Weston’s MP has condemned North Somerset Council’s reply to cross-party proposals for solving traffic jams on the M5.
John Penrose wrote to the council suggesting proposals which also included a new section of green belt to protect rural villages from urban sprawl.
The proposals were part of a cross-party letter sent by Mr Penrose with Liberal Democrat councillor Patrick Keating to the council asking for them to be included in its new local plan, which will decide the future of transport, housing and green spaces. Its previous plan was thrown out last year by planning inspectors.
Mr Penrose said: “I’m afraid the council is badly out of touch with residents about this. It needs to think again so its new local plan doesn’t make the same mistakes as the last one.
“The idea that the M5 traffic jams will be solved by a bit more public transport is sweet but completely naive. What about commuters who don’t work near a train station in Bristol, so they have to go by car? What about the tourists, not just visiting Weston but on their way past to Devon and Cornwall, too, who create huge tailbacks every weekend?
“The M5 has been a problem for years and we can’t just let the council stick its head in the sand; they’ve got to face it squarely. It isn’t a question of ‘either public transport or a better M5’ – the new plan has to have both. The same thing goes for this short-sighted refusal to create new green belt, too. Without it, the council is clearing the way for thousands more houses that will turn villages into towns and choke local roads with traffic, too.”
The council’s executive member for transport, James Tonkin, replied to the cross-party letter.
Cllr Tonkin said: “I am disappointed that John Penrose felt my response to his letter with Patrick Keating was ‘dismissive’. We are working on a new plan with no preconceived ideas.
“It is very important for the plan-making process to start with an open mind, understand what the evidence is telling us and respond to the needs of local people. This includes how traffic is flowing and the future sustainability of our area.
“However, we are faced with more than these two challenges. As well as considering traffic and green belt we must also look at providing the right number of homes for future generations, our duty to respond to climate change to protect our planet from irreversible harm, making sure there are enough local jobs and skilled people to carry them out, developing real communities with the right level of supporting infrastructure, and protecting the character of our rural and urban areas.
“Each of these cannot be taken in isolation and they are made more complicated by the significant housing targets imposed on us by government, which we have written to the Secretary of State to challenge, and the large amounts of North Somerset that are at risk from flooding or are already designated as green belt or an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
“This is why we launched the first stage of our local plan consultation on Wednesday to help us better understand these challenges. This will be followed in the autumn with a chance to look at the choices we then have to make.
“We are asking everyone in North Somerset to get involved to have their say on the future of North Somerset and I look forward to John and Patrick joining with the businesses, organisations and individuals to be part of the consultation later this month.”
Cllr Keating said: “I look forward to sharing my views on how we can best protect our rural communities in the upcoming consultation on the local plan, which launches next week.
“I would encourage all North Somerset residents to share their views on the challenges and housing pressures facing our area. I also support the council’s recent call on government to reconsider the housing targets set for the district under the local planning process.
“If we want to protect our fantastic natural environment, protect the character of our rural villages and deliver homes in the right places and in the right way, a key start is to get the housing target right.
“The government needs to change its approach and ensure that housing targets meet the reality of local need.”