Parish council's £4,000 botch-up as Freshford traffic plan is shelved
ALLEGATIONS of 'bungling' have been made over Freshford Parish Council's handling of its widely condemned Shared Space initiative.
The traffic-calming idea outside the Primary School was rejected last year after the council spent nearly £4,000 of public money trying to ‘sell’ the plan to the village.
The news brought cheers from opponents who had branded the idea ‘misguided’ and ‘potentially dangerous’.
It also brought startling claims that right from the outset the parish council had not� asked the school for its opinion on a Shared Space scheme � even though it affected the safety of hundreds of children and parents.��
B&NES rejected the parish council's ideas in which drivers and walkers would have shared a ‘merged’ road and pavement right outside the school. It said the cost ‘could not be justified on traffic and safety grounds’.
But cost was the last thing on the PC's mind in 2007 when it lashed out £3,855 of taxpayers’ money for a report and slide-show presentation on traffic-calming measures in the village.
School's superior scheme
Critics say the council ignored widely-held fears that many drivers were already busting speed limits as they hurtled down Freshford Lane towards the school.
One observer said: ‘Spending £3,855 was outrageous � especially when B&NES ended up rejecting the firm’s idea. Children and parents were likely to have been put in danger from speeding drivers outside the school � and the merged “shared space” design looked awful. That £3,855 was just money down the drain.’
As the parish council’s original ideas are kicked into touch, approval is almost certain to be given for a simpler and far superior scheme in which the school itself is playing a major role.
The B&NES initiative � which is likely to be funded from the Safer Routes to School budget and the Traffic and Safety Task Register � would mean:
BUILDING a pavement behind the hedge on the school side of Freshford Lane all the way to the lay-by where coaches could safely deliver and pick up pupils,
RAISING the level of the road junction and its approaches and highlighting the surface, and
EXTENDING the pavements on the corners by the school, the old Post Office and New Road/Dark Lane.
But with dozens of schools jostling to win B&NES’s cash for schemes, it could be two years or more before the Freshford project gets the go-ahead.
'Squandered our money'
What many villagers want to know now is: Why the hell wasn’t the school asked for its views before the parish council forked out thousands of pounds of public money on consultants?
A senior officer in B&NES’s Highways office told The Stroller: ‘I suggest you raise this with the parish council which might be able to answer your query.’
Clearly this is unlikely, based on the council’s handling of the affair so far.
However, sources ‘close’ to Freshford Primary are outraged that the school was not asked for its suggestions right from the beginning.
As one source said: ‘We were told what we'd get � instead of being asked what we needed. Minds had been made up. It was a fait accompli.’
Yet it is understood that this aspect has never been touched on at parish council meetings. Indeed, members spent barely three minutes discussing the project at one recent meeting.
Equally worrying, The Stroller learns that the parish council had not even bothered to contact the consultants since cheerfully handing them the £3,855 for that 2007 presentation in the Memorial Hall.
A reliable source close to the firm declared: ‘We’re not clear who, if anyone, is driving things forward on the parish council.’
An exasperated villager commented: ‘If true, this is appalling after the PC squandered £3,855 of our money. But, then again, maybe that’s par for the course in view of the ruddy awful botch-up this parish council has made of the whole business.
‘Instead of showing such arrogance, these people should be ashamed � especially after asking the entire village to the consultants’ presentation.'
The meeting had been a ‘sham’, he claimed. ‘The invitation to the Memorial Hall said we’d be able to raise “traffic and parking” issues. But the parish council wasn’t interested. The Shared Space idea they were promoting seemed to be paramount.
'After forking out that jaw-dropping £3,855, it obviously felt it had to steamroller through this scheme.
‘Just remind me never to accept a parish council “invitation” again.’
Many onlookers at that packed meeting two years ago were horrified when large sections of the audience rallied behind the consultants’ ideas with indecent haste as the PC's chairman hurried proceedings along, whipping up support for a 'yes' vote.
As he left the meeting, one Freshford veteran and former councillor raised his eyes skywards, shook his head and remarked to friends: 'I don't believe it. How could so many seemingly intelligent people fall for all this?'
Well, now we know . . .
For it's a question that more and more villagers must have been asking themselves in sheer embarrassment since rashly voicing their support for the scheme.
Within weeks, however, it was becoming clear that many of them had simply not thought through the consequences.
So how does the scheme work? In a nutshell, the pavement is hijacked by motorists to become part of the road. Then pedestrians have to pray that drivers will never speed in these areas, never park on pavements . . . and always give way to them.
Some hopes! Freshford Lane now has:
Two triangular signs warning of a school ahead and children crossing,
A 30mph limit, then a 20mph zone from the cemetery, past the school to the bridge by The Inn.
The huge word ‘SLOW’ painted in the road near the school, and
A separate sign across the road from the school warning of children playing.
But a covert traffic survey by The Stroller over four days last year showed that an astonishing six drivers in 10 were busting the 30 and 20mph limits � and putting in danger dozens of children, mothers and other villagers.
Indeed, several drivers were seen ‘careering’ through the 20mph zone towards the school� � some of them while talking into mobile phones.
Yet if the consultants pushing the scheme at that meeting had been successful, Freshford Lane could have been stripped of warning signs � because the firm likes to dismiss many signs and road markings as mere “clutter”.
Outrage at 'confusion' theory
Meanwhile, a row has broken over 'irresponsible' remarks made by a parish councillor closely connected to the first scheme. The member, who retired said he backed the firm’s ideas outside the school because they were based on ‘confusion’ � the confusion of motorists suddenly confronted with pedestrians in the road!
His extraordinary view was certain to infuriate mothers with children and was branded ‘outrageous’ by a regional road safety officer.
He said it was ‘vital’ that drivers travelling down Freshford Lane � especially those not familiar with the area � had a clear warning of any shared zone ahead and fully understood there could be people in the road or crossing it.
Another angry observer said that advocating ‘confusion’ would be ‘like playing a motoring version of Russian Roulette with children’s lives’.
The consultants’ 2007 slide-show raised another concern, too.
Some members of the audience claimed that film shots of normally busy spots which had been given the consultants’ “treatment” seemed to show only a few vehicles . . . or none at all.
‘This gave a distorted picture in some cases,’ one resident claimed. 'I wasn’t happy about it.’
Thankfully, though, the tide seems to be turning nationally against shared space� � especially among groups representing the partially sighted and disabled.
Not that The Stroller is against the concept. Shared space has had notable successes in towns and cities all over the world.
But using it in the perilously confined area slap outside the gates of Freshford Primary School could be lethal unless ALL drivers curb their excesses.
Which is why The Stroller was adamant from the outset that the parish council’s original and ill-conceived idea had to be rejected.
We should all be mightily relieved that it has been.