‘No more mistakes’ – that was the bold promise today from Blackpool’s transport chief on the future of development on the town’s roads.
Coun John Jones has revealed he is set to launch a new task group to ensure all decisions are fully scrutinised when it comes to making changes to the resort’s highways.
It comes following widespread anger after the council admitted it had got it wrong on yet another road scheme.
After the furore over ‘shared space’ projects on Central Promenade and St John’s Square, the council now is going back to the drawing board on changes to roads in the Talbot Gateway area.
And Coun Jones announced the launch of the task group as the council was today blasted over a “waste of public money” on several road projects.
He said: “We should have learned lessons from the Promenade, but unfortunately we didn’t.
“Now we have to move forward and I am setting up a road users group so before any design or work is done in future, we have a group which will include disabled, blind and partially sighted people, Blackpool Transport, taxi-drivers and other road users and they will be widely consulted.
“There is a lot of restructuring going on in my department as well and we are going to be working differently from now on.
“I want to make sure from now on we don’t get into a position where we are having to alter things.
“Lessons have to be learnt and we have to make sure consultation is not just a box ticking exercise.”
Coun Jones said he could not say what the cost of mistakes was to the council.
But there has been huge criticism of schemes carried out in the last few years.
Motorists reacted angrily when Central Promenade was reduced from four lanes to two, and controlled crossings were removed as part of a £2.5m scheme completed in 2011.
Since then changes have been made in a bid to improve traffic flow, with the temporary removal of traffic lights at the junctions with New Bonny Street and Talbot Square now to be made permanent.
Work is also due to start soon on installing a new zebra crossing in front of the Tower.
Some businesses have also complained about the ban on traffic in St John’s Square, with a decision still to be made on whether buses will be allowed back in.
The latest controversy has seen campaigners for the blind brand the new road layout in the Talbot Gateway Central Business District as dangerous.
Members of the Low Vision Committee and N-Vision say safer crossings are needed at the junction with Talbot Road.
Warwick Tunnicliffe, of Warwick’s Amusements and the St John’s Square Traders Association, said: “The council has made a number of mistakes and we can’t allow the mistakes to continue.
“It is a waste of public funds, and if they were running a business they would be bankrupt.
“I would be all for a think tank but let’s have some people who are up to designing these road schemes in the first place, and get it right.”
Pat Francioni, of the Charnley Road Hoteliers group, said: “This must not happen again. How much money do they want to waste?
“The council has an obsession with putting cobbles down - they put them down on the Prom and it didn’t work, and then they put them down outside Wilkinson’s. They never learn.”
Some have also criticised the scheme because they say Talbot Road will have to be dug up again if a proposed extension of the tramway to North Station goes ahead.
Coun Jones added: “We have agreed the extension of the tramway in principle and are looking at the business plan, but it is a long way off.
“We had to do the roadworks around the Talbot Gateway ahead of that because we are looking to attract more private investment into that area so it had to be done.”
Bob Mason, director of delivery at Blackpool Transport, welcomed the move to set up an action group.
He said: “Coun Jones has a very postive ‘can do’ attitude and he is already being very supportive of us.
“We have started the process already of setting up a group and recently we attended a consultation meeting with representatives of the taxis and a number of disabled users in relation to possibly opening up St John’s Square for buses.”
Jim Bithell, of the Fylde Coast Branch of the Guide Dogs Association, said: “I think it’s a good idea provided the council listens to what people are saying.
“They have made mistakes on the Prom and at the junction of Waterloo Road and Lytham Road, and we need to stop this happening again.”
Conservative group leader Coun Tony Williams said it was “common sense” to consult on plans.
He said: “I would have assumed the officers in charge should be experienced enough and qualified enough to be able to recognise if there is going to be a problem.
“They should have consulted with taxi drivers and other groups including Blackpool Transport, and if that hasn’t gone on that’s an incredible shortfall in planning.”