“Because they took your van off you”

At the time “Jessica”‘s story broke, I expected people in Peterborough who knew the gregarious and popular Cllr Andy Coles to experience shock and there has been a little of that. That is why I wrote about the sensation of falling which is how the shock of the allegations first affected me.

I have been too busy out and about campaigning to write much about this story but while I’ve been busy a great deal has happened. This post is an update and a pulling together of threads.

The council can’t do anything

Firstly in response to a number of points and questions I communicated to the council’s leader and chief executive officer, the council has explained its position with respect to removing an elected representative:

“The legal position is that all democratically elected councillors, are entitled as of right to attend all meetings of full council.  There is no power for officers or members to remove that right.”

So while “Jessica” believes that Coles should resign as a city councillor (and I wholeheartedly support her call) I don’t think that anybody can force that to happen. If Coles continues not to resign, it seems that he can’t be pushed.

His party won’t do anything

I believe that a decent political party would have suspended Coles already, pending clarification of his situation. However his party is the Conservative Party which is in power and which has been close to being in power for a century. It is an integral part of the establishment which has used the police to target over 1,000 organisations, including my own political party, my party’s only MP and my party’s only member of the House of Lords. This is why I personally have no expectations that the Conservative Party will even worry about behaving decently: that simply isn’t what the party or the British establishment is about. They are about power full stop. If they did suspend or expel him I would expect him to opt to remain in post as an independent councillor. This may be more of a worry to them than his remaining in post. The horrible question which then arises is where are the other 120 ex spy cops and how do their current networks, contacts, employments or appointments help to protect their secrets and abuses or those of others and to what extent and how might such arrangements be tolerated or even organised? Let’s not underestimate the usefulness of professional, political and cultural networks. Cllr Coles is one of the best connected people in Peterborough.

Three investigations are underway: none of which stop him talking

Back to fast moving present reality. There are now three investigations or cases ongoing. As far as I am aware none of these require Coles to maintain silence on the allegations:  his silence is entirely a matter of personal choice, not of contractual or legal obligation. I am as ever happy to be corrected.

1  A civil case is now underway at the Metropolitan Police Service’s Legal Directorate.

There have been rumours on social media of an out of court settlement. This gossip is not true.

2  “Jessica” has been admitted as a core participant into the Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI)

3  The Cambridgeshire Police & Crime Panel will consider the referral back from the IPCC

The Independent Police and Complaints Commission (IPCC soon to be IOPC) responded to a FOI request in the following terms:

IPCC FOI response IPCC Ref 1006605 received 7th August 2017

which at first glance looks as if the IPCC is not investigating and did not investigate. But if you check what the IPCC does and how it does it, it is perfectly possible that this interpretation is not quite correct. IPCC can supervise local investigations without actually doing them. This statement does not eliminate the possibility that it could be involved in supervising a Cambridgeshire Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (Cambridgeshire OPCC or here just OPCC) investigation which hasn’t started yet. As for regulations, here is something which may or may not help in understanding what they are and what will or won’t happen next.

In order to understand what has or hasn’t happened here, it would be necessary to see both referrals and to form a judgement about their sufficiency or otherwise. It would also be necessary to understand whether these referrals relate only to Coles’ behaviour while he was applying for or occupying the post of Cambridgeshire Deputy Police & Crime Commissioner (as I strongly suspect is the case).

Our local paper secured a different statement from the IPCC which explains how the Cambridgeshire OPCC intends to handle the referrals.

peterboroughtoday.co.uk/news/crime/crime-deputy-did-not-commit-offences-1-8088014

Meanwhile the local paper indicates that the Cambridgeshire OPCC has delegated the investigation to the Cambridgeshire Police & Crime Panel. This body meets next on 6th September. The agenda for that meeting is not yet online, but it should be available on the 1st at the latest.

We really do need to know what Coles’ motives were in going for the role of Deputy PCC and we need to know everything about who knew the whats and the whys about that appointment.

 

 

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Accounting for Rhubarb Bridge Decision

I have asked people why the council hadn’t gone all out to fund a replacement bridge as soon as it realised Rhubarb Bridge was suffering an unusual degree of decay. This would have made sense, especially since there are national funding pots for sustainable travel infrastructure, and this bridge might well have qualified.

I wrote a post about the stakeholder event, at which my question did not receive an answer.

Since then I have I received one really useful reply. My interlocutor pointed out to me that the money for repairs and maintenance comes out of the Revenue pot at the council. Revenue is for running costs, costs which recur year after year. The money for the an surface roundabout or for a replacement bridge would come out of the Capital pot. Capital is for one off costs, for buying or building assets such as buildings and infrastructure.

This made me think. Pressure on the Revenue pot is extreme. And it might be this extreme funding pressure which is leading to a decision not to maintain. If it replaces an an annual maintenance bill with a one off capital bill (with arguably a smaller ongoing maintenance cost), it will be relieving pressure on the funds which are needed to look after people in extreme need.

Funding pressures on local government affect their Revenue funding primarily. Pressure on capital funding is not as bad. Revenue funds are used to fund social care, road repairs and waste disposal. It is this funding stream which is under impossible strains as central government imposes its Austerity measures and renders all our services less and less able to cope. So all local authorities have to balance roads and waste against social care. It is quite clearly insane, but until we sack the government as we are entitled to do at each general election, there is no sign of a change in this wicked situation. And local authority roads get a small fraction of the maintenance money which Highways England gets to maintain trunk roads. Unfortunately Rhubarb Bridge does not belong to Highways England. It belongs to the council.

This leaves a number of items which haven’t been accounted for: lets call them uncounted elephants in the room:

  • The likely cost of accidents at an at surface crossing. It is clear that this has not been factored in. There is clearly an increased risk of impacts on emergency, hospital and care services budgets.
  • The impact of being at ground level at an air pollution hot spot on all pedestrian and cyclists using the route. The higher you are the less likely you are to be inhaling high concentrates of particulates. The closer you are the more certain it is. In pushchairs children are face to face with exhaust pipes and this is just one reason (of many) why parents pop them in what seems to be the safer environment of a car.
  • The at surface crossing will result in cyclists taking to the road, rather than wait.
  • The at surface crossing will result in people getting into a car in preference to walking with a pram or pushchair.

And it leaves my original question standing: why the council hasn’t tried to get hold of (let us add “capital”) funding to rebuild the bridge – if it is beyond economic repair?

Rhubarb Bridge Stakeholder Event

An event for councillors and stakeholders was held last week in the Town Hall. A similar public event is scheduled to be held next week. I would recommend people living near the bridge or using it regularly go if they possibly can.

I am a member of Peterborough Cycling Forum (PCF) (one of the council’s stakeholders), which has put the council’s event on facebook. Quite a few PCF members turned up and three or four councillors also popped in while I was there.

Background

Which bridge? Rhubarb Bridge is the popular (but strictly incorrect) name of a cycle and pedestrian up and over bridge at the junction of the A15 (Lincoln Road – Bourges Boulevard) with the A47. The name is taken from a bridge which has long since gone. It went over a railway and had rhubarb growing on its embankment. The council calls it J18.

The council had claimed that the bridge needed to be demolished because it was no longer viable to continue to repair and maintain it: it had reached the end of its life. My overriding concern was to establish whether or not this was fair: I’d not spotted problems with the structure, so I was sceptical. The council’s structural engineer attended.

The bridge is a complex structure with four ways up onto a wider part of the bridge, which dips down a little into a tunnel under the A47. So it is both a bridge over Bourges Boulevard but also a tunnel under the A47. The council thinks of it as six bridges, two, the wider bits extending out from the tunnel, and the four, each of the four “legs” down.

At the event we were shown photographs of the bridge showing its condition. These will be published online on Wednesday 9th along with all the other planning documents we saw. These were a map, a description of the problems presented by the bridge and how the council proposes to deal with them, and the photographs. There is also a movement model, showing how traffic will be held at crossings and how it will flow once there are four lanes leading into some of the stop points. Extra lanes will be added to the A47 slip road from the east, and to the junction with the Lincoln Road coming from the north, so four lanes of traffic will queue at each of these two sets of traffic lights.

So this is what we now know (things we don’t know are in bold)

The bridge was constructed in 1975.

At PCF’s last meeting we were told that there is nothing structurally wrong with the tunnel under the A47. This is very important, because it means it could be incorporated into a new design. We were told that once the bridge structures are demolished, the tunnel will be closed off and filled with foam. You can see pictures of the tunnel under the A47 here. You can see that the tunnel is neglected decoratively, so it is good to know that at least it is structurally sound.

The bridge structure requires repair and maintenance costing £60,000 a year to keep it safe for use.

I asked why since so many of the city’s bridges have been capable of repair, this particular one isn’t. The answer I was given is that the structure is more delicate than most of Peterborough’s repaired and mostly road over road bridges, meaning that any internal problems will be closer to the surface and integrity is less likely in the absence of sheer size and bulk. Relatively speaking, it is an elegant structure.

The bridge is made of a number of elements formed of reinforced concrete with tensioned steel at their heart. Some of these support the weight of a span and some of them are the spans.

If for example you need to repair or even replace a stanchion (a supporting pillar), you might not be able to lift the span resting on it without first repairing the span itself. This is complicated and the council argues more expensive than can be justified.

I’m not going to comment on the state of the bridge, except to say that I am no longer confident that it is structurally sound. My impression is that there were some basic concrete mixing failures when it was originally constructed. It is a huge shame, because it is a nice bridge. The pictures are worrying, although they don’t give a complete picture of the state of the whole bridge and you’d need to be a bridge expert to quantify the risk.

The problem areas have been repaired and wrapped in Kevlar, so those pictured here will not be visible. I asked what would happen if you unwrapped the Kevlar and was told the concrete might very well come off too.

However we have not seen itemised maintenance and repair expenditure on the bridge to date or estimated future costs for this.

The council argues that if it was to proceed and maintain this bridge at high cost, a route through for cyclists and pedestrians would have to be provided while works were underway.

The route through at ground level is essentially what the council’s proposal is and what is proposed could stay there while work was undertaken on the bridge, whether the bridge was repaired, or the bridge was replaced.

The proposal includes a route which goes all the way round the central island which holds up the A47. This means that during future bridge works, people could be diverted away from whichever section was being worked on by simply being sent the other way round the centre.

This central ring is partly shared use & 3wide which means cyclists don’t have to dismount and a smaller part, on the eastern side which is much narrower, which will require dismounting (designing in conflict, in other words).

If the bridge could be repaired, it could be kept much as it is. The existing bridge is marked, though faintly, on the plan.

If the bridge was replaced with a new bridge, then it would have to meet current standards and specifically its ramps would have to be a lot shallower and therefore longer than they now are. So a ramp which meets the ground now, might have to go an awful lot further in a new design and there might be a road junction just where it is almost at ground level…..

Skanska has prepared a number of options for a replacement bridge, but these were not presented at the event.

The council’s £30M replacement figure has been arrived at by an accounting formula. It is not based on the Skanska designs, which may not have been costed.

What we don’t know is:

The significance and heritage value of this structure. It has been described as a very early “Dutch roundabout”. Peterborough doesn’t sing the praises of the development corporation which put much of its road infrastructure on the map. The mini roundabout was born in Peterborough. We demolished that. At grade separation of cyclists and pedestrians was pioneered here and this bridge is part of that revolution in road design. Now we are changing the original plan and working to lower speeds on the very roads whose high speeds were once seen as their selling points. This roundabout is where old meets new. One thing is certain: cyclists (and I am guessing pedestrians also) don’t want to be at ground level at this particular point in the city! Is Peterborough going to let the Dutch get all the glory for cycling infrastructure or will it assert the value and interest of having once tried to get things right for cyclists?

Why the council has not planned in a replacement bridge and applied for funding for it, possibly as part of its sustainable travel spend. I’d missed it, but apparently this bridge was on the list of things which needed tackling two – or maybe more – years ago.

How long the bridge could stay in place as is (i.e. what leeway there is to postpone demolition).

Fulbridge Road Cycle & Pedestrian Bridge

I attended an event last Thursday which was about Rhubarb Bridge, but before I post anything about that, this is just a little news about the next bridge over the A47 going east (towards Wisbech). This bridge is on Highways England’s list of repairs and should be getting some much needed attention very soon. I hope it isn’t closed for long. It is certainly not planned for demolition. It is a useful bridge enabling cyclists and pedestrians to shortcircuit (North /South) one of Peterborough’s oddest and most confusing roundabouts over and onto the A47 (as it goes East/West).