Shaftesbury Council To Explore Better Bus Gate Options By Recruiting Residents To Panel

Shaftesbury Town Council is encouraging residents to apply to join a working party to help find ‘an interim solution’ to the Mampitts Lane bus gate issue and address concerns over Pound Lane speeding.

Alfred attended Tuesday night’s Town Hall meeting, where the strong opinions aired indicated the challenge in trying to find consensus.

When the Chairman has to bang his gavel to bring the meeting back to order, you know how passionately people feel about the subject being debated. Last night, John Lewer pounded his wooden hammer on the desk four times in one hour.

Cllr John Lewer

Whether people think that the bus gate is a great or a terrible idea depends on which side of the proposed vehicle restriction they live. Some residents of The Maltings, to the east of the bus gate site on Mampitts Lane, feel they will be cut off if they can’t drive along the shorter, established route to town. The Maltings Residents Association Chairman John Butcher claimed that the council didn’t care about the eastern side of Shaftesbury. He recalled that when he moved to the estate, a resident had informed him of the proposed barrier with the words, ‘Welcome to the ghetto’.

Many Maltings residents feel it is unfair that they might have to make a long detour to reach Christy’s Lane. Conversely, Pound Lane locals, to the west of the bus gate site, want the restriction to stop cars speeding down their road. There have been accidents.

Lisa Burton of Gower Road said she was just six when the bus gate plans were first announced. She said that she understood, even at that age, that the road was not going to be used for traffic in the future. Lisa referred to a 2007 study stating that Pound Lane and Mampitts Lane were unsuitable for more traffic and there has been more development since then. A resident’s claim that Pound Lane ‘is twice as wide’ as Allen Road, the main route through The Maltings, was met with some shouts of disagreement.

Mayor Tim Cook took up the safety concerns. The Mayor requested that Maltings residents and visitors consider driving an extra mile and a half, along Allen Road and the A30, so they ‘don’t put lives in danger’. Some eastern-side residents, including Cllr Peter Yeo, were irritated. Peter drives to Andover each day and said he would be ‘annoyed’ by having his journey extended. He said there is, ‘nowhere else in Shaftesbury where a whole area would be cut off and people would be inconvenienced to go miles in the wrong direction’. That remark also brought a noisy reaction, this time from residents of the western side of the bus gate.

Site of the proposed bus gate on Mampitts Lane

Meeting Chairman John Lewer said he could see how blocking the shortest route of travel to Christy’s Lane was at odds with a recent Shaftesbury Town Council decision. “We voted to recognise the climate emergency. Making people drive an extra mile to get to the supermarket is something that conflicts with that policy. It doesn’t matter what we do, somebody or the planet is going to lose,” he said.

Cllr Cook explained that the revised bus gate plans would consist of a raised ‘speed cushion’ type hump on the roadway, road markings and a sign banning any traffic except emergency vehicles, bicycles and buses. Plans for a physical barrier had been dropped because the Ipswich prototype had been beset with problems.

Developer Persimmon had been told to submit a new bus gate design in the summer but only sent Dorset Council revised plans this week, he said. Cllr Cook hadn’t seen these drawings but advised that the Highways Department was, ‘holding back money’ from the developer while the plans were being worked up.

Cllr Cook read out an email from Dorset Council officer Vernon Phillips which stated the preferred route for traffic, in the short term, is for all residents to use Allen Road and Greenacre Way onto the A30. Mr Phillips envisaged that Allen Road would connect with Wincombe Lane to give an additional route to the town.

This recently-sent email referred to an access road that had been promised over ten years ago. Imber Road resident Tony Reeve stood up, clutching home-purchase search documents from his solicitor which referred to this planned northern entrance to the estate.

Karen Tippens added that Barratt was granted planning consent for their, as yet unbuilt, 190- home development off Wincombe Lane with the condition that no homes could be built without the northern access road in place. But Cllr Yeo said he had spoken with Persimmon’s site manager, who had claimed the road wouldn’t be built because of a landowner disagreement.

Mayor Tim Cook said that Dorset Council intends to hold a consultation on the bus gate, but on its design rather than the principle of having it. Tim believes that the restriction should be built because it was agreed by the council, albeit some time ago. He had checked and the bus gate approval wasn’t conditional on the northern estate entrance.

Cllr John Lewer disagreed. “My feeling is we have to challenge that. In the short term, Allen Road would be the only access. That was ten years ago and for the next ten years, it’s going to still be the case. That’s not the short term. We’ve been denied the conditions that were promised. We’ve got to challenge anything that might give us a stopgap solution until we can get a proper solution,” said John.

Cllr Lewer was determined to discover why residents had waited so long for this road. “There is an impasse of some short, doubtless over money, between the current owner of the top piece of land through which this road will pass and Persimmon, or any developer that wants to build houses. It is being treated as a ransom strip. While they haggle over finding the way to make the most money, we have no solution,” said John.

“If Persimmon has anything to do with it, it won’t happen quickly. The road will be the last thing to be built and it won’t be adoptable. We can’t wait for it. We’ve got to do what little bits we can in the meantime,” added John, who began outlining options for a working party to consider how to address Pound Lane residents’ concerns over speeding without blocking Mampitts Lane. “We have to make the best of what we’ve got now – two not-very-good roads, but between them, we might be able to make it suit everybody to some degree.”

One idea involves pushing for part of the planned eastern bypass to be built between Wincombe Lane and the A30. “I’m not saying it would solve it. It would spread the traffic more widely to the detriment of Wincombe Lane. Nobody is going to win by this, but we can’t have people completely losing while other people completely win,” John said.

Karen Tippens suggested making the single lane stretch of Mampitts Lane wider. “If that means widening the narrowest bit using council land, I’m perfectly prepared to consider it,” said John. “Where the money comes from is another matter. That’s something that we would have to discuss.”

Mrs Tippens advised that Dorset Council has to consult Shaftesbury Town Council before they pass the Road Traffic Order, allowing the traffic restriction on Mampitts Lane. “It will come to you as a committee to vote on it. You can either vote for it or reject it. If you accept it then it goes to public consultation. If even one person objects, that moves it away from officers’ delegated authority and it has to go to the planning committee,” she explained.

Mrs Tippens pointed out that Cllr Tim Cook was a member of that Dorset Council committee, adding that he had suggested that the bus gate was ‘a done deal’. Mrs Tippens claimed it wasn’t.

“It would certainly be wrong to just ‘okay’ the traffic order. My belief is that it’s misguided and it’s going on information that is ten years old,” said Cllr Lewer. “I think we will have to oppose the notion of making it an offence to drive through it. We can traffic calm it. I would agree with a 20-mile-an-hour limit. A lot of people won’t, but I don’t see how else we can ameliorate the situation for all the people in the east,” he added.

Site of the proposed bus gate on Mampitts Lane

His proposal to set up a working party was agreed. “We want people from the public and preferably with knowledge and first-hand experience of the situation,” said Cllr Lewer. “It will be difficult to manage people with such diverging views. The only thing that I can say is that this group will not have any power to act, it will be purely information-gathering. As long as we get people who are prepared to listen and contribute, all I can hope for is that we have a civilised discussion of facts and a consideration of how to go forward.”

John said he wants to appoint two councillors, one from either side of the proposed bus gate. He dismissed Cllr Yeo’s claims that the ‘council is massively biased towards the west’. Cllr Yeo is the only member living on The Maltings. John also suggested a public consultation of people on both sides of the bus gate site, ‘To see what people would be prepared to live with’.

Residents were encouraged to put themselves forward for the working group of between ten and twelve people. You should contact the Town Hall if you want to be involved.

Cllr Lewer volunteered to chair this group. “The knowledge that people have of the way I behave on the council is that I can be trusted to be neutral,” he said. John hopes that the residents who attended Tuesday’s meeting found it constructive. “They all left happily saying ‘thank you’ – or the majority of them did. They have the faith that we are listening to them. I didn’t make any promises that we could deliver anything. I said very clearly at the beginning we are not the authority on either highways or planning. I think the time has come that we’ve got to make as much noise as we can,” he said.

But whether this group will make enough ‘noise’ to satisfy all residents remains to be seen. Mrs Tippens had urged the Town Council, ‘To start standing up for peoples’ rights’ and to pay for planning and legal advice. “You need to start getting nasty with Dorset Council, because they are authorising big planning applications and they are not endorsing the obligations,” she warned.