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Do you want better things for our town? Then you need to speak up about it

By Ashbourne News Telegraph  |  Posted: June 12, 2014

Lorries queuing up through the town. Residents are being asked to have their say on how to sort the problem.

Lorries queuing up through the town. Residents are being asked to have their say on how to sort the problem.

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Paul Miller believes things will only change when people air their views.

IT'S time we all got off our backsides and showed a little support for the neighbourhood plan. They must be fed up with having to bang the drum and getting little or no response.

The first time I'd even heard of a neighbourhood plan was when Jeffrey Phillips stood up in front of a crowd at the housing meeting in July 2012. He issued the first public rallying cry.

After the meeting, councillors picked up the suggestion and attended a training session to understand more about it. They recognised quickly that there was a lot of work involved and that it was an opportunity.

They launched the idea in a meeting in November 2012. The ridiculously negative response at that meeting prompted me to write a blog entitled "A public apology to Councillor Lucy Green".

At our worst, Ashbourne can be utterly apathetic and downright lazy – happy to criticise those who do get off their backside regardless of their cause – and unwilling to contribute to anything that isn't an immediate threat to their property or livelihood.

We will wait until the last minute and then blame everyone but ourselves for letting it happen. It saddens me that this is the case.

Cast your minds back to that meeting in July 2012. The efforts of Peter Fox raised the interest in the housing consultation so that a public meeting was arranged by our town council.

A crowd filled the town hall in outrage that 400 homes were going to be built, and the "nimby" instinct mobilised the group.

Once the town council picked up the baton with the district council, the passion was somewhat dimmed. The strength of feeling demonstrated by the turnout gave real momentum and a mandate in those discussions.

After collecting all the contact details at that first meeting, attendees were contacted about creating the Neighbourhood Team to deal with the issue on an ongoing basis.

Only 30 turned up and many of those were annoyed that they couldn't just repeat their anger about the housing situation and travellers. They were unhappy at being asked to raise their sights above the immediate threat. Since then, as soon as there is work to be done, the meetings dwindled from around a dozen stalwarts to just a handful of people.

The ridiculous thing is that the neighbourhood team, despite our apathy, have already achieved great things. They have got the district council to accept their legal existence and have been instrumental in enforcing the priorities established through the democratic housing consultation despite repeated threats from developers.

This has led to the district council submitting an Ashbourne-friendly, developer-controlling local plan with approval scheduled for November. We are really fortunate with the skills and knowledge of the core team, but they have shouldered the burden themselves.

There is a real danger in the approach so far.

Firstly, the neighbourhood plan requires consultation. It has to be ratified by the Ashbourne community.

If the democratic process doesn't engage all parts of the community, there is a window of opportunity for vested interests or extreme views to carry an unfair weight with far-reaching consequences.

The second, and far more important, point is that the plan could be so much better with our involvement.

I know that we are full of opinion and ideas. The meeting attended by so many people back in July 2012 was full of passion and suggestions.

The neighbourhood plan team must be fed up with having to drag us to the conversation table by the nose, but also terrified that as a result they aren't getting the best for the town.

At the moment they are having to spoonfeed us topics in a painstaking fashion because of our lethargy. Right now, they want our views on traffic. The two main topics are reducing heavy goods vehicles travelling through the town and congestion.

I'll even get off my own ample backside and share my more radical ideas on the topic. According to research, a heavy goods vehicle passes through Ashbourne every 70 seconds, compared to seven seconds for a car

It strikes me that the heavy goods vehicles are only coming through Ashbourne because, a) they have no alternative (that is, they are collecting or delivering locally); or b) that they are coming through because we are the lowest cost alternative.

We need to consider the local haulage firms who will start and end journeys in the town and who should be encouraged or exempt from penalties. We need a scheme that discourages the lorries who choose Ashbourne purely from a cost perspective and receive "compensation" from the ones who have no alternative.

My solution is to have a transit charge for vehicles passing through the town and an exemption for local hauliers. I quite like the idea, too, of reviving the modern equivalent of the toll house. This is precisely the system which has worked so effectively with the M6 toll road and the London congestion charge.

There would be a setup charge for any system, but this would be offset by revenues. The alternative would be to have random manual checks which would compare registration plates against a database to check whether they have prepaid and fine anyone found not to comply.

The congestion answer is addressed by a combination of effective new parking spaces and a one-way system.

I think a bypass is a bad solution for the town. I want people to stop, spend and enjoy, rather than just pass through.

The land along behind Waterside Park and St Oswald's is the answer, with a landscaped walk-through to the town centre. This could properly link together the two main retail areas in the town.

Combined with the reduction on heavy goods vehicles, I then think a one-way system will work. We could enhance things even further by pedestrianisation of Dig Street and parts of Church Street or St John's Street.

I could be wrong but I can rest safe in the knowledge that no-one can be bothered to argue, let alone lift pen or keyboard to tell Jeffrey.

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