The approach to car parking in Dewsbury could be dramatically turned around if the council took advantage of a proposal made by the Chamber of Trade during the parking consultation in mid 2019.
At present the council is responding to the government Active Travel initiative by suggesting some pretty dramatic changes affecting car parking in Dewsbury and it seems like a good time to dust off all the ideas available - not just those coming from the council.
The Active Travel initiative is an effort to take advantage of people's changed behaviour during lockdown, particularly increased walking and cycling when the roads have been much quieter.
Active Travel Phases and Funding
There are 2 phases to the government Active Travel initiative, both of them with some funding available and we would probably be critical of the council if they did not make an effort to get their hands on more government money for Dewsbury.
West Yorkshire should get about £2.5 million. The timing is both very urgent and restrictive - hence the rush - and its expected that temporary measures like easily removable traffic cones and signs would be used. If councils don't get changes in place then they will lose out on the money.
West Yorkshire should get about £10 million. The larger sum is to cover the cost of permanent changes identified as viable during the temporary Phase 1.
In both cases Kirklees is going to have to compete for its share of the money allocated into the West Yorkshire Combined Authority.
It's fair to say that communication and consultation has been a council weak point. However, much of the blame in the case of the planned road closures lies with the government deadlines that have not left time for conventional consultation.
However, it is also the case that the council has published information that is either inaccurate or has critical information missing. In particular, how they intend to offset some of the effects of their proposals.
That has led to considerable confusion - which is what this post is trying to help to sort out.
But they have been listening - and the Chamber of Trade had useful conversations with senior officers this week when there was, let's say, a frank exchange of views.
The council's proposals
In Dewsbury there are 3 proposals:
Closure of Longcauseway
The closure of Longcauseway effective pedestrianises the south east corner of the town centre shaded green around the the Town Hall.
Green roads can access areas to the east of town. Blue roads can access the Daisy Hill area to the west of town. This shows the marked split in the town between east and west with Northgate being the boundary between the two.
And what the council failed to say in their announcement was that Crackenedge Lane between Corporation Street and Wakefield Old Road (marked with a dotted green line) would become 2-way thereby allowing access to the Town Hall, the mobility centre for disabled drivers, the Post Office, banks and much of the on-street parking in the east of the town.
Longcauseway would also remain open for buses in order to maintain an effective bus service.
The Dewsbury Blueprint
This closure of Longcauseway is in the long term Dewsbury Blueprint published in February this year where Longcauseway becomes part of a proposed urban park.
However, the question of access was not dealt with in the Blueprint and remained subject to consultation whenever the question arose. So claiming to have published their intentions in the Blueprint really doesn't wash.
At the same time, one can see the advantages of a large, pedestrianised area for safer walking, cycling and disabled movement - once the question of access is dealt with. So taking advantage of making the change early when there is government funding available would seem to be a sensible thing to do.
Closure of Halifax Road
We understand that this idea of closing the road adjacent to the new college in Pioneer House has been shelved due to traffic management issues and has become academic ('scuse the pun!)
If they were to solve the traffic problems then creating a safe, quiet space alongside the college does look like a very attractive idea. We'll see whenever it surfaces again when the planners have a solution.
Cycle Lane on Ring Road
The proposal is to close the inner lane of the ring road between Leeds Road and Bradford Road (marked in yellow)
There appear to be 2 reasons for this.
- The planners are trying to find a way to ease the death grip that the ring road has on the town by reducing its capacity and giving more space to pedestrians and cyclists to allow easier crossing. To do this they are looking at reducing the road capacity by removing one lane.
The Active Travel initiative gives them an excuse to do this now while traffic levels are unusually low so that it can easily be reversed if necessary.
- The Active Travel initiative enables them to claim they are doing this for the benefit of cyclists.
Frankly, we understand the testing of reduced capacity is necessary and some might say that the cycle lane is just a smoke screen. They will need to do the testing at some time so lets get on and do it now while traffic levels are low and more easily managed.
Car Parking and Access Solution
So now we know what the council has proposed, which has received a pretty robust shellacking by many residents on various Facebook pages, let's get back to the proposal made by the Chamber of Trade..
In their car parking proposal submitted to the consultants in mid 2019 the Chamber identified that it is not the level of parking charges that puts people off it is the inflexibility of timing and the fear of the penalty if they overstay the fixed time. Plus, of course, the sense of injustice that Dewsbury is the only town in North Kirklees that has car parking charges.
Yet it also acknowledges that with limited access and narrow streets parking charges are necessary in the town centre for on-street parking on order to promote 'churn' and release space for as many people as possible. But outsdie the town centre where the council itself says there is surplus space - we think not!
Cliffe Street car park: 'Surplus to Requirements' or a diamond in the rough?
Cliffe Street car park is little used because it is slightly inconvenient and is up a hill and therefore disliked by the elderly and infirm. As such, the council has zoned it for residential use or to accommodate a new office building.
Worst of all, there is only one way into it which is off the ring road - and is then pretty well unfindable due to an almost total lack of signage.
However, as the only major car park still in the council's control this is the one lever still available to them to influence the attractiveness of the town to visitors and residents alike. The Chamber proposal is to make use of this to benefit the town.
Taking Advantage of Cliffe Street
The closure of Longcausway leaves only two access routes into the town centre, i.e. Northgate and Crackenedge Lane accessed from Cliffe Street.
Therefore make Cliffe Street car park the main gateway for visitors who want to stay a while.
Free with no time limits and no penalties.
Every town centre regeneration plan encourages people to stay in the town centre. Until we encourage this behaviour any recovery in Dewsbury is doomed to failure.
Park and Ride.
Extend the Free Town Bus route up Sharp Street, through the car park and down Camroyd Street. This will kill off the problem of the hill. Suddenly, the elderly and infirm will find Cliffe Street car parking more attractive than searching for a parking space in the town centre.
Make it Easier for the Disabled
Move the Mobility Centre to Cliffe Street. Once Cliffe Street is easy to find and access and has lots of space then it become the obvious place to transfer from car to mobiility scooter. Develop a safe route into the town centre to access a vast, safe pedestrianised area.
Create A Business Opportunity
For those who still find it too far to walk - is there a business opportunity with trishaws to fill in between Town Buses - and a town centre service for shops using cargo bikes?
See Pedalme and CyclingWithoutAge or various alternatives. They may need electric versions if repeated assaults on the Sharp Street hill aren't going to exhaust the rider by the end of the day - but lets have a look at the numbers and make visiting Dewsbury a fun experience - even for the elderly.
Some of these issues will require funding - which is available through the Active Travel Fund - especially the longer term issues where permanent change is required.
If we are to bring more people into Dewsbury via Crackenedge Lane then the approach from that direction and from the car park needs some major improvement.
No negative impact
Compared to the council proposals where there have been numerous objections, we can see no negative impact to testing out this idea as part of the council's Acative Travel package of measures. Especially when it answers the majority of criticisms being leveled at the council proposal.
And if the council wants us to test their ideas then it seems reasonable that they should test ideas that come from the community.