Why isn’t there a pedestrian crossing outside Bournside School?

Ever since moving to Warden Hill Road about 18 months ago, I have been appalled that there is no pedestrian crossing (or crossing patrol) outside Bournside School to service the needs of pupils walking to/from one of four schools clustered in the immediate vicinity: Bournside, Belmont, Bettridge and St James.

Indeed, as a parent who walks two young children to St James primary school, I have personally observed the carnage on a weekday morning: kids stepping out to cross as impatient motorists scream round the corner of Loweswater Road, young mothers with push-chairs dashing between gaps in traffic, wheel-chair users reliant upon the goodwill of motorists stopping and allowing them to cross. “Make no mistake”, I said in a comment beneath this Echo article back in March, “…with things as they are, it is only a matter of time before someone – possibly a small child – gets killed on this road”.

Well, fortunately, no-one has been killed since I wrote those words. On the other hand, three children have been knocked down, in separate incidents all occurring on 20th June as reported by the Echo…!

So how is it that no crossing has ever come to be installed on this insanely dangerous stretch of road?

The answer would appear to be a double-whammy of spending cuts AND a form of local representation that no longer seeks to organise and challenge, but instead to administer and, ultimately, facilitate cuts… even, it seems, where so doing compromises the safety of children.

Of course, I’m aware that these are controversial claims, so – in the interests of (a) not misrepresenting the relevant protagonists and (b) allowing readers to judge the situation for themselves to the extent possible – I’m posting below, in their entirety (with stylistic edits only), two sets of correspondence with local councillors on the issue of the lack of a pedestrian crossing on Warden Hill Road. The first dates back to Nov 2014 with borough councillor Anne Regan, the other to the past few days with county councillor Iain Dobie, with whom responsibility ultimately rests for ensuring constituents’ concerns about road safety are addressed.

Comments – supportive, critical, or otherwise – are most welcome.

Finally, for the avoidance of doubt, I want to make clear that my goal here is not to harm reputations but to achieve the best possible result for the swathes of children – my own included – who need to cross a very dangerous Warden Hill Road on a daily basis.

Exchange with Anne Regan (Nov 2014):

Dear [Anne],

As a new resident of Warden Hill, I am – frankly – baffled that there are no pedestrian crossings on the section of Warden Hill Road outside Bournside School, for use both by young people attending Bournside and parents/children using the cut-through to St James C of E Primary. This section of road is so busy on a morning that I have had to resort to stopping traffic like a lolly-pop person, in order to allow my two young children plus lots of others to cross safely, which is absurdly dangerous.

Would appreciate your thoughts on this matter.

Best wishes,

Joe Sucksmith

—–
Dear Mr Sucksmith

I have received the following confirmation from the Highway Dept regarding the usefulness of a crossing and the control of students in their use of it. We would need to be assured that such expenditure would be well spent, we cannot guarantee that it would used by a majority.

Highways comments;-
“The points you make are correct. The other reason for not installing a crossing is that students cross the road over a long distance as the desire lines for their routes home. A crossing would only be suitable and effective if there was a common desire line the majority of students already used, as studies show people are unlikely to deviate from their intended route to use such features.” end.

I am very willing to contact Highway traffic at the County Council to monitor the road again and contact the police with your concerns.

Please contact me if I can be of further help.

Regards

Anne Ward Cllr
Warden Hill

—–

Dear Anne,

I have to say that I am baffled by the central argument advanced here – that children would continue to cross along the length of the road whatever – since surely part of the logic of a crossing is that it would act to funnel pedestrians (particularly those with young children) to cross at a particular point! No, it couldn’t be guaranteed that a majority would use a crossing – but then, this argument, applied universally, would mean no new crossings anywhere!

More generally, the arguments put forward don’t accord with the reality I observe on a daily basis, namely children – lots of them, including some very young ones using the cut-through the St James – primarily crossing near the main entrance to Bournside, where I note the kerb has already been lowered, as if this is a suggested crossing point. Do children cross at other points along the road? Yes they do, just as they do along all other roads where there are crossings. Yet this, clearly, should not be considered decisive in this case, since a crossing would both serve the many who already cross opposite the main entrance (please note: the vast majority of parents taking young children to St James cross at this point!), while also encouraging others who presently cross elsewhere to cross instead at the designated safe point.

I’m afraid this all seems like a complete no-brainer from where I am sitting… 😦

To help me understand the issues more clearly, perhaps I could request, from Highways but via my councillors, copies of all previous studies that have been conducted on this issue to date (i.e. a potential crossing outside Bournside School)? And perhaps I could also reply in the affirmative regards your offer to contact Highways again and request a further monitoring of the road, preferably on a date that I can arrange to be present (to ensure it is conducted impartially)? I think I might also take it upon myself to canvass the opinion of parents and students of both Bournside and St James, some of whom I know are already very much in favour of a crossing…

Joe

Exchange with Iain Dobie (23-27 May 2015):

Dear Ian,

Further to (protracted) discussions with borough councillors regards the lack of a crossing measure on Warden Hill Road, I have just been sent below [press release]…

22nd May 2015
Bollards for Bournside School and Leckhampton Primary School
Work already planned for outside of two Gloucestershire schools has been brought forward to help make crossing the road easier. Twenty bollards, dropped kerbs and tactile pavements will be put outside of both Bournside School and Leckhampton Primary School next week as part of the Highways Local Scheme. Local county councillor for Leckhampton and Warden Hill, Councillor Iain Dobie, has been working with the schools for some time on potential road improvements, and has agreed today that the work to install the bollards will be brought forward to next week’s half term break. So that the work can happen as quickly as possible, temporary bollards will be installed next week which will be replaced by permanent ones in July. The roads affected will be open as normal. Cllr Iain Dobie, county councillor for Leckhampton and Warden Hill, said, “I have been calling for road safety improvements outside both schools and I am pleased action has finally been taken to install these long called for safety features, which are being paid for out of my highways local fund.
“By introducing bollards, school children will be able to cross the road outside their school more easily, with a crossing point that is more obvious to drivers and pedestrians.” Cllr Vernon Smith, Cabinet member for highways and flood, said: “The highways local scheme is a great way for members, who know their communities best, to make a real difference. “I am very supportive of Councillor Dobie’s improvements which will be a real benefit to some of the youngest members of our community.” Highways Local Scheme provides £22,500 to each county councillor to spend on improving roads in their area.
ENDS
Issued by Melissa Warren, Gloucestershire County Council media team, 01452 425093, melissa.warren@gloucestershire.gov.uk

While not an expert, I am not persuaded that bollards and (more) dropped kerbs are sufficient.

Could we meet to discuss please?

Thanks,

Joe

—–

Dear Mr Sucksmith,

Thank you for your email below, and also for copying to me your correspondence with your Borough councillor. I note all the arguments with interest.

In the meantime I have used my “Highways Local” county council funding to get road safety improvements outside Bournside done – I spent yesterday in Shire Hall to put pressure on the GCC contractors to install the improvements immediately (the recent 3 accidents in one day highlighted the need to get the work done as Top Priority).

I note that you are not persuaded about the value of what I am having done, paid for out of my County Councillor’s fund. Let’s give the measures a period of time to prove themselves (either way) before we consider meeting.

Yours Sincerely

Iain Dobie
County Councillor for Leckhampton and Warden Hill

—–

Hi Iain,

Thanks for this. A few points:

1. I’m annoyed I didn’t engage with you sooner on this. I’ve wasted literally months with [borough councillors], on the mistaken assumption that [they were] the appropriate point of democratic liaison.

2. I absolutely take on board that you are funding these measures out of your fund and do not doubt this action is well-intentioned. I am concerned, however, that measures be taken that actually address the problem, namely the danger to pedestrians that have to cross the road on a weekday morning (and, to a somewhat lesser extent, in the afternoon). This in mind, I think it would be useful if you could explain in a bit more detail how you envisage the measures outlined achieving this, as it isn’t immediately obvious.

3. My observations of the road on a morning (I live on the road and take two young children to St James, via the Bournside cut-through) are that a crossing and/or lollipop person is required, at a minimum, and ideally in combination with a reduced speed limit of 20mph (which would help more generally – cars absolutely rocket along this road at 50+). I am fully aware this would be more expensive/controversial, but feel it might be achievable via a wider, community co-ordinated response (most crucially involving the schools themselves, which, to date, do not seem to have fully comprehended the extent to which they bear responsibility for the situation that has developed).

I’d still be interested to meet to discuss, but can’t force you obviously… 😉

Best,

Joe

—–

Hi Iain,

Disappointed not to have received a response to this, particularly in view of the work having started today.

For info, I’ve just chatted with the workmen and they are as baffled as I am that there are no plans to install a crossing. They also mentioned that the reflective bollards are not actually available until next week, meaning they are having to install temporary bollards for now, with a view to installing the proper bollards next week. This also seems quite bonkers.

Best,

Joe

—–

Dear Mr Sucksmith,

I’m sorry that you feel disappointed.

Personally I think it a Good Thing that safety work has started so quickly after my representations at Shire Hall following 3 children being hit by cars last week. The sooner the better, in my opinion. The safety improvements had previously been discussed with the head and had also gone through the County Highways specialist engineer. The bollards indicate the safest place to cross and also prevent vehicles from mounting the pavement. I specified the particular bollards to be purchased out of my “Highways Local” fund as long ago as last year – the failure to prioritise purchase and installation before now is entirely down to the contractors and the Conservative administration at Shire Hall which manages the Highways contract delivery.

As I wrote to you on Saturday, let’s give the changes a chance before we meet.

Yours Sincerely,

Iain Dobie
County Councillor for Leckhampton and Warden Hill

—–

Hi Iain,

My disappointment is that this hasn’t been adequately discussed. There are four schools in close proximity – have all the Heads had an input or is it just Bournside’s? Have views of pupils and parents been canvassed? Has the local community been consulted in any way?

To be clear: it isn’t about whether something needs to be done – on this we are all in agreement. Rather, it’s about WHAT should be done. This in mind, I would be really grateful if you could explain the logic of bollards over and above a crossing.

Thanks,

Joe

—–

Dear Mr Sucksmith,

Regarding the crossing proposal. I have a lot of sympathy for this idea, but your earlier correspondence with your Conservative Borough Councillor, which you kindly copied to me, included input from a highways engineer about this subject which was less than positive.

Additionally, I have been informed that the cost of a new electronic crossing would be far more than I have available within my “Highways Local” pot (which is meant to be supplementary discretionary spend to benefit the 10,000 people living in my division).

To persuade the GCC Highways professionals of the need for major capital expenditure on an electronic crossing at this time of major cutbacks on local authority spending dictated by the Conservative government would be a major task. Statistics on road accidents over an extended period of time demonstrating an ongoing risk would help (GCC officials have told me their own stats are not supportive of the need for an electronic crossing).

However, you might consider organising your own petition along the above lines to be presented to the County Council. I would be very happy to present your petition at Shire Hall.

Wishing you all the best,

Yours Sincerely,

Iain Dobie
County Councillor for Leckhampton and Warden Hill

—–

Hi Iain,

On the move, but very quickly…

I spoke again with the workmen earlier who confirmed that, due to unavailability of the required bollards, the effect of bringing the work forward is that the job now needs to be done twice. This is insane!

The above in mind, can I suggest that this work is paused and an urgent meeting convened to discuss the issue and assess the potential for a joined up campaign to install a crossing?

With three children being knocked down in a single day, I’d say we’re in a pretty strong position to make the case…

Works undertaken in the meantime will, I believe, make this case much harder to sell and ultimately harm our ability, as a community, to implement a measure that addresses the primary issue – the lack of empowerment for pedestrians.

Look forward to hearing from you.

Joe

—–

Dear Mr Sucksmith,

I appreciate your position. But there is no indication in your email that you have taken on board the points I have made in my email.

I believe the current safety work needs to be completed ASAP to protect children.

If you wish to start a petition or call a meeting of like-minded people then you are of course at liberty to do so.

Yours Sincerely,

County Councillor Iain Dobie

—–

Hi Iain,

Thanks. Some (hardly inconsequential) rejoinders…

>I appreciate your position. But there is no indication in your email that you have taken on board the points I have made in my email.

The arguments you have made are the same ones made earlier by Chris/Anne, and that I dealt with in the separate email exchange I forwarded you. I’d say these arguments were always pretty weak vis-à-vis this being a busy road servicing FOUR schools in close proximity, but they are even weaker now that we have had three accidents in a single day. Incidentally, I requested all data held by Highways regards assessments of safety on Warden Hill Road several weeks back, and they have refused to even respond. I chased this up yesterday and was told that Chris Riley would call me back the same day. He didn’t.

The broader argument you make about finances is true, but only to the extent that GCC is intent on pushing through ideological cuts. I’m not content with my children’s safety playing second fiddle to ideology, which is why I’m suggesting we act with a bit of bravery and mount a campaign to get the issue properly resolved (with a crossing and reduced speed limits – measures that nearly everyone concerned seems to be in agreement with). To be clear: the money is there, and should come from reserves if necessary.

>I believe the current safety work needs to be completed ASAP to protect children.

As I’ve said already, I do not doubt your good intentions, but it is obvious to anyone who has observed the road that bollards will bring marginal safety gains. The primary issue, as I have personally observed, is that pedestrians are not empowered to cross the road and thus run a gauntlet, dashing between cars that are not required to stop. Only a crossing and lower speed limit can address this.

Just to note also that the installation of the bollards has been very badly planned. As the workmen explained to me earlier, the required bollards are not yet available, and they are therefore having to complete the work with standard bollards. Once the appropriate bollards become available (estimated to be next week), they will return, dig out the bollards they have just installed and install the new ones. This is utterly ridiculous, and seems very much like gesture politics. In addition, I note that bollards are being erected in two locations, one of which is barely used on a morning, which indicates a lack of research by the planners.

>If you wish to start a petition or call a meeting of like-minded people then you are of course at liberty to do so.

I can’t begin to convey my frustration at this response. The relevant community of stakeholders i.e. staff/students/parents of all four schools) has clearly not been consulted, and the proposals therefore lack legitimacy. Worse still, the measures currently being implemented actually undermine the ability of “like-minded people” to mount a successful campaign for a crossing (even if a petition is raised, the council’s response will inevitably now be to wait and see, since money has already been spent…!). I notice you haven’t addressed this matter in your email, which is disappointing.

To allow me to assess the value in taking these matters further off my own, non-elected back, I would be grateful if you could supply me with the following asap:
– Cost of the bollard installation, with a breakdown into cost for the initial installation (as carried today and yesterday) and cost for installation of the appropriate bollards next week.
– A copy of the rubric governing the Highways Local scheme and/or any best practice guidelines for ensuring measures funded in this scheme have the consent of the community and stakeholders concerned.
– In lieu of a response from Highways: any data you have solicited from Highways regards safety assessments conducted on Warden Hill Road.

Many thanks for your continued co-operation on this matter. Should you change your mind regards a meeting for stakeholders (by way of pragmatic consultation), please let me know.

Please also note that I will be blogging these issues up shortly, so that they are in the public domain.

Joe

Lib Dem denial

You would have thought, given the severity of the Lib Dem General Election wipeout, that local activists would be in the mood for an honest accounting of how this situation came to pass.

Alas, this doesn’t appear to be the case in Cheltenham, where prominent activists are claiming that the only reason for Martin Horwood’s defeat was Tory scaremongering about the SNP. This tweet by local councillor Max Wilkinson, in response to a tweet of mine calling for honesty, is illustrative:

To be clear: I think it’s absolutely true that a contingent of right-leaning Lib Dems voted Tory this time round out of (irrational) fear of a Labour government propped up by the SNP.

But is it possible that this dynamic alone could account for the Tory triumph?

My arithmetic (which, admittedly, makes large assumptions) would suggest that this isn’t the case. To explain…

In 2010, when of course there was no SNP factor, the Tories received 21,739 votes, which could be taken as a measure of the Tories’ core vote. In 2015, the Tories received 24,790 votes, which was an increase of 3,051. Even if we take these votes off the Tory and re-allocate ALL of them to the Lib Dem, the Lib Dem is still short of the Tory by 414 votes (= 21,739 – [18,274 + 3,051]).

Yes, I’m aware that this is reductive, but the point is that the SNP factor alone doesn’t seem to explain the Lib Dem defeat.

So what other reasons might there have been for the collapse in the Lib Dem vote?

Well, one blindingly obvious reason is the MASSIVE disaffection generated by the Lib Dem-Tory coalition, which, by my reckoning, resulted in the migration of around 4000 votes to the Greens (who of course didn’t stand a candidate in 2010) and Labour (whose vote share recovered somewhat).

The conclusion?

If local Lib Dems are serious about re-establishing themselves, they need to come to terms with the fact that they lost 2015 to both the right AND the left.