Venue: Room B12, Civic Centre, Home Gardens, Dartford, Kent, DA1 1DR
Contact: Email: email@example.com
Apologies for Absence.
Apologies for absence were submitted on behalf of Councillor Ben Moussa and KCC Members Kite, Cole and Sandhu.
In the absence of the Chairman, the Vice-Chairman, Councillor Brian Garden assumed control of proceedings and welcomed all Board Members to the meeting, including a special welcome to Councillor Lesley Howes who was attending her first Board meeting as Dartford Parish’s Representative.
He noted the remote participation of representatives of SE Trains and the KCC Area Manager for Dartford, and thanked the KCC Transport Manager for Dartford and the KCC Head of Transport for attending in person.
Declarations of Interest
To receive declarations of interest from Members including the terms(s) of the Grant of Dispensation (if any).
There were no declarations of interest.
That the minutes of the meeting 20 September 2022 be confirmed as an accurate record of those proceedings.
The Chairman will announce his decision as to whether there are any urgent items and their position on the agenda.
The Acting Chairman confirmed that there were no urgent items for the Board to consider.
References from other Committees (if any)
There were no references from other Committees for the Board to consider.
The Acting Chairman advised that he had no specific matters to bring to Members’ attention.
Presentation from South East Trains
Members received a comprehensive PowerPoint presentation [remotely via Teams] from the SE Trains Operations & Safety Director, Mr Scott Brightwell, entitled ‘Responding to changes in how People Travel’, which explained the background to, and policy criteria for, the company’s new December 2022 Timetable.
The presentation covered the following key areas:
OVERVIEW & PASSENGER NUMBERS Dec. 2019 v Dec. 2022
· SE Trains are now a public (not for dividend) company, which operates on a subsidy of some £300M+ per annum from the Department for Transport (DfT);
· Passenger travel patterns had been changing fundamentally for a number of years due to increased working from home/hybrid policies in both the public and private sectors, the COVID Pandemic had accelerated that growing trend in working practices;
· From December 2019 (pre-Pandemic) Monday & Friday passenger peak-time travel had fallen by 42% to December 2022, with peak-time travel on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays down 30% from 2019;
· Season ticket journeys were down by 66% resulting in a £150M revenue loss overall;
· First Class seats had been removed from 1 December 2022 to increase capacity by 60 seats per journey;
· SE’s aim was to run a flatter all-day service, with extra trains run during peak times to meet current demand, with all off-peak passengers normally expected to get a seat.
SOUTH EAST TIMETABLES
· Since March 2020 SE Trains had changed its timetable 15 times and the December 2022 edition was not the final timetable for the region;
· SE Trains had developed the latest timetable with Network Rail earlier in the year with the agreement of the DfT, who had granted the company a derogation not to consult passenger bodies, given the fluctuating passenger demand and the need to deliver changes to the existing service as quickly as possible;
· In the continuing passenger climate post-COVID, consultation would have been disingenuous without the time to assess that input, whilst meeting bidding deadlines to protect the integrity of the rail industry’s planning processes;
· However, SE Trains recognised the importance of understanding the experience and views of its customers and their concerns, and were committed to incorporating that feedback into future timetable changes where appropriate, and Government funding allowed;
· The new December timetable had saved the taxpayer an estimated £10M per annum.
· Punctuality & reliability remained customers’ top priorities and the drivers for overall passenger satisfaction, as highlighted by numerous surveys over recent years including those undertaken by Transport Focus [52%];
· SE’s new December 2022 timetable had been designed to improve both performance and the company’s ability to recover from disruption [12% of passengers surveyed had highlighted the importance of dealing with delays];
· Other significant areas of passenger concern were Cleanliness/Upkeep [12% surveyed] and Security [9% surveyed].
CHANGES IN CUSTOMER DEMAND
The opening of the Elizabeth Line in May 2022 had been a major ‘gamechanger’ for passengers with easy access to the new service, whose popularity has significantly reduced demand for SE services on the Bexleyheath, Sidcup and Woolwich Lines by between 40 -43%.
Key stats for the Elizabeth Line (EL) since ... view the full minutes text for item 33.
To receive an update from Mr Shane Hymers, KCC Transport Manager.
Members received a verbal update from the KCC Transport Manager for Dartford, Mr Shane Hymers, which included the following key points:
· Fastrack passenger numbers were back up to pre-Pandemic levels;
· The tender process for the new electric bus fleet had commenced with 5 operators in the bidding process which was due to close mid-January 2023 with the contract awarded in late February/early March 2023;
· Building the new electric buses and constructing any necessary infrastructure requirements was estimated to take a further at 12 months, with the new electric service projected to start on 30/31 March 2024;
· The new electric fleet would have electronic wheelchair access via the central door [enabling the driver to remain in the cab], with two reserved wheelchair spaces, the second on a hybrid basis with buggies/electric scooters;
· The new Fastrack B timetable had commenced 2 days previously and would need time to bed-in before being objectively assessed. All vehicles were now in a consistent Arriva livery and had benefitted from some refurbishment. The drivers pay dispute had been resolved with a new pay agreement now in place. Should there be a change of operator [post-March 2023],drivers pay and conditions would be protected under TUPE arrangements;
· Existing Fastrack A service which currently terminates at Bluewater would, in time, be extended to Gravesend;
· A new Fastrack E service will interchange with Fastrack B at Ebbsfleet International station.
The Chairman welcomed the new developments and proposed that performance against the new Fastrack B service be reviewed by the Board at its next meeting in March 2023.
Update on Changes to Local Bus Services
To receive an update from Mr Phil Lightowler, Head of Public Transport, KCC
Members received a wide-ranging update from the KCC Head of Transport, Mr Phil Lightowler, which emphasised the following key policy points which continued to govern local bus services in Kent and across England:
· The COVID Pandemic and aftermath continued to impact adversely on bus passenger numbers with off-peak numbers ranging from 58-63% of pre-Pandemic levels, peak travel numbers were better at between 80-85% of pre-pandemic levels;
· There was a national shortage of bus drivers of some 13-16% as a result of the Pandemic and Brexit prior to that when many EU drivers returned to Europe;
· All operators were struggling despite the Government’s COVID subsidy to the industry which would be ending soon;
· The war in Ukraine continued to impact adversely on fuel prices [and vehicle parts produced in Ukraine], which allied to the recent driver pay award [10-14%], all contributed to push-up operating costs;
· KCC continued to be budget-challenged on an annual as a result of the continued shortfall in Government funding to local authorities, and had been forced to reduce or withdraw supported services on lightly used rural routes. Some independent operators had also been forced to make cuts to their routes, resulting in some 110 changes in total by KCC and commercial operators across the County as a whole. Once the Ukraine Crisis was resolved, and major cost centres re-assessed, KCC intended to issue a new Bus Plan for the county;
· KCC’s decision to cut the 474/475 services had been as a result of those major external factors, but it was hoped that a ‘Dartford Rural Flyer’ option [to link rural Dartford residents to existing Fastrack services], might be possible in the short to medium term, following discussions with the Council Leader and the identification of necessary funding.
In response to subsequent questions from Members the KCC Head of Transport confirmed the following principal points:
· The 1985 Transport Act and the wide-spread privatisation of bus services that had ensued, held the historical key to the current fiscal shortfalls for bus services nation-wide. Under the Act, private operators were not permitted to cross-subsidise less profitable routes, leaving local authorities to fill the fiscal gap to retain those services. However, the Pandemic, and more recently the war in Ukraine, had left KCC and many other local authorities across England increasingly budget challenged, and unable to provide the historic fiscal ‘back-stop’ to sustain under-used and non-profitable services;
· The Pandemic had lasted much longer than initially envisaged and budgeted for by local authorities. Extra cleaning/sanitising, driver shortages and lower passenger numbers (initially imposed to meet Government distancing requirements), had lasted for 2 years rather the anticipated 2 months. It was estimated that the full fiscal consequences of the Pandemic would take a further 18-24 months to completely feed through local government finances;
· The Government were undertaking a review of multi-ticketing proposals;
· Transport for London (TfL) were responsible for the 492 and 428 services and historically, were not open to consultation over proposed changes to their bus routes with affected local authorities outside ... view the full minutes text for item 35.
To receive an update from Mr Kevin Gore, KCC District Manager
The Acting Chairman advised Members that the ‘Dartford Extract’ of the current KCC Forward Works Programme (FWP) for Years 2022/23 and 2023/24 [pages 34-40 refer], distributed by the Clerk prior to proceedings, would be updated for future Board meetings on a rolling basis.
Mr. Kevin Gore, KCC District Manager (Roads) for Dartford & Gravesham [attending remotely via Teams], confirmed the following points for Members:
· KCC proposed to start a few new work schemes in Dartford in January and February 2023 with Dartford & Gravesham currently the busiest District in Kent for road repairs;
· Members could propose new works for the current Plan by contacting Kevin Gore as the District Manager;
· KCC continued to have significant issues with Thames Water over ongoing repair works by the company, which continued to cause significant disruption to traffic flow in many areas. KCC were visiting all current Thames Water repair sites to ensure the company was undertaking agreed scheduled works in a timely fashion;
· Tree planting and greening of road works area was scheduled for the Winter of 2023;
· KCC was Winter ready for 2022/23 with gritting lorries due to commence operations on 7 December;
· Members wishing to monitor ongoing works via KCC’s on-line tracker app. should contact him in the first instance with as many specific details as possible, and he would take matters forward with the new KCC Tracking Team;
· KCC’s Road Steward’s Team for Dartford & Gravesham had undergone some staff changes, with 3 of the 4 Officers newly appointed. Mr Gore would provide updated contact details for Councillors in the New Year for distribution by the Clerk to County, Borough and Parish Members.
The Acting Chairman thanked Mr Gore for his remote attendance and responding to Members’ concerns.
Moving Traffic Offences - New KCC Powers
The Acting Chairman updated Members following his attendance at the last Fastrack Advisory Board.
He advised that KCC now had delegated authority from Government to impose fines for recorded traffic offences following the installation of CCTV cameras at strategic hot-spots. The back office arrangements for monitoring the cameras and issuing the fines remained to be resolved, with a tender for the work now issued, with the hope of awarding a contract in the next 6 (six) months.
Lower Thames Crossing Update
Members received a verbal update from the Council’s Principal Transport Planner (PTP).
He reprised the background to the national infrastructure project (NIP) for Members, which had first been the subject of a DCO (Development Control Order) in 2020. Following several rounds of consultations with and objections from affected communities, the original DCO had been withdrawn and re-submitted on 31 October 2022, and had now been accepted for examination by the Planning Inspectorate (PI).
That process was currently at the pre-examination phase where the PI appoint the Examining Authority (EA), likely to consist of a Panel of 3 (three) Inspectors to conduct the examination of the DCO application. This was presently scheduled to commence in May 2023 with a recommendation to the Secretary of State for Transport in September 2023 and his/her decision expected by June 2024 for construction work to begin.
Construction was likely to take a further 5-6 years and when completed, the Lower Thames Crossing was expected to reduce existing traffic levels at the Dartford Crossing by 21%.
Members thanked the PTP for his verbal update.
Parking Schemes Update
Members received a verbal update from the Principal Transport Planner (PTP) on the following Parking Schemes:
Ingress Park: The 8 (eight) locations for double yellow lines agreed by the Ward Councillors had been subject to a statutory consultation with residents in October with more expressions of support for the proposed scheme than objections. The proposed Scheme had been supported by the Waste & Parks Manager given the waste collection impact for the Council’s contractor, and would be implemented by Officers under delegated authority by mid to late January 2023, following a final statutory consultation with affected households. Ward Members present expressed their thanks to Officers;
Lowfield Street: The new scheme incorporating double yellow lines and some parking bays would be implemented and become operational from 16 December 2022 to help address continued inconsiderate parking by motorists;
Lower Hythe Street: This area would also become a restricted parking zone from 16 December [subject to KCC approval to erect signage] for Monday-Friday between the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Further measures being implemented/under consideration included; double yellow lines in Robinson Way because of inconsiderate parking preventing deliveries to the SEN school. Also double yellow lines were to be introduced in Oakwood Close [from 16/12/22] to address access issues being experienced by refuse vehicle drivers. Other measures included a new disabled bay in in Henderson Drive and amendments to disabled bays in Keary Road and Shaftesbury Lane. A final measure was the provision of double yellow lines in Hilltop Gardens
In response to specific questions from Members, the PTP confirmed the following additional points:
· The provision of more Enforcement Officers to enforce the increased parking restrictions in the Borough will be discussed with the EARS/CSU Manager;
· Extending current parking restrictions in the Town Centre, New Town and West Hill areas would be considered as part of the Parking Study, once all data had been gathered, reviewed and assessed. Due to the depth of analysis work involved, the use of external specialist consultants was being considered. The data (once collected and analysed), would help to determine what design of parking scheme(s) might be applied to the different areas, in consultation with residents and the major consideration of displacement which any identified scheme could cause if implemented. Officers hoped to present an initial report to Cabinet in February or March 2023 with recommendations for a consistent approach to all three affected areas.
The PTP undertook to consider with senior management, a Member request that the residents of Anne of Cleves Road be further consulted on the outcome of the last Parking Consultation study for the West Hill area together with the results of previous surveys, for any further comments/views residents might have.
A Members also asked whether Ward Councillors could receive a short written update from the PTP [distributed via the Board Clerk] between the quarterly Board meetings, to enable Members to update residents regarding ongoing parking concerns.
Members expressed their appreciation for the PTP’s verbal update.
Members Enquiry Items
Members have the opportunity to raise matters that remain unresolved with KCC at the Ward level.
Councillor Grehan advised Members that in tandem with the PTP, she was in discussion with KCC over increased security railings for the bridges on London Road and Watling Street which overlooked the M25.
For Members information the following KCC document is attached:
§ Environment & Transport Cabinet Committee Minutes of 8 September 2022.
NB: If a Member wishes to discuss any of these items at the meeting, please advise the Member Services Section (01322) 343251 prior to the meeting.
The Board noted the contents of the minutes of the KCC Environment & Transport Cabinet Committee held on 8 September 2022.