Swanage’s town centre traffic experiment to be scrapped

The flow of traffic on Kings Road East is expected to be reversed back to what it used to be, before the Institute Road roadworks took place, after town councillors described the resulting increase in traffic along the High Street as “dangerous”.

At last night’s Swanage Town Council meeting, there was a unanimous decision to recommend to Dorset Council to reinstate the original traffic direction of Kings Road East, so traffic including large lorries could drive from lower High Street, along Kings Road East and out onto Kings Road West to drive out of town.

The experimental traffic plan, currently in place, means that large lorries are forced to go along a narrow stretch of the High Street by the Legion or try to get round a tight bend in Church Hill. It was originally proposed to trial this scheme, so that residents in the south of Swanage would be able to take an alternative route to their homes, avoiding the busy Institute Road.

The trial scheme was meant to stay in place until the end of the consultation on Friday 7th August 2020, but councillors agreed that it should be scrapped as soon as possible due to the negative impact it was having on the town.

Roadworks sign at Kings Road East

The one way street, Kings Road East used to flow east to west but this year the traffic direction was reversed to see if it improved vehicle access for residents living in south Swanage

30 objections and only one message of support

Although the consultation is being organised by Dorset Council, many of those who responded have copied in the town council. Of those that the town council has seen, it said that there had been approximately 30 objections and only one message of support.

Swanage Town Council’s chair of the transport committee, Councillor Mike Whitwam told the meeting that the scheme was not working. He said:

“It was an experiment and we gave it a chance but I’m happy to propose that we don’t recommend keeping it and that we ask Dorset Council for it to be reversed at the end of the consultation period.”

Councillor Gary Suttle said:

“It’s just not feasible. It’s the size of the vehicles going along the High Street that are the issue. We need to scrap the whole thing – I’d get rid of the traffic lights tomorrow, as it’s just causing a nuisance.”

Junction of the High Street and Kings Road East

The junction of High Street and Kings Road East, showing the experimental white road markings

“Could see an increase in accidents”

Councillor Bill Trite was also unhappy with the current scheme. He said:

“The increased volume of traffic that is now using the High Street is a problem. School children from Mount Scar will have to cross a much busier road and that could see an increase in accidents.”

Referring to whether the council had to wait until the end of the consultation period to make the change, he said:

“I’m not entirely sure we do need to wait to the end of the consultation period. We could have an accident in that time and if we have the power to stop the experiment, then we should do so now.”

Councillor Gary Suttle said that he was confident that Dorset Highway would reverse the situation based on the evidence so far.

A word of caution was raised by Councillor Chris Tomes who said that this was a busy time of the year and that changing the traffic system overnight without any proper communication of the changes to the public, could lead to more confusion. He said that clear signage needed to be in place first.

Next to speak was the mayor, Councillor Mike Bonfield who had originally backed the experiment. He said:

“We solved one problem but caused six more. We tried it but it is dangerous and I’m happy to tell the people of Swanage that Kings Road East needs to go back to the way it was. The butchers, JJ Moore, tell me that they see cars going up the road the wrong way on a daily basis.”

Taking into account the point made by Councillor Chris Tomes that a sudden overnight change without any publicity would not be ideal, the council resolved to pass a motion asking for King Road East to be reversed forthwith, subject to the change being fully signposted.

The matter will now go to Dorset Council, who decide on highway issues, but it is fully expected that it will back the town council’s proposal.

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