TOWN councillors have rejected a suggestion that the Cart Road in Lyme Regis should remain closed to vehicles either permanently or during the summer months.
Dorset Council implemented a temporary traffic order to close the Cart Road to vehicles – other than for resident access, deliveries and maintenance – over the summer months to allow more space for social distancing.
It is planning to reopen the road at the end of this month, meaning disabled blue badge holders will once again be allowed to park on the seafront.
However, town councillors considered a suggestion this week that an application should be made to Dorset Council for the closure to become permanent.
Councillors were fairly evenly split on the subject, with some describing the ability to park on the seafront a “lifeline” for disabled residents, while others suggested it was dangerous.
Councillor John Broom said he felt “very strongly” about the subject, commenting: “I believe that the Cart Road should be open once again, as it always has been.
“Everyone’s been talking about the community and so I’m talking about the community, not the day-trippers. I believe everyone in the community, or at least disabled people in the community, wish to have it open. They like to go down there, park and look at the sea.
“I know there’s a problem with the risk assessment with cars and people but I’ve never known anyone to be knocked over on the Cart Road and as far as I know it’s always been a road and people should walk on the parade.”
Councillor Gillian Stammers disagreed, commenting: “Having walked along the Cart Road with my four children when they were small and now doing it with my granddaughter, I have felt regularly quite unnerved by the cars and the turning circle is so tonight for cars to turn around.
“It worries me terribly that road and there’s been quite a lot of traffic along there in the past on nice days.”
Councillor Stan Williams said he could not believe the council was even considering closing the road, saying it was the only access to the Cobb for heavy goods vehicles which were technically not supposed to travel down Cobb Road.
He added: “But the main point is that it’s a very important area for local people, disabled people, it’s their lifeline. They can come down in the winter anytime and look at the sea. I would like to know what possible reason there is to not allow that, it’s absolutely vital.
“We already have a problem in the town centre and we are losing half our car parking spaces. I cannot believe this, we cannot do without the disabled spaces on the Cart Road as well.
“It would be a real crime to the local people who we are meant to be looking after; that’s our job, to look after the council taxpayers and we are failing to do that. If we lose these spaces it would be an absolute disaster.”
Councillor Reynolds also argued that it was already difficult for disabled people to park, with only one designated space in the town centre that was “quite often filled up with people who aren’t disabled”.
She said the very least the council could do was open the Cart Road to disabled drivers in the winter months, adding that they needed to be careful not to break the Diversity & Equality Act 2010.
Councillor Belinda Bawden suggested they ask Dorset Council to create more disabled spaces in Cobb Gate car park but keep the Cart Road closed to traffic.
“We have government policy now urging us to prioritise walking and cycling; it’s much, much safer; we’ve still go social distancing in place and likely to have it for another year or two years, and it’s not feasible to expect everyone to walk along the top part of Marine Parade and remain socially distanced, it’s just not safe,” she said.
“I don’t feel safe going into town anymore when it’s really busy because of COVID and I just think not having the cars on the Cart Road has made things so much nicer for walkers, families and people with small children, and to have the confidence and ability to socially distance.”
Councillor Michaela Ellis said she had received several enquiries from residents about when the Cart Road would reopen as they had not been able to visit the seafront during the pandemic.
“They like to go down, sit in the car just for 20 minutes or so, see the sea, see people walking by and possibly even speak to people, it’s their only lifeline to see people sometimes,” she added.
Councillor Graham Turner suggested that the Cart Road should be closed to traffic in summer but open for disabled drivers in winter.
The mayor, Councillor Brian Larcombe MBE, said he agreed with a seasonal approach, adding: “I watched the road throughout the summer and it has been extremely noticeable that its catered much better with the volume of people coming along our seafront.
“It hasn’t always been available for disabled people to park on and I would suggest that when it started it was when Lyme wasn’t getting the same volume of visitors it is now. The numbers we have to try and accommodate are incredible.”
Councillor Broom commented: “Everyone is missing the point, it is for disabled people and not all disabled people can walk from Cobb Gate car park, they just have to go down in the car and sit and watch.
“As a community we should be looking after our own people and all everybody else is talking about is people that come to Lyme Regis. We should look after our own people and think about our own people a bit more than we do. It’s not right at all.”
The mayor replied: “These are special measures for the special needs of COVID and public safety… The parade cannot cater for the numbers and social distancing that COVID requires.”
Councillor Reynolds argued: “I have a real job walking to different places and I’m telling you, if you think that stopping the disabled people from parking down there, you are totally wrong. Try being disabled and see how you feel!”
The mayor said the council was stuck between “a rock and a hard place” as it tried to ensure COVID regulations were followed by a vast volume of people visiting the seafront.
Councillor Rob Smith commented: “I have massive sympathy for elderly people who can’t get down to the sea otherwise, perhaps they’re isolating and going stir crazy in their house. This gives them the opportunity to get out of the house in the car so they’re still isolating.
“We are trying to resolve a rock and hard place situation because we want disabled people to access the Cart Road but we need the space for social distancing.”
The matter was eventually put to the vote, with Cllrs John Broom, Stan Williams, Cheryl Reynolds, David Sarson and Michaela Ellis voting in favour of keeping the Cart Road open to vehicles and for disabled parking as usual, meaning the motion was carried.
Those voting against were Cllrs Gillian Stammers, Rob Smith, Graham Turner and Belinda Bawden, with Cllrs David Ruffle and Brian Larcombe abstaining.
The Cart Road is now expected to reopen to vehicles at the end of the month.