Paul Miller gets to grips with traffic and housing in Ashbourne.
IN 2009, Councillor Philip Chell presented an idea to Ashbourne Town Council which outlined his thoughts on introducing a one-way system into Ashbourne to overcome congestion.
Over the intervening five years, every other week seems to be marked by roadworks, potholes and tales of woe from visitors feeling let down by our parking or persecuted by overzealous traffic wardens. There's no shortage of suggestions and opinion but for years, just like the one-way system, it has fallen on deaf ears. Maybe traffic in rural areas just isn't sexy enough.
What we need is a hero and there just may be a rustle of spandex in a telephone box near you. The Neighbourhood Plan steering group are pulling a pair of pants up over their trousers, taking their glasses off and setting their bold sights on a bright Ashbourne future for years to come.
It's unclear at the moment just how "super" their powers will be but, hopefully, one power is the ability to turn opinion into effective policy. The intrepid team have now had 3,000 responses from their consultation covering a wide range of topics.
They have published the high-level analysis of the results. Turning "high level" into a strategy with teeth and which can be used to drive decision-making is hugely complicated. Hopefully, another of their talents is injecting energy and creativity into us all.
It's not all glamorous – the next stage will involve further consultation on the key issues raised and an attempt to turn it into some quite specific strategy, which will make it easier for Derbyshire Dales District Council to do what we want while still meeting their own targets.
The Neighbourhood Plan team asked local people what they liked and didn't like about Ashbourne – what we want to keep and what we want to change. Top of the list of things we didn't like, and the thing we most wanted to change, was good old "transport".
Transport could include the debate over parking (quantity, price and location), the linkage between Waterside Park and the rest of the town, congestion, heavy goods vehicles coming through the town centre and the frequency of local public transport routes. They are easy to discuss over a coffee but much harder to get agreement on.
Congestion has long been debated and there have been at least two solutions – a bypass and a one-way system within the town.
My own view is that congestion is an opportunity – it says that people/money are coming through the town. For me, congestion is only a problem if the reward at the end of it wasn't worth the effort.
The Ashbourne Economic Assessment in 2007 summarised it well: "All too often, visitors are passing through Ashbourne, frequently seen as the gateway to other attractions such as Dovedale, Carsington Water, the National Park or Alton Towers."
If all we are is an obstacle to getting where you really want to go, Ashbourne is "congested". If we are a great, pretty place to stretch your legs, do a little shopping and get a coffee and comfort break Ashbourne becomes "understandably busy".
It was estimated that there were 50,000 visitors to the town in 2007 but that number was already declining. Some traffic studies have been published which highlight the negative impact of the additional load the new housing will bring if nothing is changed.
Those new occupants and drivers will bring much-needed additional footfall for our shops and skilled employees for our local businesses.
It is a great opportunity to improve our town but, instead of excitement, there has been some silly, misguided scaremongering from people ignoring the inevitability of the population increase.
Now is the time to see the opportunity and find pragmatic solutions. For me, the answer is to make it easy for people to stop off in the town and not to just divert them around it. The one-way system, coupled with additional parking spaces and easy pedestrian access could be a great solution.
The parking question comes up time and again in the pages of the Ashbourne News Telegraph. How many times do visitors have to tell us that our parking is too expensive and it is dissuading people from visiting us when Leek and Uttoxeter are so accommodating?
Our district council seems obsessed with collecting parking revenue regardless of the impact on the town. Officially its objective, according to the recent car parking consultation, was only to maintain the income from parking. Unfortunately, falling numbers of cars inevitably mean a price hike.
From Ashbourne's perspective, the money spent from visitors shopping and visiting cafes and restaurants far outweighs the few pounds of parking money – especially when the costs of collection and traffic wardens are taken into account.
The University of Derby published research a couple of years ago which showed that the StreetFest alone brought more than £100,000 of additional revenue into Ashbourne. Our current planning priorities allow the most ridiculous protection of the heritage area but doesn't think twice about covering it with cars for a few extra pounds. Financially, the town would be better off paying a visitor "duty" to the district council directly and letting visitors park for free.
In my view, there is a huge stretch of land between Waterside Park and St Oswald's which could be used for parking while linking the town together without destroying the character of the town.
In the movies, the superheroes seem to be able to perform miracles on their own. The Neighbourhood Plan steering group needs your input – otherwise barmy opinion like mine will get an unfair weighting.
Get your thinking caps on and, even if you've already done so in the past, download a form from the Neighbourhood Team website and tell them again. We already know from previous consultations that apathy is assumed to be consent and that's when we lose control. The Chell One Way system may yet have its day...
You can read Paul's blogs at www.ashbournevoice.co.uk.