Keep the High Street Alive

Posted by Sharon Eason on 6 March 2014 | 0 Comments

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You Can Help to Save Ashby Market Street

Ashby de la Zouch is a vibrant town slap bang in the middle of England, in the county of Leicestershire.  It is a town with a long history: we even have our very own castle, or at least what was left after the Civil War.  The character of the town is frequently portrayed through photographs looking down the wide central section of Market Street, which can be seen in paintings and photographs over the centuries.

Market Street is a vibrant high street in the best traditions.  It is home to two family butchers, two greengrocers, two delicatessens and many cafes teashops and restaurants serving locally sourced food.  Add pubs, jewellers, clothing boutiques, accessory shops, shoe shops, opticians, a paint and wallpaper shop, travel agents, fast food outlets and, of course, a spattering of charity shops and you have a varied high street where people browse and spend.

Ashby could be a model for the rest of the country to follow, but for some reason known only to the County Council, they now intend to ruin the landscape of the town, and with it the viability of the many of the small, independent shops and eating places.

At a meeting on Thursday, 27 February the facts of this very worrying situation started to emerge.  They tell the tale of how a larger council can simply trample over the wishes of the townspeople.  I’ll be brief.

On 9 December 2012 an innocuous letter from Leicestershire County Council was hand-delivered to just 200 “frontages” on Market Street.  The letter asked for responses by 11 January 2013.

The County Council states that one person objected and two were broadly in support of the idea but wanted some changes.  No mention was made of the other 197 – it is assumed that they did not respond.  The County Council are therefore basing all their arguments on a very flawed consultation model.  No-one else knew about the plans, in a town of 13,000 inhabitants.

The Ashby Town Council objected to the proposals on three occasions but their voice was ignored by the County who referred the matter to their Cabinet where it was voted through unanimously – by people who have no interest in the town or knowledge of its important and vibrant high street shops.

These are the pertinent points of the County Council’s arguments and the work it intends to push through – with a reality check against each.

  •  Ashby has the worst accident record in the County
    • Reality is that there have been an average of 3 minor bumps each year for the past ten years.  Rarely are people injured, and the County Council have had to acknowledge the truth of the Town’s statement that the type of accident seen in the town would not be prevented by the measures proposed by the County.
  • To reduce accidents, we will reduce the width of the road by hatching the centre and putting in pedestrian refuges with bollards.  People will be able to cross at points other than the three existing Pelican crossings with less danger of being run over
    • Actually the best plan is to leave it alone, and encourage people to make more use of the crossings.  Standing in a hatch-marked lane exposes pedestrians to vehicles.  Locals have been crossing ‘in the wrong place’ for years without incident.
    • Reducing the width of the carriageway will endanger the lives of cyclists who will have less space between the parked cars and the moving traffic.  At present you are able to pull out around a cyclist, giving them room to travel up the hill, by using what will become a ‘no-go zone’
    • A new long distance path through the National Forest is going to be opened in May with Ashby as one of the towns on the route where cyclists and ramblers will be encouraged to stop for refreshment.  The danger posed by the narrowing of the road will only discourage their return with consequent loss of income to the shops and eating places in the town
    • Emergency vehicles drive at speed with blue lights and sirens blazing at least twice a day.  At present the traffic simply moves to the side of the road leaving an extra lane down the centre where the emergency vehicles can pass unhindered.  The proposed bollards and refuges will impede the emergency vehicles with consequent potential danger to life.
    • It is not clear whether or not there will be space for two busses to pass under the new design.  When the school busses arrive or depart they need to be able to pass the service bus waiting at the bus stop, and to turn right to access one school.
  • We will create two loading/unloading bays, remove one bus stop, and create more car parking bays.
    • The loading bays will only accommodate one lorry at a time.  They are positioned such that drivers would have to manually handle loads up or down the hill to deliver goods such as beds and stillages of goods for the grocery shops and take-away restaurants.
    • At present lorries park outside any shop, unload efficiently, and move off in a few minutes.  When they do have to double park, there is space to move around them by driving in the middle of the road.  The loading bays would extend the time needed to offload and cause a queue of lorries waiting to use the bay, effectively closing the road completely.
    • The bus stop they propose to remove is in the best position as the footpath here is wide and the bus has space to pull in easily.  It is used by holiday coaches who not only pick up and set down here but also use the town as a refreshment break.  They would not be able to stop and therefore the town would lose its income from tourists, endangering the viability of the many small cafes and teashops on the main street and its courtyards.
    • The proposed additional car parking bays are at the narrowest part of the street, but outside a cluster of take-away food outlets.  At present people park for literally seconds to pop in collect and pay for their food.  Under the proposed scheme the new bays would be used for long term parking leaving no option but to double park to use the take-away.
    • The improvement to the one remaining bus stop will involve extending the footpath such that it will jut out into the very spot that the bus needs to pull out safely.  To make matters worse, the kerb will be raised.  The bus will need to be further away from the footpath in order to avoid the protruding path and kerb, thus pedestrians will have to step down an unusually high kerb into the road, then up into the bus.  Not at all helpful for the elderly or disabled who rely on the bus service, such as it is.
  • We will reduce the speed limit to 20 miles per hour
    •     Traffic rarely reaches 20mph during the working day on the street as it is currently arranged
    • The County Council admit that no-one has been charged with exceeding the 30 mph limit and therefore there is no reason to introduce speed cameras or other traffic calming measures, such as speed bumps.
    • The three pelican crossings effectively keep traffic speed well below 20 mph.

    So, how can you help us?

    As a potential visitor to the town, your opinion and your vote count.  Please click here and sign our e-petition and help us to save Ashby’s Market Street.

      The £55,000 costs of this project could be far better spent elsewhere in the town or county.  It might even pay the salary of two or three council workers for one year, reducing proposed redundancies.



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