“People are really happy with the success of this scheme.” Deputy mayor praises Southwold trial “bus ban” after council backs moves to make it permanent
MOVES to combat traffic congestion in Southwold reached a key turning point this week when the town council backed a move to make a controversial 'bus ban' permanent.
Members voted in favour of keeping the trial scheme – which was set up to improve traffic flow by banning buses and coaches from travelling along High Street between Victoria Street and the Market Place – after hearing that it cut pollution and helped improve the atmosphere of the town centre.
But as the measures received glowing praise from councillors, a call was made to target delivery drivers parking along High Street in a bid to further ease the town's traffic woes.
Councillors at Tuesday night's meeting heard that the results of a public consultation pointed towards keeping the ban, with 145 of the 249 responses favouring a permanent ban; 96 against and eight inconclusive.
The meeting was also used as an opportunity to demonstrate the council's support for adopting a new 10-seater shuttle bus, which will ferry people along High Street, down to the harbour and towards the pier.
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But while the councillors stood firm over the town centre bus ban, they delayed their decision on where coaches should travel outside High Street for another six months – despite strong calls to change a current traffic order to allow them to drive along North Parade, turn right at St James Green and go out through Victoria Street.
Deputy mayor of Southwold John Windell told the meeting there was a noticeable difference in the traffic, and people's behaviour, thanks to the bus ban. He said: 'People are really happy with the success of this scheme. This year was the first time for a long time that it was not congested in Southwold.
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'Pollution levels are also lower and people's behaviour along High Street has improved.'
However, Sue Doy and Melaine Tucker felt more should be done to tackle delivery lorries.
Mrs Doy said: 'We still have a lot of congestion on High Street and that's where lorries, vans and building work are causing a problem.'
While welcoming fellow councillors' support for the bus ban, the mayor of Southwold, Michael Ladd, said the council should be cautious about restricting other large vehicles in the town centre.
He said: 'It is a high street at the end of the day and people, and businesses, do need to get deliveries.'
The decision on the 18-month trial bus scheme – paid for with �10,000 of the town council's money and match-funded by Suffolk County Council – came after a presentation on the subject by the town council's traffic working group. It revealed that bus passenger numbers in July and August going to and from Southwold had increased on the 601 and 520 services, according to figures supplied by Anglian Bus.
The working group also used the opportunity call for a larger more robust shelter at the main town centre bus stop outside the King's Head, as well as stressing the benefits of adopting a new shuttle bus for the town.
The idea has been mooted as a potential solution for some passengers who have to walk further up High Street with their shopping after the main bus stop was moved from outside Chapman's News as part of the trial.
The small bus, which has 20,000 miles on the clock and has been taxed until April 2013, is worth about �4,500, but would be donated by Suffolk County Council for free.
It was previously reported that it may cost �1,500 a year to run, but the working group asked the council if it could further investigate the financial viability of vehicle before it was adopted.
Speaking after the meeting, the chairman of Southwold Chamber of Trade, Guy Mitchell, welcomed the plans for a new shuttle bus. But he expressed concerns over calls to restrict delivery lorries deemed crucial for businesses. He said: 'We are very pleased that the council are considering running a shuttle bus in the town and look forward to hearing more details about how they plan to operate this.
He added: 'Businesses in Southwold have enough problems to deal with and in the real world delivery restrictions are totally impractical.
'We share the council's concern regarding the control of inconsiderate parking in the centre of town and agree that the key to keeping traffic flowing is to encourage and enforce sensible parking by visitors and residents alike.'
Meanwhile, a public transport pressure group heaped criticism on the town council over the way it conducted a public consultation on the bus ban. Rod Lock, the secretary of the East Suffolk Travellers' Association, said: 'It still appears the scheme has been judged more on whether people think it is good idea rather than on objective evidence.
'I would have thought that at the beginning of the ban a census would have been taken in the town and after the bus stop had been relocated.
'It doesn't appear coach passengers were consulted.'
John Perkins, secretary of the Southwold and Reydon Society, said: 'The public consultation reflects the result of the survey we carried out of our own members which was overwhelmingly in favour of retaining the ban but with the proviso that it was not damaging trade in High Street. I assume from the council's decision that this is not the case.'
At present, coaches are restricted from entering Victoria Street, while a separate traffic order prevents them entering North Parade.
A final decision on whether the bus ban scheme should become permanent will be made by Suffolk County Council.