2 December 2009
EGBA has, through the Mid Sussex Alliance of Business Associations, obtained the agreement of the Leadership of MSDC that car parking is one of the four priority issues that need to be considered jointly with the Alliance over the next twelve months.
The Leadership agreed that, to make a contribution on an informed basis, the members of the Alliance needed to have seen and studied the feedback data available from the machines on the usage and income generated from each of the car parks over the last two years.
Councillor Gary Wall, who until November was the Cabinet Member within MSDC responsible for the car parks has now become the new Leader of the Council and Councillor Pru Moore takes over responsibility for leisure and outdoor services…..including parking. While she will need a little time to pick up her portfolio, we will now have a Leader familiar with the dimensions of the parking issues.
MSDC have meantime appointed a consultant to assist them and are busy drafting the “terms of reference” for a working group that is guiding work on a new car parking strategy. It is therefore clear that this issue is being given their full attention at this moment in time.
24 November 2009
Demise of the Relief Road
Since it became apparent early this year that the “relief road” solution, funded by a major strategic housing development west of the town, was no longer viable due to the recession forcing the construction consortium to withdraw their offer, the EGBA, at the behest of its members, took upon itself to explore what alternatives might be possible.
The “relief road” option had made it clear that any solution, to have a half sensible time scale, must avoid encroaching into Surrey and East Sussex. Getting three county authorities to agree on any such scheme is clearly a political nightmare.
It is also clear to anyone that you can solve a traffic problem many ways if as a community you are prepared to accept the costs they impose, and clearly these costs come in many guises. For instance there is financial cost, and in this particular time of recession that might be really difficult. But there are other costs as well which we identified as:-
i) Community cost - the down side impact on a part of the community from putting in a new road, or creating a one-way system, or imposing a complicated road junction all for the benefit of the greater community, even accepting there might be some financial compensation.
ii) Health and Safety cost - the down side of speeding-up traffic flows which then leads to the need for traffic calming or expensive protected pedestrian crossings.
iii) Disruption cost - during installation, for how long and to what extent will the town have to suffer major disruption and increased traffic chaos.
iv) Political cost - the inevitable cost to an elected authority of undertaking something that will be unattractive to a part of the community, and which will engender some degree of opposition.
v) Social cost - the degree to which any such scheme will impact for the worse the character and attractiveness of a part of the town and damage its heritage.
Conducting a Trial run to Better Understand WSCC Response?
The Executive Committee decided to prepare and put forward the best version of such a solution that it could devise to the County Council in an attempt to better understand how such potential solutions are considered and evaluated. Clearly, to be adopted, any such solution must provide sufficient traffic benefit to justify what is also seen to be the most acceptable balance of all these costs.
At a most informative meeting with a senior representative of the Council’s transport planning department towards the end of September the strengths and weaknesses of this proposal were discussed. Our understanding was that for delivering increased traffic capacity it scored well, and for financial and disruption cost it was attractive. However it presented some concern on health and safety grounds and was of sufficient concern on the social and community front to make render it in effect unacceptable for any elected authority to adopt.
The verdict of the professionals, the transport planners rather than the elected councillors, was also relevant. Nowadays, these traffic problems are considered to be multi-dimensional problems that require multi-dimensional solutions. You cannot just treat them as traffic problems caused by an inadequate road layouts. Catering for ever more cars gets the community into deeper trouble - better to persuade people to change their habits by sharing transport, using alternative transport systems or working and shoping locally.
What is the Council’s Solution?
The Council proposes to improve the five road junctions on the A22 between the A264 junction at Felbridge in the north and Moat Road junction to Tunbridge Wells in the south. Details of these proposals, based on work by consultant Atkins, are on the WSCC website, and there is a clear appraisal and summary by our Town Council’s consultant MTRU on the Town Council’s website. Our understanding of what this will provide, if adopted, is achieving something approaching a 5% traffic reduction as set against a predicted progressive 18% traffic increase between now and 2026 on the A22. And it should be recognised that it will take some 5 years to implement these junction improvements during which time the traffic capacity will be significantly reduced as against its current situation today.
WSCC accept that to keep the traffic density at to-days level, will require successful initiatives towards a modal change in transport habits, enhanced public transport, and making all future housing developments either car reduced if not car free. These, if both well set-up and positively managed, will not effect significant change on the ground within perhaps 5 or maybe 10 years.
What does that Mean?
Well, our interpretation of this is that:-
i) Traffic congestion will continue increasingly to restrict development in the Town.
ii) It will ultimately create a development ceiling.
iii) Economic vitality will be curtailed.
iv) Local employment will stagnate.
What Else can be Done?
We asked WSCC whether other direct solutions existed that, unlike ours, might be politically acceptable and provide some time within which to effect the modal change in transport behaviour that they were looking for.
The answer was that this was a fair question, seeing as it is now some 12 years since the “relief road” option put a halt to all other investigations. We were advised that WSCC would investigate whether there was mileage in employing a consultant to do a further study, and they would come back to us in the very near future with an answer.
Failing that, we debated with our Chairman, Nicholas Soames, what else we could do, and whether this was a predicament peculiar to East Grinstead. His views were typically positive and forthright. Clearly this is an increasingly familiar problem for many towns in England, and particularly the South East. If you can’t find a solution by conventional means then you have to think “outside the box”. And who best to consult on such remedies ? Well the universities have always been the intellectual hot-houses for conducting research and for coming-up with innovative thinking, and new ideas. Find the three or four leading “urban and transport planning” faculties in the country, and see what they can offer by way of research or innovative thinking.
We await the response from WSCC regarding the viability of a further consultant’s review of any potential existing “direct solutions”, and in the meantime will review which universities might be best qualified to take on an assignment to solve our town’s traffic predicament, now of some 50 years standing.
24 November 2009
The EGBA is currently working as a member of the Mid Sussex Alliance of Business Associations together with the MSDC economic development team to develop an EDS for the District Council.
The first draft has identified the agreed key objectives as;-
- i) Provision of suitable employment land and floorspace to meet the needs of existing and future employment growth.
- ii) Promotion of the town centres for shopping, leisure, visitors and employment.
- iii) Promotion of a healthy rural economy.
- iv) Promotion of a strong visitor and tourism economy.
- v) Promotion of Inward Investment.
- vi) Provision of skills and to meet the requirements the future economy.
- vii) Support and assist the County Council's transport and traffic initiatives and strategy.
Recognising that the strategy will be judged solely by the actions it achieves, the next round of identifying the key actions by which to realise these objectives will be critical.
The idea initially put forward by Stuart Scholes for a statue to commemorate the pioneering surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe and the contribution played by the residents of East Grinstead in patients’ rehabilitation is gathering pace.
The EGBA in collaboration with the Blond McIndoe Research Foundation and the Town Council has formed a Steering Group. Martin Jennings the renowned sculptor has been commissioned and a site ear marked.
A world-wide fund raising campaign will shortly be launched to provide the £175,000 needed using a dedicated web site. Donations can now be sent directly to http://www.justgiving.com/McIndoe-Memorial.
Why a statue?
It is now over fifty years since East Grinstead’s most famous adopted son died and there is nothing in the town to recognise his achievements and the part played by the residents of ‘The town that didn’t stare’.
The EGBA believes that the focus both national and international that the statue will put on the town will have lasting benefits – both psychological and financial.
In is intended that the money necessary to complete the project will be raised by donations.