LYME Regis Town Council has formally retracted its support for a pedestrian crossing in Broad Street, despite pleas from elderly and disabled residents.
Lyme Regis Town Council first requested a pedestrian crossing in 2016 when more than 600 residents signed a petition in favour of the idea. However, concerns have since been raised about its proposed location between the Pug & Puffin and Joules stores, the potential for traffic congestion and the loss of four or five on-street parking spaces a crossing would cause.
Dorset County Council’s highways officer recommended refusal of the crossing, saying the loss of parking would adversely affect local businesses. But the county’s Regulatory Committee unexpectedly went against the recommendation, instead putting it forward for approval as they felt the benefits of the crossing outweighed the disadvantages.
The proposal is now expected to be taken to Dorset County Council’s Cabinet for a final decision in the New Year.
Despite their initial support for the crossing, several members of the town council expressed concern that it may now be approved.
County councillor Daryl Turner said the town council’s current position on the crossing would be an important consideration for the Cabinet.
An extraordinary meeting of the town council was called last night (Wednesday) to reconsider the matter, where several people in favour of the crossing spoke in the public.
Duty to eliminate discrimination
Adrian Robinson, who is visually impaired, made a legal argument for the crossing. He told councillors that the Department of Transport’s best practice document ‘Assessment of Crossings’ states that local authorities should provide facilities which enable disabled people to cross the road safely.
He added that the Single Equality Act 2010 requires an authority to take action when a ‘physical feature’, such as an increase in traffic, puts a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage.
He added: “A public authority is required to ensure that it eliminates discrimination and foster or encourage good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who don’t.
“Your current indecision has driven a wedge between those who are older, disabled or with pushchairs and the general population.
“You have a lawful pre-emptive duty to eliminate discrimination, if you back track on your previous recommendation, you will unlawfully breach these duties, which you no not have the authority to do.”
Victoria Stocqueler, who suffers mobility problems, said she had travelled to neighbouring towns to go shopping rather than “play chicken” in Broad Street, and Judy and Mike Haines, from Charmouth, wrote a letter to the council saying they had struggled to help elderly relatives across Broad Street.
Lizzie Wiscombe, who is also visually impaired and brought her guide dog to the meeting with her, said she was the first to suggest the idea of the crossing.
She said she found trying to cross the main street in her hometown a “very traumatic experience” and she still required help despite having her guide dog.
“Imagine the courage it takes for me, or anyone like me, to step off the pavement and put my life at risk every time I want to cross the road independently,” she added.
Lyme Regis resident Joan Cool, who is in her 90s, also wrote to the council, commenting: “A stair lift was installed to help any member who was unable to climb the stairs to the council chamber, yet there seems to be a reluctance on the part of the town council to have a pedestrian crossing installed for the general use of the disabled members of the people of Lyme and also the visitors.
“It seems that it is okay to help a councillor but not okay to help members of the public who need to cross Broad Street.”
Starting the council’s discussion on the matter, Councillor Jeff Scowen said he agreed with Lyme’s county councillor Daryl Turner, who had suggested that Lyme’s traffic problems needed to be addressed as a whole.
“It’s far too simplistic and premature to just put a crossing in Broad Street,” he added.
“We all wish to look after our disabled citizens, Lyme’s a caring society. It’s not about disadvantaging disabled people, it’s about looking at the whole picture. We could possibly have a crossing, but not until we look at the problem as a whole.”
Councillor Scowen pointed out that results from a comprehensive traffic survey carried out on behalf of the council were imminent, and they should wait for these before taking any action.
Councillor Cheryl Reynolds – who led a petition for the crossing which gained more than 600 signatures – asked: “How long have we been waiting to get the traffic sorted out in Lyme? I rest my case.”
She continued: “How many towns and even villages do you now without any pedestrian crossings? Lyme Regis has a large percentage of elderly people; in fact 50.2 per cent over twice the national average and 23.8 per cent of the population is disabled. Elderly people tend to have mobility and other health issue problems that make crossing the street a feat in itself.
“Those with mobility issues, visual impairment or lacking in confidence will not be able to cross the road easily and, for them, the sheer number and frequency of vehicles makes crossing almost impossible.
“And don’t forget that for much of Broad Street there is a raised footway on the southern side making it very difficult for the less agile to cross quickly and, potentially, leaving them trapped in the carriageway.”
Councillor Reynolds went on to dismiss arguments regarding the potential traffic congestion a crossing could cause, pointing out that Dorset County Council’s highways officer said this would not be a concern.
“There will always be traffic build up in the summer that is inevitable. Pedestrian crossings always cause some delay but is that an excuse for not protecting vulnerable people?” she asked.
Councillor Reynolds also argued that the loss of four or five on-street parking spaces caused by the crossing could be alleviated by moving the Broad Street bus stop further up the road to its original position – something the town council has been trying to achieve for years – which would make space for additional parking spaces. Dorset County Council has now agreed to look into this.
She added: “Does the loss of spaces or the traffic tailback or indeed any of it, compare to what disabled and the elderly face when crossing the road?”
Loss of parking ‘damaging’ for less mobile
Councillor Brian Larcombe said he had sympathy with the partially sighted and less mobile members of our society, but it was “nonsense” to suggest that Lyme needed a crossing just because other towns and villages had one.
He also argued that the loss of on-street parking would not be made up by the bus stop being moved, as he believed this would only create two additional spaces.
He added: “Those spaces in the town are used by the less mobile and partially sighted passengers of cars. It allows them to park right outside the shops they wish to use. I suggest that this simplistic idea actually is damaging to the less mobile and partially sighted by removing those very valuable parking spaces.”
Councillor Larcombe questioned how much the crossing would actually be used, suggesting that pedestrians would not walk half way up or down the hill to get to the other side.
He added that the DCC highways officer had deemed the area “low risk” and said it would be “remiss” of the council not to wait for the results of the traffic survey.
Councillor Larcombe finished by saying he had sympathy with the disabled but his comments received jeers from the public gallery.
Councillor Stan Williams expressed concern that the council had only heard one side of the argument from the public gallery, and said he felt local traders should have been invited to the meeting to put forward their case.
He said this was “dreadfully unfair” and the council shouldn’t make a decision before hearing from all interested parties. However, he agreed that they should wait for the results of the traffic survey.
Councillor Owen Lovell also said that if Lyme Regis was going to get a pedestrian crossing, it should be part of a major traffic scheme.
He said that Dorset County Council “won’t like it because it will cost money” but they should continue pushing for an overall traffic scheme similar to that implemented in Dorchester.
Councillor Steve Miller said he had spoken to 35 Broad Street businesses and the majority of them were not against the pedestrian crossing. He said there was some concern about loss of parking, but traders were willing to see what happens and were concerned about safety of pedestrians.
Councillor Richard Doney said he understood the desire to have an overall solution to Lyme’s traffic problems, but any solutions suggested in the traffic survey would not be implemented anytime soon.
“As a public body I think we have a duty to help people who fund disadvantages in the society we have created for them,” he added.
“We have been through this twice before and made a decision, and I have not heard any new information tonight that says we were wrong.”
The Mayor of Lyme Regis, Councillor Michaela Ellis, said she had concerns about the location of the crossing and she would have liked to have the results of the traffic survey, but she added: “Council has already made a decision so I think we should stick with that and see where it goes.”
Councillors took some time to put forward an acceptable proposal, but it was eventually agreed to retract support for the pedestrian crossing. Those voting against the crossing were Stan Williams, Owen Lovell, Graham Turner, Sean Larcombe. Pat Hicks, Brian Larcombe and Jeff Scowen. Those in favour of it were Richard Doney, Cheryl Reynolds, Steve Miller and Michaela Ellis.
Following the meeting, Mr Robinson who spoke in the public forum, contacted LymeOnline to say he had submitted a formal complaint of indirect discrimination against the council on the grounds of disability.
He said the council was guilty of not carrying out its duty of care and, in failing to carry out its duties correctly, was also guilty of maladministration.
A final decision on the crossing is expected to be made by Dorset County Council Cabinet in the New Year.