The Fishergate folly reached another level in its sorry saga on Thursday afternoon.Advertisement
‘Inadequate’ is how the signs which signal the start of the Fishergate bus lane have been branded by an independent adjudicator and six appeals upheld.
Given there are bus lanes across the UK being actively enforced it’s head-scratching how for something Lancashire County Council branded as ‘an experiment’ to cure traffic problems they didn’t do their homework.
But it’s a signal of the continued confusion, u-turning and lack of control those responsible for the scheme have shown.
There is no other topic that elicits such a strong response from Blog Preston readers, Prestonians in general and those visiting our city. Everyone has an opinion, but few have a solution. Especially those in County Hall.
When the ‘experiment’ was first introduced it was put in to reduce rage-inducing congestion which had been experienced in the run up to Christmas in 2015. Those Autumn months saw drivers stuck for hours in car parks at both the train station and the major shopping centres in the city centre. Everyone agreed something must be done, but few thought we’d end up here.
Preston’s city centre is a vital economic cog in the success of our city – it’s an indicator for how the city is doing and tens of thousands rely on it as the place to shop, work and enjoy themselves. During peak hours it was becoming a minefield if you picked the wrong road to go down.
While the shared space had its critics, as a principle Fishergate has seen a major smartening up and has attracted some new openings and it feels, and can look, like a true city when it is busy. And it often is.
But you feel, as with the majority of this scheme, it’s been half-cock. Pedestrianisation surely is the only end game that can be reached?
Read more: College student has Fishergate fines waived
There doesn’t seem to be this clarity of vision coming from those responsible for the road layout in Preston and the rest of Lancashire. Or a wider plan. It’s piece-meal, as Preston City Council leader Peter Rankin described back in December – and it’s very rare to see councillor Rankin whisper any kind of words against his Labour pals in County Hall.
Thursday’s judgement was a case in point of the poor planning. You would have thought they would have pre-empted a decision and been ready to respond either way.
Instead, we had a one-line, ‘we’re reflecting on the decision’ response and then 24-hours later another half-way house with the cameras switched off and a deadline set for ‘first-time finers’ to get their money back. A button hastily added to the county council’s website to try and speed up that process.
So we now have a bus lane, with signs ruled to be useless, and cameras switched off. An unenforced bus lane and county councillor John Fillis reduced to asking people not to drive down it.
Preston, a city, is reduced to looking silly thanks to a rushed and poorly planned scheme. I’m sure councillor Fillis is wishing he had kept his promise to scrap it back on New Year’s Eve, but at a point where conviction should have been put to one side, he ploughed on.
Councillor Fillis is a cognitive behaviour therapist by trade. This helps people manage their problems by changing the way they think and behave. He’s tried the stick approach with the bus lane, but it appears it was a flimsy one. He’s now reduced to asking and hoping for motorists to respect the signs they now know are unenforceable. We know all motorists are considerate (not).
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The entire Fishergate saga has unfolded at a time when the county council is under the most extreme financial pressure it has ever experienced with apocalyptic proclamations coming nearly every month about the closure and cutbacks of services caused by central government squeezing the funding given to local authorities – while at the same time the likes of social care bills are skyrocketing due to our ageing population.
Read more: How much the county council is netting in Fishergate fines
And against this backdrop we have a highways department spending thousands, maybe tens of thousands, on a scheme which has been proven to be fundamentally flawed.
Given Labour have 38 county councillors you would think they’d give the responsibility for a department with a £75million-a-year budget, at a time when they are facing ever tougher financial decisions, to someone with the vision, clarity and planning for putting Preston’s road network right.
Through a catalogue of indecision, that person is no longer county councillor John Fillis.
Regardless of the outcome of the May elections, he should not return to the highways brief for the journey ahead. Present him with a personalised Fishergate bollard, and give him one for the road back to Ormskirk.