The application was made for an order under the Transport and Works Act 1992 and for deemed planning permission. The scheme aimed to provide a high quality, bus-based, public transport route linking a park and ride site to the southwest of the city with the central area of Bristol and its rail station. Buses would run partly within concrete guideways, partly on unguided sections of new route and partly on existing highways.
The inspector recorded that the scheme would be the first phase of a wider bus-based rapid transit system for the area. Its attraction to potential passengers would not rely on high speed but on the frequency, reliability and quality of service offered. These benefits would derive from the construction of a route which would be largely segregated from general traffic. The proposed levels of service and the quality of vehicles and infrastructure were critical factors in determining whether it would be successful, he reasoned. However, he found no reason to believe that the high standards of service envisaged would not be realised in practice.
The inspector observed that the scheme would be one element of a much wider strategy to address traffic congestion in the city which was a significant threat to its economic growth and air quality. He found that the likely effect on modal shift between private car and public transport in terms of trips to the city centre would be small and that improvements in public transport services were also a necessary prerequisite to ensure that attractive alternatives to the private car were readily available. Nonetheless, the environmental benefits of the scheme would include a reduction in greenhouse gases and the refurbishment of a number of heritage features along the route.
The inspector acknowledged that the proposal had given rise to a considerable amount of opposition. The most contentious area of impact would be on the harbourside. Nevertheless, he considered that whilst there would be an adverse effect on the character and appearance of the city docks conservation area, the harm caused to the significance of the heritage assets would be less than substantial.
The inspector concluded that the transportation and socio-economic benefits of the scheme clearly outweighed the harm that would be caused to heritage assets and the impacts which some residents and other users of the area would suffer. Overall, the secretary of state accepted the inspector’s conclusion that the case for making the order was compelling and in the public interest.
Inspector Christopher Millns; Inquiry