1. Northampton is a large and expanding
town. The Borough Council is a powerful authority, but not a unitary.
The highway authority is the County Council, although many functions
are delegated on an agency basis to the borough, especially the
sort of powers that affect walking. There appears to be a difficult
relationship between the two authorities, exacerbated by the borough's
unsuccessful attempts to be a unitary authority. Many borough
councillors are also on the County Council, which might be expected
to help understanding, but must also cause problems in representing
the distinct interests of the two authorities.
2. It is the County Council which has prepared
the Local Transport Plan and before that the TPP bid for funding.
Formerly, decisions on the allocation of integrated transport
resources to schemes were mainly made by officers, and it was
to them that lobbying from the public or interest groups could
be directed. Since a new "cabinet" system has been introduced
by the County Council they have formed Area Committees to make
up the democratic deficit which otherwise might be perceived.
3. County Council officers tell me it is
these committees that will decide on which schemes will be undertaken
and their priority. However there is also in Northampton a joint
members liaison group that the Borough Council says, in public
documents, will make the decisions. The meetings of this "Highways
and Traffic Partnership Board Northampton Liaison Group"
are not open to the public. Their minutes are presented at the
borough Planning and Transportation Committee where they are approved
with their lists of schemes without amendment.
4. These minutes show the group to consist
of councillors representing the Borough Council who are often
also County Councillors, half a dozen officers of the Borough
Council and a couple from the County Council. It is not clear
to me how any member of the public or lobby group could make any
comment or meaningful input into this decision making process,
or indeed understand it.
5. Police policy on such matters as path
closure is even less open to public discussion. They appear to
regard it as a technical problem of control. Any public consultation
is merely public relations to gain acceptance from communities
who are having their paths closed.
6. The fact that councillors may be on the
Borough Council, the County Council and the police authority is
less a reason to have confidence in partnership and liaison than
to fear there are conflicts of interests and a failure to properly