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Contorversial bus and coach plans to go ahead

PUBLISHED: 19:45 01 April 2011

CONTROVERSIAL plans to ban buses and coaches from Southwold town centre were given the go-ahead this week - prompting complaints that the move will cause more problems than it solves.

The proposal – first reported by The Journal in January – had caused fierce debate in the town, with angry shopkeepers warning that it could hit trade by driving customers away from High Street.

But on Tuesday night, Southwold Town Council agreed to pay up to £10,000 to fund an experimental traffic control system in an effort to tackle the town’s long-standing congestion problems.

From June, buses and coaches will no longer be allowed to drop off and pick up people by Chapman newsagents.

Instead, they will drop passengers several hundred yards away at two bus stands and a coach stand by the King’s Head pub instead – thereby preventing them using High Street between Victoria Road and the Market Place.

The decision by town councillors will unlock a further pot of cash in the shape of match-funding from Suffolk County Council. As a result, the new arrangements can be in place in about 10 weeks’ time.

However, the move faces renewed criticism – with traders warning that daytrippers would be diverted away from the town centre, and others expressing concerns that it would cause hardship for the elderly and infirm.

The experimental traffic system could last up to 18 months and is being set up by the town council in response to a survey that showed 57pc of residents agreed there were congestion problems in the town centre.

Another result showed 37pc of people felt moving the bus stop would help deal with the problem.

At Tuesday’s meeting, one resident likened the scheme to “using a sledgehammer to crush a smallish nut”.

Julian Hirst, of the Southwold Traffic Group, said the scheme had not received overwhelming support, accusing the council of “committing money to something that has not had full consultation”.

But another resident, Shirley Oldman, disagreed, saying traffic had been building in Southwold for the last year and that the existing bus stop had become a “hiding place for yobs” and that it “smelled of urine”.

After the meeting, Guy Mitchell, the new chairman of Southwold and District Chamber of Trade and Commerce, said he feared that visitors to Southwold might be discouraged from exploring the High Street’s eclectic mix of shops.

He said: “The fact is that buses and coaches will stop at the King’s Head and, as a result, people will not get a proper glimpse of Southwold. We are very worried about the economic impact of it.

“We were very disappointed that people on the electoral roll were consulted by the town council and not the business rate payers. There should be a further consultation on this.

“With libraries and other services closing surely the council could have spent this money better elsewhere.”

Mr Mitchell, who is sub-post master at Southwold Post Office, said the new bus stop and coach stand would also lead to fewer parking spaces – putting off people from Reydon and surrounding villages from travelling in to shop.

Sylvia Rockley, 81, told The Journal the plan would force her to give up using the bus.

Instead, she has arranged for lifts from her Reydon home into Southwold town centre through a voluntary group, as she cannot face the long walk from the new stop to some High Street shops.

Mrs Rockley, of Adamson Road, said: “There is no way I could walk that far to the bus stop with all my bags of shopping. It would just be too much for me and other people of my age.

“I think what the council is doing is a bit crazy. It is going to stop elderly people going into Southwold.”

The town council insists the new measures are needed as Southwold’s congestion is getting worse – particularly in summer – as a result of buses clogging up roads and the growing popularity of the town as a tourist destination.

It has also defended its traffic survey by saying it needed to get the views of the town and not just the High Street.

When asked to comment on Tuesday night’s granting of the funds town council clerk Jenny Hursell said: “The council has agreed to move forward with the proposals and has committed funds.”

l What do you think of the experimental bus and coach ban – is it a good or bad move? Write to us at Postbox, The Journal, 147 London Road North, Lowestoft NR32 1NB or email max.bennett@archant.co.uk

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