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Complaint to Poole Council about competence of road safety decision making.

 

This results from the Fleetsbridge Roundabout traffic lights fiasco and Poole Council's ridiculous analysis of accident data.

 

For background see http://www.dorsetspeed.org.uk/news/sog91.aspx

 

The complaint is in progress, now at stage 2.

 

Dear Mrs Buckley,
 
Finding something that indicates a "good year" in highly variable data is a bit like looking at a result and deciding which of many factors contributed to it and how much, and picking on the factor which happens to be convenient and ignoring all others, like the statement about reduced accidents at Fleetsbridge due to the lights. And even if the results were consistently good in Poole, it is obviously not proof at all of good practice in decision making, and again I have to continue to point out, there are rarely single factors influencing anything. I'd like to see the information that you have based this statement on in it's context, you may understand that my confidence in Poole reaching correct conclusions from data is not particularly high. 
 
You haven't answered the concerns:
 
1. Poole has still failed to produce a proper, credible statement concerning the accident reduction at Fleetsbridge due to the lights, compared to no lights. The "technical information" we have from those "impartial professional officers" I have shown to be neither impartial nor professional and NO ONE has raised any challenge whatsoever to my points proving this. No one seems to be the slightest bit bothered that the only technical input was completely flawed.
 
2. I am deeply concerned that the "perceptions" of a very few are all that remain and about those who are providing them. I saw no recognition of any points of value in the meeting I attended, for example:
 
- the fact that the only technical input was clearly wrong was completely ignored
- no consideration of the possibility that the root cause of road safety problems is actually bad driving, not lack of lights, etc.
- no awareness that there could be other solutions, i.e. proper policing, which would be likely to have better accident reduction efficiency over a larger area
- no recognition of the negative effects, congestion, etc.
 
I repeat, the only thing I saw that indicated any justification for the presence of the lights was one or 2 people expressing personal opinion and this is NOT how these important decisions should be made.
 
In the meeting I was also shocked to see that one of those few "laypersons" setting road safety policy in Poole is Tony Trent. This is the man who commented on the death of the motorcyclist resulting from the presence of a speed camera "He was travelling at 78MPH in a 50 zone. Enough said." Perhaps we should just shoot everyone who exceeds a speed limit, should we Tony? Would that improve road safety?
 
Tony has put his foot in it over and over again and has demonstrated a mind blowing inability to process evidence and information into meaningful and relevant (and most certainly impartial and professional) conclusions.
You really need to take a look at this and the other documents referenced:
 
 
The fact that Poole has allowed this man to lead meetings on road safety is probably the most absurd thing I have ever come across and proof that Poole is indeed thoroughly misguided in this important responsibility.
 
 
You can probably see that I am totally unsatisfied with your response and I therefore ask you to progress this complaint to stage 2.
 
 
Regards, Ian Belchamber
 
 

Sent: Thursday, February 09, 2012 7:59 AM
Subject: Complaint 101000275043 - Mr Belchamber

Dear Mr Belchamber,

Thank you for taking the time to contact us regarding your complaint which was received on 20 January 2012. The issue that you raised was: 

·        that road safety decision making in Poole shows unacceptable incompetence and lack of care and professionalism and that this is resulting in wasted money and wasted lives.

The decision making process is set out in the Councils’ constitution which is available on the website http://www.boroughofpoole.com/your-council/how-the-council-works/the-constitution/

Implicit in the democratic process is that decisions are made by elected representatives which are inevitably based on both their own perceptions together with consideration of impartial technical information provided by professional officers.

The fact that in 2010 the casualty rate per head of population is below the average for England would contradict your assertion regarding lack of care and professionalism within Poole.  

In view of the above, I cannot uphold your complaint.

I hope you feel that the issues you raised have been fully and fairly looked into and that you are satisfied with the response in this letter.

If however you are not satisfied, you can progress your complaint to Stage 2 of the Complaint Procedure, where our investigation will be reviewed by a Strategic Director. Please let me know if you wish to progress your complaint to Stage 2.

I would like to thank you for taking the time and trouble to let us know about the issues you have raised. It is important that the people who use the Council’s services are able to comment on them, so that we can continually improve these services provided for the residents and visitors of Poole.

Yours sincerely,

Elaine Buckley
Business & Performance Manager
Borough of Poole
e-mail: e.buckley@poole.gov.uk
Tel: (01202 26) 2001

 

From: Ian Belchamber [mailto:ian@belchamber.net]
Sent: 24 January 2012 14:09
To: Tony Trent; Xena Dion (Cllr); Stephen Rollo-Smith (Cllr)
Cc: Elaine Buckley; Julian McLaughlin; Tony Trent (Cllr); BROOKEA@parliament.uk; Philip Eades (Cllr); Martin Baker; Steve Tite; linday.wilson@poole.gov.uk; Graham Chandler (Cllr); Leslie Burden (Cllr); John Rampton (Cllr); Brian Clements (Cllr); info@imanuelgoncalves.co.uk; Pat.Garrett@dorset.pnn.police.uk; 'Colin Searle'
Subject: Re: Complaint 101000265240 - Mr Belchamber

Tony,

I see that you agree that road safety decisions in Poole are coming from laypersons. Can I use a layperson to fit a gas boiler? No, I have to use someone on the Gas Safe Register. Can a layperson rewire a house? No, I have to use a part p registered electrician.

The reasons are obvious - only these qualified people have the appropriate training, certification, experience, knowledge and experience to do what they do in such a way that lives will not be put at risk, due to fire, asphyxiation, electrocution or explosion, or any number of other risks that may not be obvious.

But on the subject of road safety, in an area such as Poole, where we are likely to see a few road deaths every year, road safety decisions are coming from laypersons.

Laypersons can provide good results, as long as they are honest, unbiased, and listen, communicate, and think about what others say and respond properly to it and know their limitations and seek the opinions of experts as necessary. 

But I have not seen any of these qualities from Poole last week or in many preceding years of including my road safety concerns to a number of Poole councilors

I also know at least one other person who has presented properly thought out cases to Poole only to have them dismissed without a thought to the detriment of all who use the local roads (Dr Jonathan Pearson).

Science might not provide all the answers but when it is presented to you, if you ignore it apparently because it doesn't fit with your aims, you are behaving irresponsibly and dangerously.

Regards, Ian

 

 

We are human beings and NOT scientists. The lay person’s opinion, experience, and judgement is just as important as statistics. If not then we might as well replace elected representatives with computers – but who would program them?


From: Ian Belchamber [mailto:ian@belchamber.net]
Sent: 23 January 2012 17:31
To: Xena Dion (Cllr); Stephen Rollo-Smith (Cllr)
Cc: Elaine Buckley; Julian McLaughlin; Tony Trent (Cllr); BROOKEA@parliament.uk; Philip Eades (Cllr); Martin Baker; Steve Tite; linday.wilson@poole.gov.uk; Graham Chandler (Cllr); Leslie Burden (Cllr); John Rampton (Cllr); Brian Clements (Cllr); info@imanuelgoncalves.co.uk; Pat.Garrett@dorset.pnn.police.uk; Colin Searle
Subject: Re: Complaint 101000265240 - Mr Belchamber

Dear Cllr Dion,

Thanks for responding, it does allow progress. The main reason that you sense some considerable frustration in my tone is that despite a gentle start, I have been ignored by Poole (and other) councils and by Dorset Road Safe for probably getting on for 10 years. I have only included you recently so perhaps you haven’t seen the background but you can see more at www.dorsetspeed.org.uk if you are interested.

 “Anecdotal stories” and “opinion” are of no interest whatsoever to me or any road or other safety professional. However, “evidence from officers” is of more interest. Can you remind me what this evidence was? Was it basically the report from Julian McLaughlin, i.e.  that there were 6.6 accidents per year before the lights and 2.7 after? And therefore, because of a “proven” accident reduction due to the lights of 3.9 per year, benefits for cyclists, “less confident” drivers and costs, etc? Surely you must be talking about some other evidence? If not, can you please tell me what you believe the reduction achieved by the lights to be, and tell me how much each of these things have also influenced reductions:

-         Downwards trend

-         Change in road markings clarifying movements across the junction

-         Dorset Road Safe making the roads much safer for us (presumably you think they do?)

-         Reporting accuracy

-         Accident “relocation”

Please don’t tell me these things sum to zero, and the 3.9 reduction was due only to the lights!

And how do you explain that accidents went up when the full time lights were first introduced, down when they were restored, but only when the road markings were improved at the same time?

The “officers” have most certainly misled you, perhaps after misleading themselves. Can you (or anyone) present an alternative conclusion consistent with the evidence and other factors I have listed? It's got nothing to do with agreeing or disagreeing with me.

You are telling me that you would be concerned as me if these things were based on personal opinion but you don’t believe it was  – but I repeat, the “evidence from officers” above is clearly nonsense and I would welcome any challenge to the points I have raised on this a number of times, and “personal opinion” and “stories” are in fact all that remain.

I have not said that traffic should be slowed on the Lilliput road. This is the classic problem we see all over the place, much to the delight of Dorset Road Safe. An idiot overturning his or her car on a residential road does NOT necessarily mean that traffic needs to be slowed. It is more likely to mean that existing road laws need to be POLICED EFFECTIVELY. It doesn’t matter what the speed limit is, bad drivers will still crash and good drivers will be extremely unlikely to. The answer again as I have said over and over again, is that if you want to reduce bad driving, you need to target BAD DRIVERS with PROPER POLICE. Dorset Road Safe is about as far as you can possibly get from PROPER POLICE. It doesn’t matter how much or little money we have, you will deal with bad driving better per £ (hugely) with real police than you will with Dorset Road Safe. Poole CAN do something about this, I know how.

Don’t spend on a bit of paint on a bend or a set of lights on a roundabout without considering that even if this does improve safety at those locations, that idiot is just going to wipe themselves and maybe someone else out at the next bend or roundabout.

I TOO am in despair about bad driving and those who think that Dorset Road Safe are making things better – they most certainly ARE NOT – but I do know what to do about it.

So you don’t do anything  “unless there is clear evidence it would make a difference” – like perhaps the “evidence” Poole has produced to show that the lights at the Fleetsbridge have reduced accidents by 3.9 per year / £266,000?

I’m sorry, but this really is not good enough for an organisation claiming to be in the safety business. 

You have been professional at least to respond, and I would like to contribute more “positively” and would welcome any invitation to do so. I do know that there are tremendous opportunities for any area that really wants to improve road safety.

Regards, Ian Belchamber

 

I have to intervenen here.  firstly Mr Belchamber, the committee discussed the lights and members use their anecdotal stories to reinforce their opinion, which in this case was based on evidence from officers (i think we will not agree on the matter that officers were lying to us or deliberately trying to mislead us which is what you have said before on this matter).  I personally get very frustrated with personal stories as that is not what shoudl be behind decisions (on health scrutiny i have heard many a story about 'great aunt gladys' and what happened to her in hospital, which completely loses any credibility behind decision making, but that is the nature of people).  If that alone, was the basis of decision making i would be as concerned as you are, but it is not. 

Also, i wonder how on one hand you think actions are a waste of time and money in order to promote safety on the streets and on the other you believe we should do more to slow traffic on Lilliput Road.  We are all in despair about some of the behaviours of dangerous drivers but i have not really seen clear ways to do better than what we are doing. 

The suggestion of red paint, to which you refer and are particulalry frustrated, was only one suggestion by one member - it is not something we would do unless there was clear evidence it would make a difference but sometimes it is a number of actions that help.  Poole has much to be proud of in making roads safer where possible and that did not happen by chance, but by careful consideration of what would work better.  I don't for a moment think we get it right every time or that we can't learn and improve, but there are better ways to contribute in that process than attacking everything that we do. 

If there is a particular issue or area you think you could do better, or help us with, i am more than happy to meet with you, but it is not a good starting point to think we are all completely stupid.  I also am a professional and make decisions based on a careful consideration and analysis of information, but sometimes there are very cloudy areas about what is the right or wrong way to move forward,

regards

Xena Dion

 

Xena

Cllr Xena Dion (Penn Hill Ward)

Portfolio Holder Environment and Consumer Protection,

Local Economy and Transportation


From: Ian Belchamber [mailto:ian@belchamber.net]
Sent: Mon 23/01/2012 11:12
To: Stephen Rollo-Smith (Cllr)
Cc: Elaine Buckley; Julian McLaughlin; Tony Trent (Cllr); BROOKEA@parliament.uk; Philip Eades (Cllr); Martin Baker; Steve Tite; Xena Dion (Cllr); linday.wilson@poole.gov.uk; Graham Chandler (Cllr); Leslie Burden (Cllr); John Rampton (Cllr); Brian Clements (Cllr); info@imanuelgoncalves.co.uk; Pat.Garrett@dorset.pnn.police.uk; Colin Searle
Subject: Re: Complaint 101000265240 - Mr Belchamber

Stephen,

Many thanks for your reply. It might seem as though I'm just a trouble maker, actually, I'm a senior engineer, with critical safety responsibilities - I design machine control systems that could injure or kill operators if they malfunction. I am therefore familiar with many of the formal requirements in industry for safety critical work, and I can tell you, if any private company was found to be behaving as Poole Council is on issues with safety, they would be shut down in an instant and the person ultimately responsible would be facing serious consequences.

We do our best to challenge what we do, you only find the problems that way. If anyone, even if they claimed to be Elvis Presley, raised a concern about safety with our equipment or policies, we would take the concern at face value and immediately look as hard as we could for the worst case scenarios, and if there's anything to be fixed we would fix it. 

Can you possibly imagine for example, air traffic control being made aware that something they had done could have increased accidents, and for them to completely ignore it, and go instead on the personal hunches of a couple of unqualified, uninformed, non-technical people ? People would probably be locked up for that. Many more people die on the roads than from aircraft crashes and THE DECISIONS THAT COME OUT OF POOLE COUNCIL WILL INFLUENCE THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE THAT DIE ON POOLE'S ROADS.

Poole Council (and you and I) are concerned about cyclists, and some of the justifications concern them. But we have not even been told how many cyclist accidents / injuries there have been! I suspect very few, as I mentioned in my notes, even though I use this roundabout probably every day I have NEVER seen a cyclist on it - there are safe cycle paths and underpasses.

And even if something can be proven to provide a safety benefit, it is still negligent not to consider alternatives to see if there is something else that would provide more benefit / cost.

I am astonished and horrified that these principles seem alien to Poole Council, and indeed Dorset Road Safe, and as my children approach the age when they will be out on the roads alone, I will not stop until there are signs of improvement.

Regards, Ian Belchamber

 

Sent: Monday, January 23, 2012 8:17 AM

Subject: RE: Complaint 101000265240 - Mr Belchamber

Thank you for copying your complaint to me; you will be aware that I sat on the committee only as a substitute for Cllr Mrs Stribley, but that I do take road traffic matters very seriously, particularly from the cyclists point of view.  I will be very pleased to see any further correspondence on this matter.

Best regards

Stephen

Cllr Stephen J Rollo-Smith,
Branksome East Ward
Vice Chair, O/S Economy
07500847838
(01202)764685

s.rollo-smith@poole.gov.uk

From: Ian Belchamber [mailto:ian@belchamber.net]
Sent: 19 January 2012 19:58
To: Elaine Buckley
Cc: Julian McLaughlin; Tony Trent (Cllr); BROOKEA@parliament.uk; Philip Eades (Cllr); Martin Baker; Steve Tite; Xena Dion (Cllr); Elaine Buckley; linday.wilson@poole.gov.uk; Graham Chandler (Cllr); Leslie Burden (Cllr); Stephen Rollo-Smith (Cllr); John Rampton (Cllr); Brian Clements (Cllr); info@imanuelgoncalves.co.uk
Subject: Re: Complaint 101000265240 - Mr Belchamber

Dear Mrs Buckley,

Thanks for letting me know about the meeting which I attended today, and presented to. Unfortunately this has only confirmed and deepened my concerns about the quality of decision making in Poole on road safety.

I presented reasoning that showed that the justification of the council, that accidents had reduced from 6.6 to 2.7, due to the lights, could not have been more wrong. There was no response on this, only a couple of councillors stating that they had nearly had accidents on the roundabout while the lights were off. The entire remaining arguments (cyclist vulnerability, costs, etc) are void if the lights do not actually reduce, and possibly even increase, accidents, and my suggestion that this is in fact the case was just ignored.

Surely I don't need to explain that we need better reasoning behind road safety decisions than whether or not one or two councillors nearly have accidents, but this is all that seems to be remaining.

In the previous item, calming on the Lilliput Road, the true horror of widespread appalling driving was yet again realised, with residents describing large numbers of accidents on a residential road with speeds of 50, 60 or more not uncommon, where a wall has been hit a number of times and even bricks flying into a property.

The suggestion from the council - perhaps a bit of red paint and get Dorset Road Safe there to monitor some speeds. Sometimes I actually think that some of these councillors really are naive enough to think that determined dangerous speeders are stupid enough not to slow down when they see fluorescent safety jackets or stripy vans etc. 

Anyone who has a clue about measuring things knows that it's a nonsense if the action of measuring influences what is being measured - a bit like traffic surveys causing traffic gridlock - you just couldn't make it up.

Or that some chav showing off to his mate is going to see some red paint and think "oh, red paint, I better slow down". He's more likely to discover it makes his tyres squeal more and make him go faster.

Meanwhile, on proper dual carriageways tens of thousands of normal, safe drivers are being targeted by Dorset Road Safe for tiny amounts above limits that have been reduced so low that they simply can't be taken seriously and well below the natural safe and design speed for the road. As these interventions have negative effects and virtually no positive effects on safety, they cause more accidents than they save, including the death of a motorcyclist last year. The full list of negative effects and evidence is available here: http://www.dorsetspeed.org.uk/news/neg.aspx

Dorset Road Safe have behaved appallingly since they started and are only continuing by refusing to communicate.

Dorset Police have refused to tell me where the money (£2 million or so just last year) from courses goes.

The whole thing stinks and accidents and road deaths are way above where they should be because of it.

The answer as always is provided by common sense - any penny we have must be spent on proper policing of which we currently have non, which will bring benefits everywhere, not trying to idiot proof a roundabout here or a bend there - or paying for loads of jobsworths sending out as many fines as they possibly can in order to keep their jobs.

I'll leave it at that for now but there's plenty more.

So I am already working on a complaint about Dorset Police (I've virtually given up with Dorset Road Safe) and I ask that my complaint about Poole Council be progressed.

The complaint is that road safety decision making in Poole shows unacceptable incompetence and lack of care and professionalism and that this is resulting in wasted money and wasted lives. This is reinforced in total clarity by my experience at the TAG meeting today.

Please can you acknowledge this and confirm what the next step will be.

Regards, Ian Belchamber.

 

ps. My notes on my presentation today are below:

 

 

I’m Ian Belchamber from road safety group Dorset Speed and I’m interested in this because it does seem to demonstrate the poor analysis / decision making on road safety that I believe has been going on in the area for a very long time. 3 minutes is not long so I’d like to talk just about the claimed reduction in accident counts and costs of having the lights against not having them, which seems to be the primary justification and on which the other claimed benefits depend.

When the full time lights were first installed in 1993, accidents increased. The report suggest this is due to increased volumes including around the new Tescos. But if so, why do we not have higher rates now as volumes could only have increased from 1995 and we have had the same full time lights

In 2000 the lights were set back to full time from part time. We would expect, if nothing else had changed, for the counts to be roughly the same as they were (8.8) before the part time operation or higher due to higher volumes, but no, for some reason they dropped to 2.7. Why this greater drop than expected? Did anything else change that might have caused it?  In appendix C you will see the answer: at the same time as the lights were switched back to full time, “ADDITIONAL LANE MARKINGS WERE ADDED TO CLARIFY MOVEMENTS ACROSS THE JUNCTION”

Therefore the only interpretation that fits with the engineering and accident count changes is as follows:

The lights in the first 7 years of operation (part time or otherwise) caused an extra 36 accidents approximately costing about £2.5M

It was then the change in road markings that caused the reduction in 2000. This dwarfed any effects of the lights by CLARIFYING MOVEMENTS ACROSS THE JUNCTION. If it was due to full time lights, we should have also seen similar reduction when the lights were first introduced, but we saw an increase.

And there are other things such as:

-Questionable reporting accuracy

-Dorset Road Safe would be keen to tell us that they have reduced accidents substantially. Why have the council not put down part of the reduction to this?

-If you “idiot proof” one section of road partly by causing artificial congestion some accidents are simply moved somewhere else, they are not reduced.

-There has been downward trend over the entire period which has obviously reduced the 2.7 figure compared to the earlier figures.

I don’t put this forward as a definite explanation of what has happened because even though it seems more scientifically credible I know as a scientist that there are vast numbers of other variables that make any conclusion difficult – but it should now be obvious that there is one thing that is totally 100% crystal clear.

The lights alone have not reduced accidents by 3.9 and seem very likely to have increased them, and anyone claiming a 3.9 reduction in accident counts, and a £266k cost reduction from full time lights, and nothing else, should not be let anywhere near any decisions on public spend or road safety.

The Fleetsbridge fiasco seems now to be just one of many unpopular, expensive, anti productive and sometimes dangerous interfering with the roads, such as ridiculous speed limit reductions and speed bumps, spend on Dorset Road Safe without whom 1 road death last year would not have happened.

The council needs to use science and common sense in such decisions, not just spend money apparently without thinking and then try to ignore it or justify it with embarrassingly flawed interpretation when challenged.

 

Other points:

The report mentions cyclists: How many cyclists have been involved in accidents at this roundabout? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cyclist on this roundabout but why would there be – there are safe cycle paths, pavements, underpasses, and barriers. 

“Anecdotal evidence indicates that less confident drivers, together with HGVs entering the junction during periods of high vehicle flows, are disadvantaged when the signals are not working.”: At give way roundabouts, you have to give way and then proceed when there is space. If you are not confident enough to do this safely, you need some driver training, and the accident that the lights prevented you from having (if they did) here will just happen somewhere else. I’d prefer to be behind an HGV waiting for a gap, than sitting at a red light just looking at a gap. 

On Costs: Yes, it might be expensive to remove the lights now but if they had never been installed we would have saved the entire initial cost, and cost of maintenance and replacement, and it seems, the cost of many accidents.

Cost per death are made up mostly of a financial amount put on the “human costs” which is obsurd, and “lost output” which is a nonsense as output is determined by demand, not availability of labour. No one pays this money.

I have shown that the council have first decided that they should put lights at Fleetsbridge, and have produced a totally fudged justification now that they have been challenged.

Poor road safety decisions are wasting money and costing lives.