Shaftesbury Town Council has approved a new process for assessing residents’ traffic or parking concerns. Town clerk Claire Commons told Alfred how requests for speed bumps and restrictions or yellow lines will now be considered.
Sometimes letters or emails are sent to the Town Hall asking for the introduction of traffic restrictions, curved mirrors or parking bays. Until now, a request from a single resident could bring about a council debate. But when town councillors decide to back a traffic measure, the final decision rests with Dorset Council’s Highways staff. Officers at County Hall need to consider whether the proposal meets legal requirements and whether it is considered important enough to spend allocated budget on.
Claire Commons says Dorset Highways tend to ask Shaftesbury Council’s opinion when considering potential schemes. “At the moment, members of Shaftesbury’s community are being bounced between the Town Council and Dorset Highways because we are saying, ‘It’s not our responsibility’ and Dorset is saying, ‘You need to get Town Council approval first’,” said Claire.
That’s why she has worked with her counterparts at Weymouth Town Council and Dorset Council Highways in agreeing a new ‘Community Highways Request Policy’. This procedure will address resident requests for all sorts of highway changes, such as double yellow lines, stop versus giveaway at junctions and width restrictions, says Claire. She adds that there have been, ‘quite of a lot of requests’ for width restrictions on St John’s Hill.
Claire says that solutions, which may appear straightforward, can sometimes bring unintended consequences. “When people see an issue arise, they often think that double yellows would solve the problem. We get quite a lot of comments about the High Street where people say, ‘If it was one-way there wouldn’t be the congestion’. The flipside of that is that one-way traffic would go faster. There are technical implications and Dorset Highways are experts in resolving those, but in the meantime, if there is local public support for an idea, we can look at it.”
The new procedures were agreed last month. Now, if you have a traffic concern, you should first contact the Town Hall and show that ten of your neighbours who also live along that stretch of road support your call for action. You will also need to convince at least one town councillor to back you. The issue will then be debated by the Town Council, who will vote on whether to ask the Dorset Highways team to take action.
Those traffic experts will determine what happens next. “There are some roads where it wouldn’t meet the criteria. They also look at their exceptionally small budget,” said Claire, adding that this new procedure filters out requests from individuals that are not widely supported.
Of course, residents who live on short roads or lanes with few homes may not have ten immediate neighbours. “We have covered that in the policy as well,” said Claire. “I would probably go out and have a look. I’d make sure that members were aware, and I would ask the people submitting to get a councillor on board, so they have that representation. I would either put it forward or say there was little point in doing so. The safety net for members of the public is having a councillor backing that idea. If they wanted to override my decision, they could put the motion forward to the council to reject it and say that they still wanted to discuss it”
Cllr John Lewer wants to assure townspeople that the process is transparent. “We have to be clear that there will be a mechanism to bring items in front of the council, if councillors think it is worth it,” said John. He wants to ensure that if the town clerk says ‘no’ councillors will still be aware that a member of the public has flagged up a traffic issue. That will enable a concerned councillor to raise the matter as an issue for debate.
I asked Claire what would happen if many residents wanted action on an issue, but no town councillors backed their request. “There are six ward members per ward. I would argue that if a member of the public cannot get one of the six ward members to support it, perhaps it’s something that is not going to get community support,” she said.
People sometimes believe that speeding is a problem, even though speed surveys reveal that drivers are sticking within legal limits. Claire says that Town Council might be able to help collect data which, if it shows that there is an issue, could influence Dorset Highway’s decision. “The Town Council could pay for traffic studies. We could pay £250 and get a traffic survey done of that particular area and we will provide the data, which will either prove or disprove the need.”
Another idea might be to set up a Community Speedwatch Group. The Town Council has measurement equipment that can be used to track the speed of passing vehicles and can be loaned to groups. “It has provided some really useful information. It was first used at Longcross and instigated the change at the bottom of the dual carriageway section.”
If Dorset Highways agree that requested changes are needed, but they don’t feel the works are important enough to spend their money on, the Town Council could step in. “There may be areas where the Town Council considers it worthwhile to put in money to supplement Dorset Council,” said Claire.
Claire says she hopes that this new policy creates a ‘robust and fair process’. Cllr Alex Chase said the idea seems ‘very sensible’ and ‘formalises a process that has, at times in the last year, appeared a little bit more like the Old West rather than modern government’.
It might be an intermediate step. Dorset Council is experimenting with a different working method in Sherborne. There, local Highways officers hold drop-in sessions where members of the public can chat with those experts. The staff can often inform residents whether their requested solution is possible, on the spot. Alex added that if councillors decide that this new system hasn’t worked over the next year, ‘it can be taken away’.