only help slow traffic when they are in use, and emphasised that the county council had already said it would include raised crossings in its original scheme.
It added that it did not understand why the county council had reduced the scope of its plans, which had been drawn up after extensive consultation, especially since “traffic has already increased over the last seven years” leading to roads being “frequently grid-locked”.
It said traffic should be slowed down along the whole length of Church Road, Chudleigh Road, Dawlish Road and Ide Lane as far as the school, instead of just in the centre of the village, adding: “several of these roads are really dangerous.”
It described the consultation as “undemocratic”, with “no transparency”, and offered extensive criticism of the revised proposals, pointing out that the county council intends to widen the wrong pavements, based on footfall, and is not addressing prominent pedestrian safety issues such as places where wheelchair users are forced into the road.
It said: “What is needed most of all is enforcement of the 20mph speed limits throughout the village”.
The consultation also found that many respondents supported traffic reduction in Ide Lane and in the vicinity of Alphington Primary School.
Alphington Village Forum described this as “another dangerous area” where “hundreds of primary school children walk and cycle every day during term-time”.
It also observed that it “would be easy to put a cycle lane in Dawlish Road leading to Clapperbrook Lane, but this road has been ignored.”
Exeter Cycling Campaign pointed out that the consultation did not address the South West Exeter Masterplan commitment to designating Dawlish Road as a Green Lane.
It warned that without a modal filter Dawlish Road would become “a heavily-trafficked route to and from the South West Exeter development”.
The county council did not, however, mention the masterplan or propose to do anything about traffic in Ide Lane, introduce any speed limit enforcement in the area or deliver any cycling infrastructure at all.
It nevertheless said, despite providing no supporting evidence, that “the measures to be introduced are expected to limit vehicle speeds, helping to encourage cycling”.
It added that it would carry out “investigations into the potential” to raise zebra crossings, but warned that it would take into account “any potential negative impacts such as noise”.
While the minor changes the county council intends to make will provide limited additional support for walking, they do nothing to support cycling or discourage through traffic in Alphington village.
And the conclusions it derived from the public consultation are not subject to discussion: the consultation results were published last week but the decision was signed off by the county council cabinet two months ago, in April.
The county council even had the temerity to suggest that the changes it intends to make will contribute to climate crisis mitigation on the basis it “will enable access to facilities through sustainable [travel] modes”.
It also claimed that South West Exeter extension infrastructure “does not induce the creation [of] any more carbon long term” as there will be “no significant enhancements to highway capacity that will encourage more car travel”.
Exeter Cycling Campaign said it was “disappointed that the current proposals lack ambition and will do little to actually deliver the aims of reducing vehicle speeds” while “still prioritising cars”.
It challenged the county council to explain exactly how it expects South West Exeter extension residents to travel into Exeter when driving, adding that the development “will materially increase the volume of journeys and risks significantly increasing car traffic through Alphington unless meaningful measures are taken.”
As another observer pithily summed it up: “Somewhere between disappointing and awful — if this is the answer then Devon County Council is very lost indeed.”