Concerns raised over validity of Acorn Road vote

UPDATE: This post has been updated at 2pm on November 10th, 2014 to clarify a sentence discussing the provenance of 35 multiple votes from individual households, which could have been read as 35 votes from an individual household.

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Queries have been raised by residents, businesspeople and North Jesmond ward councillor Gerry Keating that many of the votes counted in a recent consultation on the future of Acorn Road were not only from outside Jesmond, but were also duplicate votes.

The council has released its final report detailing the results of the Acorn Road vote last week, following an interim report earlier in the year. Although the report outlines a winning proposal based on the votes counted, there has been some condemnation by local residents of how the council has carried out the voting process.

Cllr Keating, who has entered a series of Freedom of Information requests for the data from the Acorn Road vote, discovered that some votes came from as far away as Whitley Bay.

The councillor, who spoke to JesmondLocal earlier this week, said that “in theory, anyone on the planet could have voted.”

Based on his own analysis of the data Cllr Keating received, it appears that 58 of the 424 votes with a valid postcode and house number, more than one in every eight cast, were extra-district votes. As well as this, he commented that 35 of the responses were multiple votes from individual households.

While the report recognises that “the possibility of some duplicate voting exists” Keating urged that the impact of removing these multiple votes could have resulted in a split vote.

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“When I was standing for election I said wouldn’t take a view and would accept the outcome unless there were any procedural irregularities and I’m sticking to that,” said Keating.

Further confusion over how the voting process worked have been tabled. The councillor raised concerns that some responses received via email were counted, contrary to initial guidance. “It was in no way said in the beginning that if you voted by email that your votes would be accepted but it looks like some people did email their votes and got counted,” Keating noted.

During last month’s North Jesmond ward meeting one resident was frustrated by the fact that the option for ’no change’, which does appear to sit beside the other two options in the report as a third option, was not clearly published, and was in fact only printed below in the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ section of the pamphlet. The resident believed that had this been published clearly as an additional option more residents may have voted.

Cllr Keating feels there is a very real risk that the changes depicted in the ‘winning’ Option 1, may compel retailers on the street (who attended the North Jesmond ward meeting last month to protest the interim results of the vote)  to move away, either as a result of, or in anticipation of, a negative impact on their trading.

He is particularly concerned about the future trade of businessman Julian Blades, the proprietor of Jules B, whose three stores on the street attract many affluent shoppers to the area. He surmised that were Blades to pull out, it would have huge economic ramifications on the area.

Cllr Keating also suggested that the extra-district votes could have come from friends of cycling lobbyists who supported Option A. The group, he said, had a very strong and well-organised campaign, which Option B’s supporters lacked. Cllr Keating also commented that with regards to illustration 1, “I think the cycling aspect is a complete red herring – any change will be neutral with regards to cyclists as they will have to navigate Osborne Road or St. George’s Terrace just to get there.”

The consultation received 624 responses. Illustration 1 received 48% of the vote share; Illustration 2 gained 31% of the vote. 13% expressed a preference for ‘no change’, while 8% did not clearly state a view in any direction.

16 thoughts on “Concerns raised over validity of Acorn Road vote”

  1. Resident says:

    Please give details of vote breakdowns. Some of the votes from outside the area were for option 2 – I believe that at least one was from a friend of a local councillor. In the e-mail sent out by the JRA on 30 October it states that 47% of North Jesmond residents (valid postcode supplied) voted for option 1. On the form and accompanying information that I got through the door it clearly stated that you could email your view if you preferred. It seems from your report that at least one local councillor is more concerned about one particular local business than he is about the residents who voted for him. If he really has evidence that the ballot was not correctly interpreted please could he share the details.

  2. Fiona Clarke says:

    Sounds like a load of sour grapes. The motoring lobby didn’t win the argument and now want it rerun for their benefit. Do you think hundreds of people would throng to Fenwicks window if Northumberland Street was still full of cars?

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  5. DaveM says:

    If I live outside of Jesmond, but travel through Jesmond by bike, why shouldnt i vote on issues involving Jesmond?

    it makes me an extra district vote, but its a huge assumption that extra district votes come from lobbying. The whole point of cycling is you can actually go from one area to another, unbelievably.

  6. Gerry Keating says:

    Hello “Resident”, a large majority of the 58 extra district votes was for option1.This is why the vote share of option 1 went down from 49% to 47% after their exclusion while that of option 2 rose from 38% to 41 % after their exclusion.You are quite right to say that you could email your preference,but that consultation letter was only sent to North Jesmond residents and the paper forms were designed for one tick per household.However the additional preferences-33 in number- cancelled each other out…I am on the record as saying that Residents, opinions deserve priority ,but I cannot ignore the economic vitality of the street ,which is after all crucial to all residents..
    I am not sure of the meaning of your last question so I will simply say that I believe strongly in due process and am strongly against procedural impropriety .In this case it did not change the outcome ,but it might have done and had to be investigated.Most of north Jesmond ward will face similar consultation on Communal bins next November and I intend to make sure that irregularities do not take place again. Regards Gerry Keating

  7. Student says:

    Has no one yet realised that students were practically ignored by this consultation? It was conducted when the majority of students were not here, so they didn’t get a chance to voice their opinions on the scheme as they didn’t pick up the leaflet until they returned for term when the consultation was already over. Students make much more cycle and walking journeys in Jesmond, therefore I believe they’d be much more likely to support option 1 and therefore a huge number of votes were missed.

  8. South Jesmond Resident says:

    As a South Jesmond resident who considers Acorn Road to be my main shopping centre, Newcastle City Council did not send me a voting slip to a decide on the future of Acorn Road. As a landlord of two properties on St George’s Terrace, NCC didn’t send me a voting slip to decide on the future of Acorn Road. Nor did NCC or the South Jesmond Cllrs send me a message to say ‘you can still vote if you log onto Let’s’ Talk and include a valid email address’. I feel very let down indeed. Is this democracy in action? When you tell people that in January the council plan to remove 10 parking places on Acorn Road they simply gasp. I understand Sustrans have stated there are hundreds of free parking spaces within minutes of Acorn Road!!!! Many of those I’ve spoken to who voted for Option 1 now feel very misled and hadn’t realised the full implications of what they were voting for. Evidence of this is that they’re now signing the petition to save Acorn Road. The consultation process has been a complete and utter farce. Fortunately Nick Brown, MP, has asked the Chief Executive of NCC to investigate this shambles. Here’s hoping the project is put on hold until a fair and transparent consultation process has taken place involving all Jesmond residents.

  9. Landlord says:

    There is no sour grapes in the result – its the way it has come about that is the problem.

    As a Landlord of a large block of shops on Acorn Road I am shocked that we had no notification of any changes or opportunity to vote on the proposals. I also believe that a number of businesses on Acorn Road were also not informed or asked to vote on the changes and only residents of a certain part of Jesmond were given flyers and the opportunity. Surely the Landlords and tenants are the people who are putting the money into Acorn Road – keeping property maintained, running successful businesses and making the street the vitalized place it is today. Yet these are the people who have had no say in what is going on and are now extremely concerned on the lack of information and lack of communication from Newcastle City Council.

    It is important to see that the £350k comes from a cycling fund- therefore cyclists are key in the design – but surely this should not be at the determent of everyone else!?
    There is a solution to keep everyone happy but unfortunately there doesn’t seem a willingness to look at this.

    The proposals that were given for option 1 stated ‘pavement cafes, public spaces, loss of 10 car spaces, trees, planters’ etc etc – in reality the proposals that are now being put forward will be greatly different to the images of option 1, no pavement cafes, limited new paving in the central part of Acorn Road only and I think the reality will shock those who are expecting the pictures form the Glossy Brochure!

    We would be happy to go with a majority vote – as long as the opportunity is given to those who need it to vote and it is done in a fair and open way with the correct options listed and the exact proposals shown.

  10. Carlton Reid says:

    Shopping streets that convert to becoming “people friendly” tend to become very popular with, you know, people. Cars don’t have any disposable income, people do. Study after study shows that pedestrians and cyclists spend more money over a month than motorists.

    Now, this may very well impact Jules B because that’s a “destination” shop, but almost every other establishment on Acorn Road will see an uptick in takings.

    Yet if Jules B is so good – and it is – people will still go out of their way to shop there, it’s just they’ll have to park further away than at present.

    It’s worthwhile remembering that there was stiff opposition to pedestrianising Northumberland Street. Would any of the shops on that street want to reintroduce cars? With such high retail revenues, nope!

  11. South Jesmond Resident says:

    In reply to Carlton Reid’s comment about Northumberland Street, he’s talking about pedestrianising a city centre not a suburb. Completely different scenario. Pedestrianised city centres have conveniently situated multi storey car parks with undercover parking close to shops. The city centre shops also offer an undercover collect by car service. They offer big department stores where there’s nowhere else to purchase similar items therefore it is guaranteed that shoppers will continue to use city centre shops, come what may. If Acorn Road offers no parking many people won’t waste their time driving there, they’ll drive to Asda or Sainsbury’s instead and not only the supermarkets but also the smaller shops will suffer. There has been no economic study undertaken with regard to the impact of loss of parking and the future viability of Acorn Road, no trial removing of parking spaces to calculate the damage. Appallingly, in my opinion, the traders are only being asked their opinions now by NCC – post voting – because of the huge outcry from Acorn Road users who don’t want any loss of parking or weren’t asked their opinions in the first place. I believe in democracy, and if the will of the majority, following a consultation process that is transparent and fair, agrees that the needs of the minority of cyclist should take precedence over the majority of car users, then so be it. Sadly, the consultation re Acorn Road was poorly communicated, and indeed many of those signing the petitions now to support zero loss of parking originally voted for the cyclists’ preferred choice – Option 1. Surely even the cyclists must concede that the current furore throughout Jesmond is not sour grapes, rather an outcry against very poor consultation which must now be addressed by NCC.

  12. Resident says:

    Anyone who didn’t know about what was proposed for Acorn Road must have been on another planet for the past year. Talks with residents AND businesses have been going on for that long. Everyone has had a chance to have their say. Sadly the S Jes residents were not properly informed about the consultation but this was because the N Jes and one Lib Dem S Jes councillor decided that they should not be included. The campaign to stop the work is being orchestrated by a Lib Dem councillor who lives on the junction next to Acorn Rd and who has been scaremongering. Acorn Rd is not the roaring success that it should be – look at the turnover of shops. This is because it is like shopping in a car park. People don’t like to hang out with cars. The shops who are petitioning are alienating many of their customers. I for one am now only using those shops who support the result of the consultation.

  13. peter breakey says:

    To the resident who chooses to remain anonymous whilst casting aspersions and making inaccurate statements

    Firstly, the decision not to consult South Jesmond residents was taken by a senior council officer after consultation with the relevant Labour party Council Cabinet member. They had the final say. So if you want to turn this into a political issue, which it isn’t – perhaps you should be asking questions of the Cabinet member.

    There was a great deal of detailed debate about the consultation before any decision was taken. If you don’t know the details and the context of that debate – and it seems very unlikely that you could know all the relevant details – then your comments are based on incomplete knowledge of the relevant facts and should be treated with that in mind.

    Your comment about people not knowing about the plans is similarly ill-informed. There are many people in Jesmond who say they knew little about them. Are you suggesting they are all lying?

    You make the point that I live near Acorn Road. Yes I do and I have never made any secret of the fact. You don’t say where you live or what your personal circumstances are, which will presumably influence your views.

    Because I live right next to Acorn road I have a good knowledge of what happens there. I see it at all times of the day and night and at all times of the year. Many people’s perception of what happens on Acorn road is based on their own very limited experience of it. The fact that I live near Acorn Road also means that I will be very pleased if improvements are made to it.

    In terms of ‘orchestrating’ a campaign, you choose – deliberately no doubt – to put a negative spin on what I am doing. I am trying hard to stop a plan which has not been properly thought through, is strongly opposed by local traders, by the majority of those who live in the immediate vicinity, and by large numbers of other residents in North Jesmond and elsewhere. I was approached separately by a South Jesmond resident and a group of local traders and asked to help them in their efforts to stop the proposals. If that is orchestrating a campaign, then yes I plead guilty.

    Those points however are all largely side issues. More important are my reasons for opposing the current plan, some of which are as follows:

    The one way system

    The impact on surrounding streets of turning Acorn road into a one way system has not been properly considered. More traffic will be forced to go up and down St .George’s terrace and along Mistletoe Road. There are residents on both these streets who are not happy about this. The traffic will include large delivery lorries which currently travel from Tesco along Acorn Road to Osborne Road.

    St. George’s terrace is already a congested road, often fully parked on both sides and – in the southern half – has only one ‘pulling in point’ towards the bottom of the street. This bottom half of the street is also a cycle route. So the situation here is likely to be worse for pedestrians, worse for cyclists and worse for residents and drivers if the plans go ahead.

    At the bottom of St George’s terrace leading into Mistletoe road there is a bend which is widely regarded as quite dangerous. It is also immediately adjoining a children’s play area (Bells Yard). Mistletoe road is commonly used by parents and children on their way to and from West Jesmond School. These seem to be good reasons for not sending more traffic this way.

    Imposing a one way system obviously also has the effect of preventing the significant number of people who want to travel in a car along it from west to East from doing so. If there were clear benefits this might be reasonable but there are not.

    Few cycling benefits

    The Council’s scheme produces very few benefits for cyclists. (I am an active cyclist as are many opponents of the scheme.) Many people think that two way cycling on a one way street will be dangerous for all users. Yes, this sort of scheme can no doubt work in some places but it is this particular scheme which needs to be considered.

    There are concerns that pedestrians will be at risk because they will generally be looking only one way for cars. There are concerns that cyclists will be at risk because drivers, thinking that they are on a one way street, will not be looking out for cyclists.

    The proposed carriageway is extremely narrow but a lot of the vehicles using Acorn Road are not. Irresponsible cycling is very common in Jesmond. There are concerns that cyclists will abuse the proposed raised carriageway area – which puts the road at the same level as the pavements – and that pedestrians, particularly the elderly will be at risk.

    No thought seems to have been given as to how cyclists will exit Acorn road safely if they want to exit southbound onto Osborne Road. The current plan provides that the existing traffic lights will be removed. It was clear at a recent meeting with council officers that no thought had been given to this, as to so many aspects of the scheme.

    Few benefits for pedestrians

    The proposed scheme includes two built out areas of pavement. These could provide some improvement for pedestrians along part of the street. The council has proposed however that these built out areas would be suitable for pavement cafes etc, so there is a chance that any extra space on the pavements will be lost to this.

    The current plan does not provide for improving the pavements along the whole length of the street, so these may remain in the bad condition which they are currently in.

    Loss of parking

    Everybody knows that parking is at a huge premium in the immediate vicinity of Acorn Road. There is demand for parking from residents and their visitors, traders and shop workers and shoppers. For many of these people there is often no realistic alternative to using a car. The current plan proposes to remove 10 parking spaces from the area. That is almost one third of the existing spaces and would remove parking equivalent to around one half of one side of Acorn Road. Making the parking situation more difficult is going to cause many problems for many people. It should only be done if there are benefits which clearly outweigh the costs. This is not the case with this scheme.

    Amended Option 2
    There is widespread support for an amended version of Option 2 which loses much fewer parking spaces. This would obtain clear benefits for pedestrians and have as many benefits for cyclists as Option 1. It is supported by the most local residents’ association (of which I am a member) and by the overwhelming majority of traders and landlords and by very many others.

    If Option 1 is introduced the consequences may be quite harmful to a number of residents and traders. If an amended Option 2 is introduced there seems to be virtually no risk of harmful consequences.

    Those are some of the reasons why I am working to try to obtain an amended version of Option 2.

    Peter Breakey
    Councillor for North Jesmond

  14. peter breakey says:

    Correction – When I said above that this is not a political issue I should have said that it is not a party political issue. Opponents of Option 1 include Conservative and Labour Parfy supporters, as well as Liberal Democrats. I don’t know if there are any Green party members supporting us but we there are plenty of people with green sympathies who do. This should not be turned into a party political issue. We should all be trying to achieve the best outcome for Jesmond.

  15. Fiona Clarke says:

    It is a shame that our local councillors show such contempt for a democratic vote. And, let’s be clear, any attempt to derail the Acorn Road improvements at this stage could result in the loss of a significant amount of government money to our neighbourhood, since their element has to be spent by the end of March. Delay could result in the whole scheme being kicked into the long grass, which presumably is what some of its opponents want. What a shame.

    I work at the junction of Acorn Road and St. George’s Terrace, so I regularly witness the chaos created by motor traffic turning into Acorn Road, including the huge Tesco wagons. It’s intimidating to people trying to cross the road, smelly, noisy and environmentally damaging. There is often gridlock. Eliminating the option to turn into Acorn Road would help.

    Our shop was visited by Sustrans on at least two occasions to seek our views, all of the shops completed a survey (or at least were invited to), and one of the striking findings was that traders consistently overestimated the number of their customers who came by car compared to evidence from interview and traffic surveys.

    Surely the whole point of the improvements is to encourage more people to shop on foot or by cycle by making the area more pleasant and attractive. Wider pavements would allow us to actually look in the shop windows and hold conversations without obstructing others. In some places on Acorn Road the pavements are so narrow they deter socialising.

    I’m also told that the number of parking spaces lost would be 7, rather than the 10 that is being quoted. Surely motorists could walk more often or further.

    Don’t let this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity pass us by.

  16. South Jesmond Resident says:

    As a South Jesmond resident, I am incensed that Fiona Clarke should describe anybody fighting to have an equal say in the future of Acorn as having a contempt for democracy! Ms Clarke, perhaps you are unaware – South Jesmond and High West Jesmond residents were disenfranchised. Do you think that’s fair? You had a ballot slip, I didn’t. I was offered a ‘back door’ vote through a site called ‘Let’s Talk’ that I knew nothing about, you were offered the real deal. It’s immaterial how that came about, it’s undemocratic and I’m fighting to overturn an undemocratic decision. I believe it is my democratic right to protest against an unfair process because, thankfully, we are living in a democracy. If you voted for Option 1 it must be extremely galling for you to learn that there are now more people in North Jesmond against Option 1 than voted for it in the first place, but that’s how democracy works. If the minority, through the legitimate process of argument and debate, can persuade the majority to change its mind, that shows democracy is alive and well in Jesmond! What you need to do is ask yourself why so many people have changed their mind. Perhaps it’s because they now FULLY understand what’s proposed and they don’t want to see THEIR public money wasted on a proposal that may well lead to the destruction of Acorn Road as a viable shopping centre with wonderful shops. That is not ‘sour grapes’, Ms Clarke, it’s democracy in action.

  17. North Jesmond Resident says:

    The form received through my letter box in North Jesmond asked me to complete a ‘comments form’ to share my views on proposals for improving Acorn Road by expressing a preference for illustration one or illustration two and invited me to add my comments as the council ‘would like your views on the illustrations, to tell us which would work best in Acorn Road.’

    It was not presented by NCC as a ‘vote’ for or against either scheme to select which scheme would go ahead, there was no indication that the views of residents were to be considered according to how close to Acorn Road they live, and that many Jesmond residences had not been included in the survey at all. This should preclude the survey from being described as an accurate or meaningful consultation, let alone a ‘democratic vote’.

    The project manager at NCC disagrees (of course) with my view that the survey was couched in emotive terms to encourage a positive response to Illustration 1, including terms; ‘more appealing’, ‘more attractive’ and ‘an area for shoppers, visitors, residents and cyclists to all enjoy’ including a ‘table of benefits of each scheme’ – surely perceived benefits?

    Even the ‘Key Messages’ section in the ‘Results of a Public Consultation’ document include the admission; ‘Due to this self-completion aspect of the process, rather than the adoption of a random sample, the statistical representativeness of the results – in terms of the likely margin of error – cannot be reported.’

    So we now have been misled into a ‘vote’ in which only people interested enough to reply in North Jesmond households were included, with the researchers responsible for the survey admitting that the process used means that they cannot evaluate whether the results they report are representative of local views. Presumably this ‘consultation’ which is above and beyond the usual NCC activity will be used to justify a scheme to be proposed in a forthcoming statutory consultation….

    It would seem that yet another of Jesmond’s amenities and the livelihoods of our loyal local traders is under threat through a flawed and exclusive process.

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