Dismay At County Council Handling Of The Active Travel Scheme
October 18th 2022
The meeting at St James' ChurchOriginally scheduled for 13th September, the meeting that Louth Town Council called for discussion of the county council's plans for an Active Travel Scheme took place on Monday 17th October at St James' Church. This is the scheme that involved a controversial series of parklets/sun loungers in Mercer Row, as well as changes to the parking there, coming at the same time as the closure, at times, of the Cornmarket to allow outdoor seating for use by some cafés.
People came to the church to make their views known, in an event intended to feed back the public's views on the travel scheme to the County Council. LCC was represented by Chris Miller, an officer with the title of Head of Environment. In other words, the county council sent an officer to explain things, rather than those people who made the political decisions. The county councillor for Louth South, Sarah Parkin, and the portfolio holder for Highways, Richard Davies, weren't present. A number of people expressed their disappointment because they hadn't attended.
How things got to this stageChris Miller opened the evening by explaining what had happened so far. He spoke about the money that was granted by government and ring-fenced for schemes that were initially meant to be temporary, to give an idea of what would be possible. These would lead to an 18-month Experimental Traffic Regulation Order, which is what Louth has ended up with.
The initial consultation took place during the pandemic, and one of the most shocking things that Chris Miller said was that it was done exclusively online. And there were only 514 respondents.
Oh, boy. In my view, this revelation goes a long way to explaining why the county council got things so badly wrong. Over 30% of the population of East Lindsey is over 65, and many people in that demographic aren't online, or aren't online often. Moreso, people with disabilities are especially under-represented online. So it's no wonder that fewer people who responded to the online survey pointed out its major flaws.
Disability accessCllr Lynne Cooney made an impassioned speech about the importance of disability access to the shops, speaking about the difficulties faced by those with special needs as well as physical issues. She pointed out that people with disabilities such as sight issues couldn't get online as easily to engage with the consultation.
These points about disability access were echoed many times by people who stood up to speak. Being able to park on Mercer Row is clearly crucial to a wide variety of people who come in to Louth, whether from inside the town or from the surrounding villages.
There were also a number of shopkeepers and business owners who spoke. John Woollis called the parklets a "ridiculous idea," saying "whoever thought of it should be sacked." He went on to talk about how the scheme discriminated against disabled people, which he called "a disgrace." He also made the suggestion of implementing more cycle racks.
Loss of footfallIt was concerning to hear from a manager at HSBC in Louth that the volume of customers they are seeing each month has dropped, potentially affecting the viability of the branch.
This is extremely worrying. One of the features of Louth is the fact that it still has a number of banks, while branches have closed in surrounding towns and villages.
"If the banks go, the town goes," local resident Tony Portas said.
Money, and next stepsA cheer went up when Chris Miller confirmed that the parklets are gone, and aren't coming back.
However, that raises the question of what happens next. One member of the public asked whether the scheme could be finished before the 18 months are up, and whether there was money to restore the town to the way it was before. Another asked whether the business owners could be compensated for their losses. Interestingly, one business on Mercer Row complained that the businesses on that street weren't consulted about the traffic changes before they took place.
A number of people were critical of the amount of money spent on the scheme, and what should happen with any remaining funds, particularly given the awful state of the national economy.
ConclusionsIt was really useful to hear the views of people on this scheme. Amidst universal condemnation of the scheme itself there was a consensus that in future, consultation should be carried out more inclusively in future, and people should be asked first rather than have solutions imposed on them from above.
What doesn't come across in this account of what was said, is the strength of feeling in the room, and the atmosphere. There is clearly a lot of passion for Louth, and a determination that the town centre must survive and thrive, and that we should be an open and inclusive town that gives fair access to those who struggle to get around. That was clear every time anyone stood up to speak. It gives me hope.
The views put forward at this meeting will be collated by Louth Town Council and sent to the decision makers at Lincolnshire County Council. This time, they had better listen.