Tuesday 22 September 2015

McDonald's Drive-Thru Inquiry

The McDonald’s drive-thru planning application went to a public inquiry last Wednesday, 16th September. The night before the inquiry Ealing Council’s planning department and McDonald’s did a deal on the basis of a compromise scheme (shown above) with an access road off the A40 that would cross the proposed Cycle Superhighway. Ealing Cycling Campaign opposes this compromise. It has some improvements - a dedicated cycle path instead of a shared use path, and priority maintained for cyclists - but in all important respects it has the same problems as the  scheme councillors rejected in March. There is still the left-hook turn that brings motor vehicles into conflict with cyclists, and although in theory cyclists have right of way, to be safe they will need to stop to check for vehicles. At the inquiry, Peter Mynors, our council liaison officer who is also a transport engineer with 50 years' experience, presented our case to the inspector. Andrew Gilligan, the Cycling Commissioner for London attended the hearing and supported our case  – which we feel is a good one. We expect to hear the inspector's decision in mid November. If he agrees with us, then the compromise scheme won't go ahead. Instead, the restaurant will have access from Leamington Park - which we consider the safer option.

From the mass of Transport for London emails, released after a Freedom of Information request from McDonald’s, we’ve been able to piece together the inside story of this planning saga.  Astonishingly, it appears that, until we pointed it out to them in February this year, neither the McDonald’s planners nor the TfL team they liaised with knew that TfL planned to run a Cycle Superhighway past this site - despite TfL publishing a map of the route in a widely publicised consultation in September last year. 

Because of this, the initial safety audit was carried out without knowledge or consideration of the Cycle Superhighway.  

The emails also indicate that McDonald's were prepared to pay TfL, who owned the land, more for the site if it came with access directly from the A40, and less if the access was from Leamington Place - McDonald's think they will get more customers if the access road comes from the A40.  In the end they agreed a fee of £23 million, based on access from the A40, and the high price they have paid is probably the main reason they have persisted with their appeal. 

To make the access road safe for motor vehicles, the planners realised that they needed to install a deceleration lane running up to it. Unfortunately this took up land that could have been used for pedestrians and cyclists. To fit in the deceleration lane, TfL planners recommended squeezing the cycle route and pavement down to a shared-use path - rather than taking away parking spaces from McDonald's car park. The email trail shows that this shared use path now became a dumping ground for street furniture that TfL could no longer fit elsewhere. “The lamp column will require relocation to the cycleway”, explained a TfL planner in an email to McDonald’s. 

Eventually, when they realised that a Cycle Superhighway would run past the site, the emails show that the TfL planners agree with us -  access from Leamington Park would be safer.  “in safety terms", wrote TfL's Rob Edwards on 4th February,  "I think this is still preferable to the in arrangement off the A40 --- especially given the upgrade of pedestrian and cycle facilities and anticipated growth in numbers.”

Despite this, Ealing planners agreed to the compromise scheme. They say they were not worried about having costs awarded against them, but were concerned that if they lost the appeal, they would be saddled with McDonald's original scheme which they felt was unsafe. 

We now wait for the inspector's decision.