A LEADING traffic expert today hit back at critics of Blackpool’s new-look Promenade and told council chiefs to “keep the faith”.
There have been repeated safety concerns ever since the Golden Mile – designed around a ‘shared space’ concept with no road markings or kerbs – was re-opened to traffic last month.
Some fear the bold changes will lead to more accidents and even deaths of pedestrians. One welfare group even described the revamp as creating a “no-go area” for blind residents and visitors.
But Ben Hamilton-Baillie – an expert of the shared space concept and one of the key consultants behind the redesign of Blackpool seafront – joined The Gazette on a tour of the new layout and said: “I will be urging the council to keep the faith.
“It’s very easy to get cold feet at this stage, but everything that has been said of the Promenade is pretty much what has been said of other schemes – until people begin to realise that it’s actually working.”
Hamilton-Baillie Associates was first called in at the time of the supercasino bid to help Blackpool Council in its re-think over Blackpool’s famous Prom.
Mr Hamilton-Baillie has been invited back to the resort later this summer to “review” the scheme, following the widespread public condemnation of the lay out.
He hit the headlines after TV star Jeremy Clarkson attacked the similar shared space redesign of Ashford in Kent.
The Top Gear presenter slammed council chiefs in Kent as “eco mentalists” after claiming pedestrians were being advised to “simply walk out into the traffic and hope it stops”.
But Mr Hamiliton-Bailie said: “In terms of traffic speeds, safety, and economic vitality, the Ashford scheme is working well and I’ve every cause to believe Blackpool’s will too.
“I was called in three or four years ago by the then highways engineers who realised they had a problem.
“A lot of money had been invested to try to restore the seafront at Blackpool – about the time the potential for a casino had died a death.
“They realised the relationship between town and seafront was pretty poor and had to be tackled.
“This is an unusually generous and spectacular civic space which deserves more than absolutely awful dual carriageways each way, largely railed off, and another set of barriers by the trams.
“It’s not surprising businesses were having difficulties, it’s not surprising local people didn’t want to visit their town centre.”
Mr Hamiliton-Baile said once the scheme had bedded in it would transform Blackpool Prom for the better.
And he said disabled and blind people were more at risk from traditional car parks than a shared space road.
Mr Hamiliton-Baile added: “Brighton has a new road, four years old now, which has settled entirely into place and acquired its own character.
“The first six months is always difficult – that’s the period when you have to give politicians a little bit of hand holding and tell them not to panic, an adverse press in the first few weeks is par for the course.”
But local organisations who work with the elderly and partially sighted dismissed Mr Hamilton-Baillie’s reassurances.
Rita Walsh, from the Senior Voice Forum, said: “The shared space is clearly dangerous, pedestrians sharing a road with cars, buses and trams is a recipe for disaster.
“This is a holiday town, people come here to relax and switch their brains off, they don’t know the new layout so it will be even more worrying when the Illuminations are on.
“There have already been incidents and I know many taxi drivers don’t think it’s safe.
“I don’t care how nice it looks, if it is not safe, it should be altered. These reassurances are nothing but pie in the sky.
“The space certainly won’t seem so attractive if someone is knocked down and killed.”
Judith Harrison for Blackpool Fylde and Wyre Society for the Blind also hit out after a 73-year-old man was hit by a taxi on the Prom earlier this month leaving him with a broken leg.
She said: “The shared space has basically made the Prom a no-go area for residents who have issues with their sight.
“If a man who is sighted can be involved in an accident with a taxi there, it proves there is an issue.
“It has taken away the freedom of people to use the Promenade in their home town.
“They are being denied the chance to walk and feel the wind in their hair and smell the sea and that is a dreadful shame.
“There is no chance they will get used to the layout, they are cane users and the flat space takes away any reference points to let them know if they are on the road or pavement.
“It’s simply not safe.”