WHAT DO YOU THINK? Call for public consultation over Southwold bus ban

A FULL public consultation is needed to gauge people's opinions on the controversial 'bus ban' in Southwold town centre, a transport users' pressure group said this week.

The East Suffolk Travellers' Association (ESTA) is calling for a detailed survey to assess the experimental scheme which was drawn up to combat traffic congestion in the High Street.

It comes a year after the 18-month trial was introduced, and a bus stop was relocated from outside Chapman's News to the King's Head pub – a move that prompted criticism from some passengers.

Yesterday, the Southwold Chamber of Trade backed ESTA's call for a detailed study and said some businesses had reported a loss of trade because of the measures, which are likely to run until January.

But the Southwold and Reydon Society voiced support for the ban, saying it had helped tackle traffic problems.

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ESTA's chairman Trevor Garrod, said the group had become concerned about whether a comprehensive study was in place to assess the effects of the trial. He said: 'When it was announced that there would be an 'experimental' ban for 'up to 18 months', we were concerned about the vagueness of the measure.

'We asked who would evaluate the success or otherwise of the experiment? By what criteria will they do it? Will they, for example, measure the amount of cars coming in and out of Southwold? Or the amount of bus passengers? Or the effect on local businesses? Do they already have statistics for these measurements before July 2011, for comparison purposes?

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'We have repeated these questions since. We have been met each time by a deafening silence. We asked if we could hand out questionnaires on the buses (as we did for a survey on the train in 2009) but received no reply. Therefore, we sent it to our members and encouraged them to distribute it to other public transport users.

'As a result, in October/November 2011 we received 74 responses from bus users – a third of whom lived outside Southwold and Reydon. There was overwhelming support (87pc) for a return of the bus stop to the Market Place. Some respondents said they had stopped coming to Southwold by bus since the bus stop was moved from the Market Place to the King's Head and there were also comments that the bus shelter erected at the Kings Head was vastly inferior to the old one at the Market Place.

'Neither Suffolk County Council nor Southwold Town Council has even acknowledged ESTA's report. We should, however, be delighted if the county council were to spend a little of our council taxes in organising a survey of its own to ascertain what the bus passengers want. Such a survey is essential before any permanent decision is made.

'The council should also look again at alternatives, such as re-routing buses, park-and-ride schemes and even, in the longer term, discussing with the operator(s) whether smaller vehicles might be used for some services.'

The experimental scheme – paid for with �10,000 of the town council's money and match-funded by the county council – is designed to curb the number of large vehicles travelling along High Street between Victoria Street and the Market Place.

But businesses in Southwold have remained sceptical about the ban, which they feared would stifle their trade.

Guy Mitchell, chairman of the chamber of trade, said: 'The committee's views are that we would welcome consultation from Suffolk County Council, which was promised when the scheme started. Obviously emotions run very high on this issue and the only way to properly assess the trial is through some kind of quantitative survey. 'Traders in the Market Place side of the town have said the trial has had a detrimental impact on business.'

However, John Perkins, secretary of the Southwold and Reydon Society, said the ban has helped address the congestion blighting Southwold. Nevertheless, he believes more can be done to make the one-way system clearer and the bus shelter near the Kings Head more robust. He said: 'The view from the society is that it is working well and the High Street is less congested. One of our concerns is that by trying to relieve traffic in Southwold, we are creating a problem for people in Reydon. 'People coming into Southwold to do their shopping get dropped off at the King's Head and have to walk the length of the High Street loaded with bags to get back to the bus stop.

'The one-way system at King's Head also needs looking at because motorists are still ignoring it, which is an accident waiting to happen.

'But most of the people think its working well and pedestrians feel less intimidated by traffic – because the pavements are very narrow. On balance it is a much better system.

'However, if they are going to stick with the one-way system they need a better bus stop. There is very inadequate shelter and in the winter months there should be given something a little more robust to protect the old people.'

The issue is due to be discussed at meeting of Southwold Town Council at 7.30pm on Tuesday evening.

Southwold mayor Michael Ladd said: 'We have had a variety of views and the council want to take on board all these comments.'

A spokesman for Suffolk County Council said: 'The trial is still on going and can in theory be in place until January 2013. Until it's conclusion, we are not in a position to give a detailed analysis of the results. We are working with the town council and some residents surveys are being planned.'

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