EXCLUSIVE: The end of shared space?

The current shared space on Blackpool promenade and (below) Council leader Simon Blackburn.
The current shared space on Blackpool promenade and (below) Council leader Simon Blackburn.
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Blackpool’s central Promenade could be returned to its original four lane layout in a bid to solve chronic congestion problems, council chiefs today revealed.

Town Hall leader Simon Blackburn says the idea is one of four being looked at by the authority after problems have plagued the troubled road since it was rebuilt as a ‘shared space’ two years ago.

Blackpool Council leader Simon Blackburn

Blackpool Council leader Simon Blackburn

It comes after opposition Tory leader Tony Williams called for a “real solution” to the issue – but added he would not apologise for the previous Conservative administration’s decision to sanction the rebuild.

Coun Blackburn said: “It’s no secret we are concerned about the Promenade in its current state. Coun Williams knows we are currently exploring options for the future of Prom that will seek to rectify the poor condition the road is in and the congestion caused.

“One of the options we are considering is making the road four lanes as it was previously. This is one of four options which all offer benefits and drawbacks.

“What we won’t do is make a decision without first speaking to the public.

“We need to know the opinions of the people that use the Prom whether that be commuters, taxis or pedestrians. Any changes needed will be made at a time when least disruption will be caused.”

The current ‘shared space’ layout was built as part of the £14m Tower Headland project when the Conservatives were in office at the Town Hall. It has undergone regular maintenance work since it opened in 2011.

Coun Williams spoke out after major traffic problems were caused by the closure of part of the Prom last month to repair it.

Previous problems to hit the new-look Prom include the poor state of the road surface, which was exposed by a Gazette investigation in February last year, as well as numerous complaints from taxi drivers and other road users about frequent congestion.

Coun Williams said: “At long last the traffic seems to be moving more smoothly on the Promenade after all the recent closures and hold ups but it is by far not the final solution.

“The real solution to the traffic problems on the Promenade would appear to be to return the carriage way into four lanes using a red asphaltfor effect to blend in with the Promenade walk.”

However, Coun Williams refused to apologise for the previous administration’s decision to sanction shared space, describing the advice they were given as “flawed”.

He said: “All councillors base their decisions on advice and guidance from senior 
officers and experts.

“If that advice proves to be flawed for whatever reason then the best thing that can be done is to rectify any problems that decision has caused as quickly and efficiently as possible.

“This has been an ongoing saga and I for one have had enough of the name and blame game – just fix it. I’m not going to say sorry for this because we acted on the best of advice.”

Coun Peter Callow, who was leader of the council when the current Prom added: “We had people come to see us to talk about shared space on the continent and how the fact you mix traffic with pedestrians cuts the number of accidents.

“Obviously there’s been complaints from the taxi associations and Labour have dug it up and put it down again.

“If it goes back to four lanes, it goes back to four lanes.”

Today, taxi chiefs in the town welcomed the idea of a return to four lanes.

Driver Stephen Buckley, from Blackpool Licensed Taxi Owners Association, said: “For the council to go back to four lanes would be unbelievable. It would certainly sort out the congestion. But I think it would be a too costly option. I think the best thing to improve traffic flow would be to get rid of the zebra crossings.”

C Cabs driver Paul Bottle said: “It was perfect for us before they did this work. It would be ideal to go back to four lanes with a central island and safer too.”

GAZETTE VIEWPOINT: Town hall sees sense over Prom

It seems the penny has finally dropped over Blackpool’s ill-conceived, ill-thought-through and ill-designed new look Promenade.

Today’s announcement that town hall planners are looking at possibly reverting the flawed ‘shared space’ roadway to four lanes will be met with equal cries of “hallelujah” and “we told you so”.

As far back as 2010, when the project was unveiled, there have been those – not least The Gazette – who have branded the scheme dangerous and inept.

The fact there has not been a fatal crash at the spot where the Prom is reduced to two lanes with no road markings or kerbs is more by pure luck than judgement.

Since The Gazette revealed how the new Prom was cracking under the strain of the weight of congested traffic, and then called on the council to think again over the scheme, the matter has been turned into something of a political football.

First we had MP Paul Maynard calling for action, then yesterday Tory council leader Tony Williams demanded a u-turn on his own group’s failed plan (the shared space concept was approved under Peter Callow’s tenure).

Now Simon Blackburn has revealed a return to four lanes will form part of the council’s potential replacement schemes which he has pledged to put out to public consultation.

Of course, the cost of reverting the Prom to its former functional four lanes will not be cheap.

But there comes a time when you have to say ‘enough is enough’ and admit ‘you got it wrong’.

The current layout not only does not work – it has been a complete waste of money.

There will be those alarmed at more cash being spent on this stretch of road, but this is not a case of throwing good money after bad.

Although we still await to see the options and costings, and of course locals and tourists enduring more weeks/months of gridlock as the work is carried out, this has to be sorted for the good of the town.

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