Maladministration or was it a crime?
Dear Sir, — As Richard Hamilton observed last week, the Sandbach VISSIM transport study is a scandal.
This saga has done real damage to Sandbach residents as a result of the worsening traffic congestion and continued poor air quality.
The only way to lance this long-running boil is to have a full independent investigation of this whole sorry tale.
The legal opinion, no doubt obtained at great cost to Cheshire East taxpayers, presented recently to Sandbach Town Council, is of little value, as the “facts” on which it is based are those that continue to be put out by Cheshire East.
The legal opinion contends that the report “error” on the level of traffic growth was only a reporting error, not in the actual study itself.
Mr Hamilton makes the cogent point that if this is only a reporting error, why has the study been shelved, wasting the investment made in developing it? The reason in my opinion is quite clear — it is to hide the evidence of what has been done.
However, what Cheshire East has failed to explain is why, if the traffic growth figure was just a reporting error, the figures in the VISSIM report, in particular in tables on the number of vehicles modelled, are also consistent with a traffic growth of 6-7%, not 20%.
It was my letter to Cheshire East in November 2018 that pointed this out, and eventually received a reply in January 2019 conceding there had been a “spreadsheet error”. We are still waiting for Cheshire East to explain this “consistency” — another “spreadsheet error”? The traffic growth figure is by no means the only thing wrong with the Sandbach VISSIM transport study.
These wrongs were perpetrated in 2015 and 2016 and have been covered up ever since. An independent investigation into possible maladministration, or even criminal activity, is long overdue. — Yours faithfully,
Mr Whitworth has experience in mathematical modelling in other fields. Mr Hamilton is a chartered engineer and worked as a highways engineer for a local authority (not Cheshire East) for over 37 years.
In a letter to Cheshire East that he attached with this letter, Mr Whitworth alleged that the VISSIM model had served its purpose by enabling the local plan examiner to accept the plan and the site allocation CS24 (Capricorn) site, saying it would not cause severe impact on the local road network.
He admitted that “the fact that the only model purpose was to justify CS24 was hotly disputed at a ... 2018 meeting” but wrote: “The fact that the model has been withdrawn from service is significant. This would not have been done if Cheshire East did not implicitly accept third party views that the model is not fit for purpose. As a result, it’s only use has been to support the development of the Capricorn site (CS24) and the ability of the A533/4 corridor to adequately cope with committed and background traffic in the local plan examination.
“The fact that Cheshire East continues to avoid answering direct questions on … the levels of traffic growth used in the model runs that were reported in the Sandbach VISSIM model report appears highly suspicious, and smacks of a cover-up.”
He said a letter from the Planning Inspectorate stated: “... speaking generally, a deliberate attempt to mislead an inspector could indeed amount to a criminal offence. You may wish to seek independent advice.”
In response, Cheshire East told Mr Whitworth that the 7% for total growth in the study “has been acknowledged to be too low” and upon further examination “was traced down to a spreadsheet error in the model”. The actual total growth figure was 19%-21%.
The council said the traffic growth factor of 7% quoted in the report related only to background growth, and said the “full growth factors” (development traffic plus background growth) were in the range 19%-21% for each of the modelled periods.
In its 2019 letter, Cheshire East said the model had not been withdrawn from service as suggested” and would be used for local transport plan preparation and development management; as we reported last week it admitted that the model had been shelved and was no longer being used to support traffic management in Sandbach.
Cheshire East also last week said that the error was “immaterial” and would not have affected the local plan inspector’s conclusions on the assessment of future traffic growth.
The council told Mr Whitworth to contact the police or local government ombudsman if he felt something untoward had occurred. — Editor.