Lancashire County Council has admitted that it will cost millions of pounds to cut congestion in Preston city centre following its controversial changes to traffic flow, including the much-maligned £3.4m Fishergate Central Gateway Scheme.
The scheme, which saw the creation of shared spaces for pedestrians and drivers, the banning of cars and vans from a key part of the city’s main shopping street followed by new traffic arrangements for drivers leaving Preston railway station, has increased traffic pressures elsewhere in the city - the council has now acknowledged.
The council is to compete for cash from a new central government fund in the hope of reducing the city’s crippling traffic chaos.
Daniel Herbert, the council’s group manager for highways, unveiled first details of the £8m proposals for junctions at Ringway’s London Road, Preston prison and the key Bow Lane junction at a meeting of Lancashire Enterprise Partnership’s Transport for Lancashire committee this week.
A report to the committee admitted: “Congestion in the city centre is a growing issue, particularly during both morning and evening peak periods due to high traffic flows and conflicting traffic movement at signalised junctions.
“The implementation of schemes to reduce traffic from within the city centre, for example, the Fishergate Central Gateway, has placed additional pressure on Ringway. Further investment is therefore necessary to provide a comprehensive solution to congestion.”
It’s just a complete waste of taxpayers’ money. Ringway is fine at the moment – it’s busy, but the traffic is moving. So I just don’t know what’s the point of spending £8m to try and fix that.
Mr Herbert told its members the council wants to replace signalling equipment, highlighting recent problems at London Road which had “taken out the whole junction and caused significant delays.”
Noting the need to also upgrade the signalling equipment at the prison junction near Stanley Street, he said equipment was 35 years old and “obsolete”.
There are also proposals to upgrade monitoring equipment which controls traffic flow and hopes of widening the junction at Bow Lane slightly.
The intention was, he said, “to manage traffic flows and make sure junctions are working to capacity.”
The council is also now working with the city council to help improve air quality along the route.
But outspoken critic of the Fishergate scheme Colin Nugent has warned that the council could be on a road to further congestion and has called for the public to have a say.
He said: “It’s just a complete waste of taxpayers’ money. Ringway is fine at the moment – it’s busy, but the traffic is moving. So I just don’t know what’s the point of spending £8m to try and fix that.
“Fishergate was disastrously wrong – the worst thing they ever did.
“They have to think very carefully about what they do before they do go ahead – and maybe ask the public first and get some suggestions before they spend loads and loads of money they’re going to waste and regret it.”
Mr Nugent mounted a one-man placard protest last year as thousands of motorists faced fines for driving down a newly “out of bounds” stretch of Fishergate between Mount Street and Corporation Street. The fines were later lifted after the Traffic Penalty Tribunal ruled the day-time changes had been poorly signposted.
Civil servant Mr Nugent, who reclaimed his fine, did concede that it might be appropriate to change traffic light sequencing on Ringway at peak times such as 4pm - 6pm to cope with the thousands of cars travelling through the city.
After the meeting, Mr Herbert said: “At the moment there are no detailed designs. We’ve identified there are a number of junctions on that route where we can put investment to improve junction capacity and improve our signal management system to reduce congestion and delays. We are competing for funding - there’s no guarantee we can get this money.
“If we do, we have to deliver by 2020. This isn’t the only thing we are looking at in Preston. This is a particular bid to deal with some issues. There are other things we are looking at in and around Preston city centre which will help mitigate problems, but again we won’t have them all in place this year.”
Transport for Lancashire committee chairman and council leader County Coun Geoff Driver said: “If we are wanting investment to come into Preston you’ve got to make sure people can move about - you’ve got to make sure this can happen.”
Preston City Business Improvement District (BID) manager Mark Whittle added: “Preston is at the heart of the county and the Preston city centre needs to at the forefront of traffic improvement measures ... we need to ensure pedestrians, road users and public transport patrons alike can take advantage of and enjoy the facilities on offer.”
The council described Ringway as the “critical link in the city centre’s highway infrastructure”, noting it is not only a city centre relief road, but provides access to key facilities including the railway and bus stations, UCLan and retail and leisure areas.
A report on a wider town centre traffic management plan will go to the county council’s cabinet in July.
Bids to the National Productivity Fund must be submitted by June 30, but getting endorsement from a Local Enterprise Partnership will help a submission.
The Fund will distribute £690m amongst local authorities for schemes aimed at tackling congestion and getting transport networks moving again.
Projects will help shape future of travel
The county council is bidding for two projects:
1. Preston City Centre Congestion Reduction: Seeking £5m towards the £8.3m costs of upgrading traffic lights and monitoring systems and road improvements. Equipment changes will enable timings to be adjusted based on traffic levels.
Work includes: upgrading traffic lights and physical changes to junctions at Bow Lane/Guild Way (A59); Stanley Street (A59)/Church Street “prison junction”; New Hall Lane/London Rd/Queen St staggered junction near The Range.
Upgrading traffic lights at the Nelson Way/Riversway, Pedders Lane/Riversway and Portway/Mariners Way junctions.
2. M55 to St Annes link road: Seeking £4.3 to £5m towards the hoped for £21m new road which is intended to link the M55 directly with St Annes. The most direct route between the resort and St Annes, a narrow moss road, has been closed since 2013 on safety grounds and a replacement road is keenly awaited.A modern road link is deemed especially important because of future employment and housing development planned for the area. Some 1600 new homes are proposed and the Blackpool Airport Enterprise Zone and Whitehills Business Park will provide employment.
3. Meanwhile Blackpool Council will bid for up to £3.5m to carry out ‘essential’ maintenance along a stretch of Yeadon Way, the main route linking the M55 to the resort’s coach and car parks. Jeremy Walker, transport policy manager at Blackpool Council, said: “This link is essential for the local economy to function. There are issues with the materials used and the geology. Settlement is an issue and there are signs of distress with the road. The key issue is to prevent an unplanned closure of this road.”
A neighbouring part of the route was repaired in 2014.