Shaftesbury Town Council has deferred making a decision on proposals for tackling High Street traffic congestion. Councillors wanted more evidence to show that there is a traffic problem before accepting Dorset County Council’s plan.
But as ThisIsAlfred discovered, finding a solution acceptable to all parties could be difficult.
Dorset councillor Derek Beer’s John Peel Café is near to the narrowest stretch of the High Street. He says that he frequently witnesses problems when vehicles mount the pavement. “You see so many people shouting, going at each other and getting angry. The pedestrian doesn’t get a look in because cars have to rise onto the pavement. The town is not built for cars and people,” said Cllr Beer. He supported the suggestion of the county’s Highways Team of adding new markings to the High Street.
“They were offering a solution for ‘the narrows’ where they would put blips on the side of the pavement, on the road side, to reduce the ability for cars to stop at the most narrow part,” explained Town Clerk, Claire Commons.
These ‘blips’ are two dashes of yellow paint, on the curb, at right angles to the road. The county wanted to put seven sets of these markings on one side of the street, between Boots and Shaftesbury Wines. The markings would prohibit unloading at the times displayed on a sign. Drivers would be allowed to drop-off passengers but couldn’t park, even if they were displaying a disability blue badge.
“There’s been recognition that quite a lot of people are either parking illegally or making use of the blue badge facility. It allows drivers to stop, provided they are not causing an obstruction. It is often down to perception as to whether they are,” said Claire.
Mayor Piers Brown told the meeting that he had been driving for three or four years, often behind the wheel of vans. He wasn’t convinced by the effectiveness of the blips, as he had no idea what the markings meant until he read about them in the Council agenda report. He told the meeting that a ‘workman’s code’ exists, where working drivers will park on a double yellow ‘whatever happens’.
Chamber of Commerce Chairman and Shaftesbury Wines owner David Perry doesn’t want the additional markings or the associated signage. “I think it’d be quite ugly and we’re a pretty Saxon hilltop town,” he said. And David isn’t convinced that ‘blips’ will help stop obstruction, congestion and vehicles mounting the pavement to pass. “The issue is about people doing things illegally,” he said.
David doesn’t believe that the current regulations are effectively enforced. “People know they’re not allowed to park on a ‘give way’ and they do every night, at five o’clock,” said David, who believes that obscuring that road marking by parking over it is an offence.
Shaftesbury’s Royal British Legion Chairman Robin Miller has frequently campaigned for measures to reduce what he argues is a risk to pedestrians. He thinks that it’s worth applying the blip markings. “It would stop huge lorries, parking to unload at peak times of the day and forcing either busses or other huge lorries to go on the pavement, which is patently unsafe. I think that putting yellow lines there and restricting lorries to unload only before nine o’clock or after four o’clock would work,” said Robin.
He thinks the blips would be useful by prohibiting disabled vehicles from parking in areas that are dangerous. “I’ve seen blue badge cars parked in the barrows, causing total blockage. I don’t think that is either within the law or the spirit of being issued a blue badge,” he said. Robin agreed with David’s view that there needs to be better enforcement. “If we don’t get the officials to enforce whatever is brought in, we may as well not do it,” said Robin.
But Cllr Lester Taylor felt that the stretch of High Street proposed for the blips was too extensive and restricted the loading operations of businesses on the southern side of the High Street. David Perry agreed. “We have deliveries from small companies. We can’t schedule them because they’re coming from London and they’ve got twenty deliveries on their run. They come here when they get here,” said David.
Cllr Beer believes that businesses could work around the restrictions. “When the Angel Lane car park was built, we made sure it had the extra lane in it so that vehicles could come behind the premises and unload or load. And the big shops all have their deliveries through the night. So it’s only little deliveries and it doesn’t really hurt to walk a bit. The main priority is doing whatever can be done to make shopping or walking through the town more friendly, more sociable and a happier event,” said Derek.
David argues that it is buses, rather than lorries, that cause the biggest problem. “I’ve had to jump out of the way of a bus, into a shop doorway, to stop being run over by a bus or being hit by the wing mirror,” David said. “We have got buses going either way, up through the town, and they don’t stop for anybody. Last year two buses didn’t give way to each other. They ended up on the pavement with a wing mirror in a shop doorway at Fork and Flowers. You couldn’t squeeze pass on either side of the road.”
Claire Commons says the Town Council wants to hear the views of businesses along the stretch of High Street being considered for the markings. “It’s important that we get the qualitative information so the traders and the users of the High Street are able to give us their opinions and so that the Council can make a balanced decision,” said Claire. Town councillors said that they wanted more proof of necessity before approving the blip-painting proposal.
Cllr Luke Kirton voiced his surprise at the ‘lack of any mention of evidence of need’. Luke explained that he didn’t come into town every day but claimed, ‘people do not park on the pavement. I have never noticed it to be an issue’.
Mayor Piers Brown asked whether the markings would save any lives. The meeting heard that there had only been one ‘slight’ pedestrian injury during an incident near to Squires in 2017. But Robin Miller believes there’s enough evidence already. “The town has expressed its view in many public surveys over the last 22 years. They all say the same thing. The population is not happy with the congestion and they’re not happy with the safety of ‘the narrows’. All those surveys should be evidence enough for something to be done, rather than deferring and waiting for more evidence,” said Robin.
And Robin says he was nearly hit by a lorry’s wing mirror when walking along ‘the narrows’. “Had I not ducked, my head would have been knocked clean off. I’ve seen other very near misses along there. Must we wait for a near fatal or fatal accident before we do something about it?” asked Robin.
A lot of people seem to have anecdotes about ‘near misses’. I asked Claire Commons whether stories and observations are acceptable or whether the Council would only consider statistical or survey evidence. “It’s a tricky one,” says Claire. “Perception is perception, even in volume, but anecdotal evidence and first hand experience is definitely going to carry some weight. And then, if we add to that professional reports of which we may already have the data from previous surveys we’ve carried out, we should be able to provide that.”
The Town Council has not set a date for a future debate on the Dorset Highways’ blip-marking proposal. “They didn’t give an indication, so our job, in the office, is to go and gather the evidence and put it back in front of councillors,” said Claire.
So if you have evidence to share or have a strong opinion whether you are for or against the idea, tell the Town Hall. “I’m pleased that the Council has recognised the need for evidence before it makes the decision, to make sure that the decision is sound,” added Claire.
But even if the Town Council backs the blips, it would be some time before they are painted on the side of the pavement. “I think we’re looking at a two to three year timeframe for its implementation. Nothing goes quickly in local government at the best of times, unfortunately,” said Claire.
And just because of that timeline, Cllr Lester Taylor felt that the next Town Council, which begins its four-year term after the May elections, should decide the matter.