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‘Absolute chaos’ predicted for Preston if bus lane goes ahead

Posted on - 10th June, 2024 - 7:00am | Author - | Posted in - Politics, Preston News, Roads, Transport
The route on New Hall Lane
The route on New Hall Lane

A councillor who wants to drive out plans for a new bus lane in Preston has predicted that it will cause “absolute chaos” if it goes ahead – but has challenged highways bosses to prove him wrong by running a trial of the new road layout before making it permanent.

As the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) revealed last month, Preston city councillor Suleman Sarwar is trying to force a rethink of the bus-only space – the city’s ninth such zone – on New Hall Lane, which is set to be introduced later this year.

Lancashire County Council’s cabinet last month approved the priority lane for Preston-bound buses – along one of the busiest routes into the city – on the basis that it would improve reliability and cut journey times for passengers.

Read more: Corporation Street bus gate branded ‘absolute farce’ and ‘should be reversed’

Ordinary traffic will still be able to travel along the stretch of road where the bus lane is to be installed – from just after Fishwick Parade through to Witton Street, close to the A6 junction – but in a much narrower lane than is available to them at present.

Cllr Sarwar – who represents the St. Matthew’s ward on the city authority –  has launched a petition against the plans on the county council’s own website, which has so far attracted over 300 signatures.

However, he told the LDRS that while he would prefer to see the idea scrapped altogether, he would at least like the kind of trial run of the bus lane that was suggested by the Friends of Fishwick and St. Matthew’s Community Group during a public consultation into the changes.

“Maybe if [the county council] were to hold a public event and say, ‘Look, we understand your concerns, but let’s just try it and see what comes [of it]’ – and then write to people, send actual letters to all the residents within the area,” Cllr Sarwar suggested.

He claims the previous consultation process was deficient and had left most of the residents and businesses he has spoken to about the issue completely unaware of the proposed revamp.    He also stressed that the change would affect the “thousands” of motorists who use the route from across a far wider area than his own ward.

Cllr Sarwar said that the road is unsuitable for a bus lane both in exceptional circumstances – like the emergency closure of the M6 just north of Preston last Saturday, during which traffic flooded New Hall Lane – and also in everyday situations.

“There’s a reason why it’s a bit wider [where the bus lane will be installed], because you need that extra lane so that traffic [wanting] to turn left – to the likes of Lidl and Eden Boys’ School – can go left.

“It makes sense to have that extra bit of space – and if you take it away, it’s going to be absolute chaos,” he said.

In cabinet papers, County Hall highways officers said the scheme was “not suitable” for the suggested “experimental” trial – and added that the lane had been designed to be “lawful, safe and enforceable”.

Separately, cabinet member for highways and transport Rupert Swarbrick acknowledged in correspondence with Cllr Sarwar over the matter that New Hall Lane is “a busy, strategic route”.

In a letter seen by the LDRS, he added:  “Understandably, residents are concerned that any reallocation of highway space will contribute to worsening this. However, congestion will not be worsened, because New Hall Lane will not see a significant reduction in vehicular capacity.

“Throughout the extents of the bus lane, the carriageway is between 11.2 and 13.4 metres wide. This provides sufficient space to accommodate the same degree of two-way traffic along with the bus lane.

“Essentially, the existing lanes are wider than they need to be and traffic flow will not be impeded in any way by the narrowing that the bus lane entails. In fact, we anticipate that the improved bus service, including other enhancements such as cheaper fares, and more frequent and better services will result in greater take-up of this option by people who may otherwise have driven,” Cllr Swarbrick wrote.

Addressing the claims made regarding the adequacy of the consultation, he added:  “We carried out a letter-drop to affected properties, set up site notices and issued a press release and social media release.”

A second phase of the project is the proposed widening of New Hall Lane’s junction with London Road and Ringway, designed to benefit all road users – although that will be subject to a separate consultation and cabinet decision, with the work, if ultimately approved, taking place next spring.

Lancashire County Council was approached for further comment.

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