Notoriety, at last

Published: 13 August 2017

Over the summer, CBRD made the news. But not in a very good way. This is our mea culpa.

Regular readers will know that, over the first two weeks of August, we took a summer break. On Thursday 10 August, an enquiry came in from a journalist at ITV asking about a report published by CBRD about six out of ten major road projects having not yet started. (It came in, in fact, while your author was enjoying a stroll around the shops in a picturesque French seaside town, and was something of a surprise.) CBRD hasn't published anything of the kind - we don't write or publish reports at all. It turned out the journalist was following up an article from Tuesday 8 August in the Daily Mail.

"Some 90 major projects have been announced since 2014 as part of a £15.2billion spending spree designed to reduce congestion and speed up journeys. But just 36 are under construction, according to one analysis. This is disputed by Whitehall."

Daily Mail, 8 August 2017

A cynic might say that this isn't really news - any major road project that was only announced three years ago is unlikely to have started construction work yet. The planning process takes longer than that, and any that have started will have been in the pipeline already when the announcement was made. It's not really news, but then this is August and traditionally that's silly season for news stories. Whose analysis is this, anyway?

"But the latest figures, revealed by the Liberal Democrats and the House of Commons Library from road data group CBRD.co.uk, have fuelled concerns that some of the road projects will be ditched."

It turns out that whoever gathered these figures together - and it's not clear whether it was the Liberal Democrats putting out a story critical of the Government's infrastructure spending or something the Mail have come up with themselves and then passed around for comment - took them from our very own Road Schemes pages. The Mail's graphic even uses our categories for road schemes, describing many of them as "bypass or realignment", a category government bodies don't generally use.

The numbers drew comment from the AA, the RAC and even Vince Cable, the new leader of the Lib Dems, who said they show the Government is on a "road to nowhere". And, much to our shame-faced disappointment, it also drew a fairly tart response from the Department for Transport themselves.

"The CBRD figures are wrong and the Department for Transport does not recognise them. Schemes flagged as being “on hold” are in fact under way and progressing well."

Ouch.

It is true, we believe, that 36 of the 90 schemes they are interested in are under construction and the others are not. It is not true that the others have been officially put on hold, or that there's any serious grounds to think that the Government's promises of road construction and improvement are at risk of being scaled back or withdrawn. And that misunderstanding is our fault.

What happened?

In June this year we carried out a major relaunch of the site, with a new design and major changes to the underlying software that runs the site. As part of that work, we made a small change to the way that Road Schemes are categorised.

Previously, their red-amber-green traffic lights indicated their status like this.

  • Red: on hold or in preparation
  • Amber: inquiry and legal orders
  • Green: under construction

The amber category was barely used, and there was no distinction between schemes that were in planning and those that weren't making progress at all, so from June 2017 the colour coding changed. It now looks like this, which we think is more sensible.

  • Red: on hold
  • Amber: in preparation
  • Green: under construction

When the pages were migrated to the new site, they came across unmodified - so all that were red stayed red and all that were amber stayed amber. They needed to be re-assessed to make sure their status was shown appropriately. A fair number have changed since June thanks to visitors providing updates and new information, but unfortunately the job of going back through them all fell through the cracks before we relaunched and has stayed on the to-do list ever since.

And then it became a news story.

How not to win friends or influence people

The bad news for CBRD is that a number of serious organisations - including, you know, the Government - have found our data to be inaccurate and our reputation has taken a bit of a bashing as a result. This isn't really where we wanted to be. We would like to be accurate, trustworthy and relevant, and frankly this episode has been an acute embarassment.

The good news for everyone else is that we have now reassessed every road scheme we list and updated its status, and all those that should be "in preparation" are now indeed "in preparation". We also have a shopping list of further changes that will not be left on the to-do list for long.

This isn't the post we wanted to mark our return from a summer break, but we think it's important to set the record straight and recognise when we got it wrong. Thank you for bearing with us. We'll be back to normal service with our next post.

Comments

Philip Hall 13 August 2017

Thanks for clearing up the misunderstandings. Don't take the criticisms to heart - your site has been and remains very valuable!

Jack Kirby 13 August 2017

For what it's worth, this was lazy journalism that should never have made it into the media. It's a basic principle to seek corroboration from a second source. Whatever the (many) merits of CBRD's list, it's neither official data, not a critique of an official list. It also shows the limitations of the original Red-Amber-Green classification, it's true, but that is a secondary point.

"lazy journalism that should never have made it into the media" basically describes the Daily Mail though, right?

Which makes CBRD even more respectable because they didn't use this point as an excuse.

Peter Edwardson 14 August 2017

It's a bit rich for the Liberal Democrats to be criticising the government for slow progress on new road schemes when their default mode is generally to oppose them anyway.

Chris Bertram 14 August 2017

Peter, I think you're confusing the Lib Dems with the Green Party. Now they really *would* lie down in front of the bulldozers.

Anonymous 15 August 2017

A good journalist should check their sources, its not your fault that the Dodgy Daily Mail choose to print inaccurate stories. CBRD is a valuable and unique roads site and long may it continue.

Mathew Perring 17 August 2017

Your site has always been a useful source of well researched information, you do this as enthusiastic amateurs so its not surprising that now and again things fall through the cracks because you have a real life outside updating this awesome resource, but its kind of cool you got noticed even if they failed to read the fine print....

Rich M 18 August 2017

The journalist couldn't have read the caveats in your "Small Print" on the home page!

SteveSteve 18 August 2017

Oh no Chris! Your site is still the best roads site online and as a true road-spotter I thoroughly enjoy reading everything you publish. I was in fact just this morning talking to a friend and heaping praise about your Ringways research, something that when I was studying Geography at Uni in the 90s, was simply not possible before the Internet. Please keep up the sterling work! (And as for the trustworthiness of the Government or the Daily Mail...)

Patrickov 19 August 2017

Seems amazing to see how the icons would make such a difference... and better yet, a team of people that face matters promptly and bravely and this is very respectable.

Mike Hindson-Evans 20 August 2017

Chris; you do a good job, consistently, over the years; the failure of the Daily Mail to check the facts is merely typical of that rag.
The LibDems couldn't organise a drinking competition in the Commons bar (at least that now fit into TWO London taxicabs!).
A voluntary or enthusiast-managed labour of love (which is CBRD) is dependent on real-life interruptions to the maintenance of the website. I am, personally, glad that you "have a life" and that, sometimes, managing the website comes second.
Mike

Bill Holland (… 20 August 2017

As always Chris your site is at the front of all things odology. A mistake can happen, so what?
Our government has made many and continues to do so. So what?
So we continue our journey through life with twists and turns and deal with them as they occur.
The press will have their say to promote their daily rag and the government will try to save face where possible.
This is all politics and as you state in the small print, you (your site) has no opinion.

Please continue with your wonderful and enlightening work and as you have righted your misgiving give it no further attention.

Bravo Chris. :)

Anonymous 21 August 2017

Chris, you've really got nothing to apologise for. You have been building up this site as a resource for many years now, longer than all the careerist politicians, civil servants and lazy journalists have been involved. If a few self-seeking idiots can't read or understand data and information properly that's their problem, along with that of the half wits who buy the Daily Fail.

David 1 September 2017

"The CBRD data is wrong"

Yes, so what? It's also completely unofficial, and has nothing to do with the government, the opposition, Highways England, Department for transport or any other body. The very fact that someone has used this information and assumed it to be gospel identifies them as absurd. Oooh... here's some unverified data off the internet... lets use that!

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