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‘Madness’ for London Road Scheme to Go Ahead Against ‘Huge Opposition’, Says SCC Leader

Published on: 6 Jan, 2023
Updated on: 7 Jan, 2023

SCC leader Tim Oliver faces a largely angry audience over the proposed London Road project.

By Emily Coady-Stemp local democracy reporter and Martin Giles

It would be “madness” to go ahead with a Guildford road improvement scheme in the face of “huge opposition”, according to Surrey County Council’s leader.

The proposed closure of London Road in Burpham was due to start on Monday (January 9) but has been postponed for further consultation and was the subject of a public meeting on yesterday (January 5).

There was not room for everyone in the hall and some were left to stand beyond the doors at the back…

The hall at George Abbot school was packed to overflowing with around 100 attendees standing at the back or even outside, by open doorways, joining the 320 seated to hear from Surrey County Council’s leader, Cllr Tim Oliver (Conservative, Weybridge) as well as officers from the authority. The meeting was also live-streamed on Facebook.

…and even outside.

Among the audience in the hall were Guildford’s MP Angela Richardson and local councillors, including SCC’s Fiona Davidson (R4GV, Guildford South East and George Potter (Lib Dem, Guildford East) and numerous representatives from local residents’ groups.

Spokesmen from the various groups were at pains to say that they were not against cyclists or cycling just this particular project and the way it had been planned and the poor consultation with residents. Some also questioned the evidence on which decisions had been taken.

But some spoke in favour of the scheme and the improved safety they felt it would give. One told the Dragon after the meeting: She said: “I am a cyclist and I attended the meeting and was squashed between two old men. All they were worried about was their inconvenience, not about the future or the young.”

The £4.2 million funding for the scheme to improve cycle lanes and pedestrian crossings on the busy road was approved by the Department for Transport in 2020, with officers pointing to a website that was set up at that time, and engagement carried out since.

It was clear that some members of the audince were angry and hostile, it required firm and skilful chairmanship from Guildford’s former MP, Anne Milton, to keep proceedings under control.

Cllr Oliver, at the outset of the meeting, made no bones about apologising for the consultation on the changes not being carried out “sufficiently or appropriately” and said the meeting should begin a process of further consultation on the scheme and on how works could be carried out.

He said: “These schemes are government funded, we don’t have the option to take the £4.2m and use it for other things, as much as I might like to do that.

“This money is available to design these transport schemes but if, at the end of the day, there is huge opposition to this then it would be madness for us to go ahead, and we’ll have to deal with the government over that and explain.”

He said the meeting should be a chance to “take this conversation forward in a practical and constructive way” and confirmed it was his decision that officers should pause the scheme.

The proposed closure raised a level of anger “not seen in 30 years in Guildford”, according to Cllr Fiona Davidson (Residents for Guildford and Villages, Guildford South East), who set up the public meeting and raised the issue at a council meeting in December.

She said she had found out about the works on London Road through a resident who wrote to her about them, and told Thursday’s meeting: “I knew that [the works] would create gridlock across the whole of Guildford.

“And that was when I started finding out that actually there had been very little consultation or engagement with local people about exactly what was planned.”

Cllr Oliver said there were various options to be considered around the plans that would now be looked at with public engagement, and that the council would not “blindly go ahead with this scheme”.

But he also raised the issue of getting people to engage with council consultations, saying in Farnham where there was an extensive attempt to get public views on traffic reduction in the town centre, just 500 people responded.

He added: “It’s really difficult for us to get engagement from people and mixed demographics.”

If you have problems opening the video please click here.

Officers told the meeting the plans were part of a wider effort to reduce carbon emissions from vehicles, and other measures to reach the council’s aim of net zero by 2050 but were also about improving cycling infrastructure and safety.

Katie Stewart, the executive director for Environment, Transport and Infrastructure at the county council, said: “We have to start connecting up cycle routes, we have to create transport corridors.

“This is part of that bigger network we are trying to create.

“If we look at it in small sections, we won’t be able to facilitate people really making those sustainable choices.”

Issues raised by the public also included the matter of “floating bus stops” with concerns raised around their danger to people with disabilities and the road in question not being the worst part of Guildford to cycle.

One market researcher in the audience also questioned the consultation that had previously been done and how the questions asked could impact answers given, while business owners also raised concerns about how they may be impacted by a road closure.

The area’s MP Angela Richardson told the LDRS after the meeting that “a good range of opinions” had been heard and the turnout showed the public wanted to be properly consulted on the plans.

She said her message to residents would be: “Think about everything that’s happening in Guildford at the moment, pay attention to it, get involved in the consultation process as early as possible.

“It’s often when we get to the very last stage, as we saw this was about to start, that people suddenly realise what’s going on and realise the impact on the community and want to have a chance to have their voice heard.”

One Burpham resident told The Dragon after the meeting: “I’m pleased the leader of the county council and senior officers came to face the music. They can be in doubt now about the strength of feeling locally.

“London Road is narrow enough in places without losing more road space.  The proposals to make buses stop in the middle of the road for passengers to alight is especially ridiculous. The scheme should be binned immediately.”

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Responses to ‘Madness’ for London Road Scheme to Go Ahead Against ‘Huge Opposition’, Says SCC Leader

  1. Louise Blanford Reply

    January 6, 2023 at 5:59 pm

    Maybe SCC needs to look at its own communications. This meeting was set up in a short space of time and got over 320 people plus those outside and on Facebook. Awareness was achieved by leafletting.

    Surrey County Council seems to have put up a [specific] website in 2020 but, as far as I know, no one was aware of it in Burpham. I think they forgot to tell all the community associations and local schools, obvious contact points. Possibly, just leafletting and holding a public meeting would have helped as well.

    What concerns me is this is a repeat of Reigate and possibly the same will happen in Farnham where they are moaning about lack of public engagement.

    Surely it is SCC’s job to communicate effectively if they want feedback not follow one strategy and then blame the public when they don’t respond instead of understanding why. Have they even tried visiting these locations standing on a street corner and asking passersby what they think?

    May I suggest the Aldi roundabout when the deliveries combine with the school run as a useful place to start.

  2. Paul Robinson Reply

    January 6, 2023 at 7:17 pm

    I was there on Thursday night and the thing that got me more and more wound up was the number of times the SCC team said the they were sorry about the lack of consultation. I cannot believe they thought a project that would close a major route for, originally, seven months would be welcomed by local residents without any meaningful dialogue with people who would be most affected by the closure.

    If this project has been in the pipeline for so long (a project like that proposed is not the work of a moment) were the project team so wrapped up in themselves they didn’t think it odd that a seven-month closure hadn’t raised any objections until the closure notices went up?

    Finally, what is the ‘LDRS’?

    Editor’s response: The LDRS is the acronym for the Local Democracy Reporting Service. It is funded by the BBC to help support the reporting of local politics. Emily Coady-Stemp is the local democracy reporter for Surrey, embedded in the Surrey Advertiser/Surrey Live editorial team, but as a partner in the scheme The Guildford Dragon NEWS can also carry her stories as soon as they have been filed and edited.

    And thank you for your question, we will try and remember to include the full title in future.

  3. Moira Brown Reply

    January 7, 2023 at 6:36 pm

    Aside from the disruption from implementing this scheme, it would mean buses would hold up traffic (no lay-bys) and passengers would alight into cycle lanes.

    Vehicles turning right into Abbotswood, Ganghill and Boxgrove Avenue will hold up traffic as the “pockets” for such turns will be removed. And the carriageway will be narrowed meaning wide vehicles travelling in opposite directions risk clashing wing mirrors.

    There are “pinch points “ where there is insufficient room to maintain the cycle lane and additional crossings are proposed which will also hold up traffic.

    What is there to like about this plan? Based on the projected increase of cyclists attracted by the new lanes someone calculated it worked out at £30,000 per cyclist.

    Alternatives are: improve existing cycle lanes which were deemed suitable when money was spent putting them in place, lower (and enforce) the speed limit on that stretch of road, and improve public transport (using electric vehicles) into Guildford.

    Improved cycle lanes could result in further irresponsible cycling to the detriment of the younger rider who doesn’t wish to travel at high speed and pedestrians who may stray into the wrong lane.

  4. Calum Shaw Reply

    January 7, 2023 at 11:51 pm

    I counted 159 people in the top image of this article. Of those, 116 (73 per cent) were grey and/or balding. More difficult to tell, but I think 53 females (33 per cent).

    As far as I could see on the night there was only one under 18 at the meeting. George Abbot school with 2000+ pupils is right next to this scheme. I would suggest that this meeting’s attendees were not representative of the local population.

    Perhaps a school night during the week 6.30-8.30pm isn’t the best time?

    • Jim Allen Reply

      January 8, 2023 at 3:34 pm

      I am 71, neither grey nor balding and I have friends, 20 years younger, both balding and/or grey. Some people might not have been prepared to come out in the cold but an estimated 400 were concerned enough to do so. Surely they are the ones who actually care.

      Anyway, the meeting time was dictated by the venue and the date by the availability of officials.

      If the meeting time was on the “wrong” day at the “wrong” time with the “wrong” audience, perhaps a better short-notice method, date, time and venue to cope with 400 plus interested people in Burpham could be suggested by the writer.

      We did our best in very quick time.

  5. M Siaens Reply

    January 8, 2023 at 3:37 pm

    My bigger opposition to this planned work is, apart from the lack of consultation, there is the apparent lack of concern for the people living on the roads which are going totally messed up by the diverted traffic.

    Also, except on one occasion the elderly were not mentioned.

    The ageing population is growing, alas faster than the younger ones.

    Cycle lanes do not help people with walking difficulties carrying parcels and depending on an ever-declining bus service.

    It would be a good idea to replace those big buses, running empty most of the time, by more regular minibuses. If SCC invested so much on buses, as they say they do, why are the bus companies so badly organized? We are in a vicious circle here.

  6. J Dickinson Reply

    January 22, 2023 at 12:34 pm

    The majority of cars on urban roads at busy times are on a school run. Totting up the number of pupils in the schools near London Road, it is thousands of daily journeys that could be made independently. Some UK secondary schools achieve 90 per cent active travel rates compared to the average of 41 per cent. And Government research says it is good to cycle paths that make the difference. That’s why there is Department of Transport funding for them.

    As for the comments about the bus stops, SCC is currently piloting door-to-door, on-demand services in smaller vehicles and so far, the convenience of these has been extremely popular with all ages. They also help traffic flow as they tend to stop alongside roads rather than the main roads, as that is where most people live.

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