I’m Perry Walker. I live in Hereford. I spend much of my time helping people who think they disagree to find common ground. I wanted to study attitudes to the bypass, but didn’t think I could follow my usual practice of getting people into a room (this was back in 2019). So I needed an approach based on interviews. I chose Q Methodology, which, says Wikipedia, “ is a research method used in psychology and in social sciences to study people’s ‘subjectivity’—that is, their viewpoint.”
Bear in mind:
- This is an independent study – no-one has commissioned me
- The analysis has to be interpreted, and that is a question of judgement as well as fact
- The interviews were done before the virus. I don’t know if people have changed their mind
- This is a short summary of a longer report – which is available upon request
How Q Methodology works
There are four stages.
- Develop a set of questions. Through a literature review and interviews with stakeholders, I developed a set of 42 statements that reflected all the attitudes to the bypass that I could find. The statements cover: congestion; transport; community; business, economy and tourism; housing; environment; pollution; and the climate emergency.
- Recruit interviewees. I recruited 23 Herefordshire-based interviewees, as a cross-section of stakeholders and citizens. There were: business people; leading environmentalists; councillors (both cabinet and backbench); an ex-councillor; a relevant officer; people whose homes would be affected by the bypass; and ordinary citizens with a particular stake in the issue. All interviewees were promised anonymity and none is identified in this report.
- Hold the interviews. The interviews were conducted between early December 2019 and late February 2020. The statements were printed on card. Interviewees were asked to sort the statements so that each had a score. They had to pick out the two cards with which they most disagreed, which scored -4, the two cards with which they most agreed, which scored +4, and so on. I also asked people for the reasons behind some of their choices and noted their answers.
- Do the analysis. The main purpose of the analysis is to identify groups of people who share similar attitudes across the different statements. We found seven groups, with between two and four people in each. Four people fitted into none of these groups. Of the 19 people left, 9 were in favour of the bypass and 10 were against.
First conclusion: there are many different attitude groups
Herefordshire does not divide into two blocs, one for the bypass, one against. It is more complicated
than that. Among those in favour, I found three distinct sets of attitudes. Among those against, I
found four. Here they are:
|Group||Attitude to bypass||No. in group||Summary of this group|
|1||For||2||No alternative to the car. Cars need a bypass.|
|2||For||4||The bypass: good for the economy, good for the environment, good for public transport|
|3||For||3||We need a bypass less because of traffic than for the sake of our economy, which should be our first priority|
|4||Against||3||The bypass is bad for the environment|
|5||Against||2||The bypass is a waste of money|
|6||Against||3||Congestion is a function of local activity e.g. school runs and local lorries. The bypass will not change this.|
|7||Against||2||The bypass is irrelevant: it doesn’t tackle the things that matter|
Second conclusion: there is a lot of actual and potential common ground
I examined the four statements that commanded the highest agreement and the four with the highest disagreement, in terms of how many of the seven groups were for them, against or neutral. I found that no statement has a simple split of attitudes, with the three pro-bypass groups on one side and the four anti-bypass groups on the other. Second, none of them, apart from one, has more than one group in the minority. For instance, six groups out of seven agreed that, “Hereford is slowly being strangled by congestion, something needs doing and it needs doing urgently.” This shows that there is a lot of common ground between all these groups, including across that for/against divide. This common ground should aid in developing policy that is less contentious that is usually the case with traffic and bypasses.
- The widespread agreement that congestion exists and is a problem should be emphasised as the starting point for any discussion of the bypass.
- As I said above, there is, though, not unanimity on congestion. One interviewee wrote, “Congestion in the city is in my view dominated by local/ short distance traffic. Congestion amazingly disappears during school holidays.” The extent to which this is true should be able to be established by research. This in turn should help to expand the common ground.
- The statements suggest that alternatives to the bypass might be explored first, to see if they can indeed reduce congestion more cheaply.
Perry Walker firstname.lastname@example.org