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Opinion: Onslow Park & Ride Is In A Trafficless Jam

Published on: 2 Sep, 2014
Updated on: 5 Sep, 2014

Onslow Park & Ride Open 4 475By Martin Giles

Is the Onslow Park & Ride a white elephant? And if so, why?

Yesterday (Monday, September 1st) when I went to see for myself how busy it was, at first I thought reports of its under use had been exaggerated.

The area around the portakabin waiting room had cars clustered around it. They were like camera aware MPs clustering around a party colleague making statement in an almost empty House of Commons. No one who looks carefully is really fooled.

Cars clustered around the still temporary looking waiting room.

Cars clustered around the still temporary looking waiting room.

I did a quick count. Of the proudly advertised 550 spaces only around 140 were occupied, just over 25 per cent.

It’s a real shame. Guildford needs as many cars as possible to stay out of the town centre and Park & Rides should be one way to help reduce traffic congestion.

But in three quarters of car park - you can park where you like.

But in three quarters of car park – you can park where you like.

So what has gone wrong?

Let us put ourselves in the position of a driver approaching Guildford from the west on the A31. We are aware of the Onslow Park & Ride and thought we might use it today.

But the traffic has been a bit worse than usual/ the kids took longer to get to school/ the phone went just as we were about to leave the house/ the dog has eaten your underpants – you know the kind of thing – so we are running ten or more minutes late and we need to get somewhere in Guildford town-centre – soon.

Perfect for the learner parker.

Perfect for the learner parker.

So do we use up time with the five minute drive off the A3 to the park and ride, wait for a bus, then double back for a mile on the route we have just taken, another few minutes then into town and walk from the bus station. Or, do we press on, hope for a parking space and cough up the extra cash?

Too many, it seems, think it’s no contest. They find the Park & Ride too inconvenient or too time consuming.

Could this have been foreseen. Let’s wind the clock back to October 2012 and a public meeting which around 40 local residents attended to express their concerns. I reported: “The focus of much of the criticism centred on the lack of a direct entrance to the park and ride site from the A3.”

"Move along the bus," is not often heard on this service.

“Move along the bus,” is not often heard on this service.

It seems that the common sense of those residents was right. You didn’t have to be a highways expert to see that without a direct entrance from the A3 the Park & Ride would just not tempting enough for Guildford Bound drivers from the west.

Opinion Logo 2But the planning application proceeded and just a month later was approved by the Guildford Borough Council planning committee in a rather ill-tempered meeting by 14 votes to 7.

County councillor Fiona White (Guildford West) who spoke as a member of the public, said: “Let me be clear – I am in favour of the principle of park and ride sites around Guildford to reduce the number of vehicles going into the town centre. What I am not in favour of is the access via the Egerton Road system.”

One reason Cllr White said this was because residents feared the consequences of high levels of extra traffic going to the Park & Ride. Oh well, it’s an ill wind… as they say.

But perhaps the main reason why optimism overcame realism about the scheme was money. No surprise there.

It was clear that if the plan was not approved the external funding that had been earmarked for the project would disappear. Unlike our domestic budgets if, in public accounting, a project cannot be delivered the funding cannot just remain in the bank for another, better idea. It just vanishes – back into a central pot – to be allocated elsewhere. No wonder then that some councillors felt it was worth taking the park even if few wanted to ride.

Lately the nearby Royal Surrey County Hospital (RSCH) has been casting green eyed glances at the largely empty car park within walking distance of their front door. Demand is far exceeding supply in the hospital car park. It has never really been big enough, which has allowed the hospital to set controversially high charges.

The RSCH argument goes along the lines of – surely it is in the public good to use publicly funded car parking for an NHS hospital rather than see the spaces lay empty? It’s a good point, but the car park, built at a cost of nearly £9 million pounds (including the necessary changes in Egerton Road), was built as a Park and Ride to ease town centre congestion.

What is really needed is for the Highways Agency to realise that providing a suit without trousers is next to useless – it just makes the customer, in this case the council, look silly. They need to think much harder, together with the councils,  and work out how they can obtain the necessary funding and construct the obviously required direct A3 entrance to make this Park & Ride the success we need it to be.

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Responses to Opinion: Onslow Park & Ride Is In A Trafficless Jam

  1. Rosemary Morgan Reply

    September 2, 2014 at 10:44 pm

    I think the answer is to use this Park & Ride for the Royal Surrey hospital (patients and staff). They could run regular buses to the hospital as well as to the town and everyone would be happy.

  2. John Lomas Reply

    September 2, 2014 at 11:58 pm

    Just a suggestion – shoppers are more likely to use a Park & Ride if you charge for parking and have free buses.

    That way they are likely to spend more in the shops because they can ferry shopping back to their car and then come back into town, for more without additional costs.

    That is why many people want to park close in, so remove the need to park close in and they will be happier to park further out.

  3. Alf Turner, Royal Surrey County Hospital Reply

    September 3, 2014 at 7:54 am

    A great article that sums up the problem exactly. We in the Royal Surrey are willing to pay for using the car park and would put in place a shuttle bus to the hospital for patients, visitors and employees.

    Not only is this commonsense but its a ‘win win’ all round. Our patients, visitors and employees would be happy, the hospital gets improved car parking, and the council get an income. I have written to the borough council to ask that they change the planning permission requirements.

  4. John Robson Reply

    September 3, 2014 at 8:29 am

    The access issue aside, which beggars belief. Why would anyone conclude their journey, 1-2 miles from the Town centre, wait for a Bus and then pay for it on a regular basis, where is the incentive?

    This should be a free service, paid for from the extortionate town centre parking revenue. But for the reasons stated above, I fail to see why people, who already face lengthy commutes into Guilford, due to the congestion on the A3, would pay for the pleasure of elongating their journey further. If we can’t implement some joined up thinking with a Park and Ride what chance do we have with the Local Plan proposals?

    I’d rather the white elephant was used for hospital staff with the parking in front of the hospital turned into free parking for visitors.

    At this juncture, the only real beneficiaries of this scheme are University of Surrey who sporadically utilise the Park & Ride as an overflow car park.

  5. Jim Allen Reply

    September 3, 2014 at 8:34 am

    The answer is simple really – look at the banner on the panel above the bus windows. It clearly states: “The smart way into Guildford by car”.

    Someone in the advertising department forgot the three second rule and the fact that the other part of the message below the windows reading “Guildford park and ride” is nearly always hidden by other vehicles or hedges or, when travelling at speed can’t be connected with the message above the window.

  6. Neville Bryan Reply

    September 3, 2014 at 9:18 am

    This for me is all about effective used of the Manor Farm area. A £9 million spend on a massive under-used car park seems a huge waste of money, and when you add this to the fact that the Manor Farm development was for the university, and supposed to reduce traffic then you already have a potential conflict of interest. As is pointed out by the editor, a park and ride here is counter intuitive.

    As I understand it this area is leased to GBC. This needs to be completely changed as follows.

    1. The hospital needs car parking.
    2. The university needs homes for its students other than Guildford town.
    3. This area is not overlooked – it is a brownfield opportunity.

    Answer – build university student flats and houses on stilts raised over existing car park spaces for hospital and site staff only. This could be easily done within the rules of the Manor Farm development brief. Only need to leave room for the A3 expansion.

    This solution to me is a “No brainer”. Plenty of space for 1000’s of accommodation units all over car parking for staff and hospital.

    Am I missing something?

  7. Martin Elliott Reply

    September 3, 2014 at 9:57 am

    Another problem with whole parking philosophy is that it must cover costs and ‘profits’ be ploughed back into the road systems. Well that’s what the sparse minutes imply.

    There seems to be a natural reluctance to use Onslow Park and Ride. And if the income from parking or bus fees doesn’t match the annual running costs, the fees go up.

    As to the RSCH use as a staff/patient/visitor`car park, I believe the council stated it would breach the terms of the lease. Why can’t the lease be renegotiated and the planning if necessary?

  8. Bernard Parke Reply

    September 3, 2014 at 10:20 am

    No one gets pleasure at such times as in saying,”We told you so!” But this, unfortunately, is the case in this instant.

    Perhaps our elected representatives will now listen to the wishes of those people who elected them on the question of the preservation of the green belt?

  9. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    September 3, 2014 at 11:48 am

    Access off the A3 to this Park & Ride is linked with the widening of the A3 scheme that the Highways Agency (HA) had to shelve in 2010. I do not know whether the HA had a solution then but the problem of the A31 traffic merging and a slip road diverging off the A3 at about the same place poses a highway design safety issue that needs to be resolved.

    The merge has to take place before the diverge but the two bridges over the A3 are too narrow to accommodate any widening even if the A31 slip road is taken under the Hog’s Back to merge further south with the A3.

    A possible solution would be to divert the nearside lane of the A3 under the Hog’s Back to a traffic light controlled junction with the realigned (and lowered) A31 slip road. Two lanes from here go uphill and finally along the existing slip road to rejoin the A3 widened north of the arch bridge.

    The nearside lane out of the three lanes could be the off-slip to Tesco roundabout connecting with the Park & Ride en route. Such a solution is shown on my website.

    Guildford borough Council and Surrey County Council are discussing the A3 issues with the HA. Let’s hope something will be done to improve the A3 and reduce congestion in Guildford.

  10. Bernard Parke Reply

    September 3, 2014 at 6:28 pm

    At a recent meeting with the highways (HA) authority, the university, our MP and others, it was stated by the HA representative that the traffic on the A3 has not increased over the last ten years.

    With such a statement, which seems to be at variance with the facts, what hope is there for any of us to see any A3 road schemes?

  11. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    September 4, 2014 at 8:13 am

    I don’t know the correct prediction for traffic increase on the A3 but it was assessed to be modest (2.5%?). The problem is not just the overall increase, it is the ease with which traffic arrives at Guildford after Hindhead tunnel has relieved the blockage. It is causing further overloading of the poor junction of the A31 with the A3.

    The fact that the HA had the scheme A31 to A247 improvement on their programme and was allocated a budget of £40m, suggests to me that the case for the improvement of the A3 has already been established, whether there is an increase of traffic or not. The scheme was shelved due to cut back in roads programme in 2010.

  12. Stephen Vincent Reply

    September 6, 2014 at 8:19 am

    It seems to me that the council have never heard of the asset management term “sweating the assets”

    On the BBC the council stated:

    “The current planning consent and lease terms for the Onslow park-and-ride site do not allow it to be used for anything other than its current function.”

    Why did the council agree to the lease terms?

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