The outbreak of summery weather in the last couple of weeks has brought the problems we face in Southsea to a wider audience, as visitors flock in to enjoy things we lucky residents can take for granted. This coincides with the running of the latest PCC “consultation” on “improvements” in the area, and the arrival through my letterbox of a particularly fatuous political leaflet.
Before I deal with the consultation, I have to direct you to www.palmerstonroadsouth.co.uk and ask you to sign a petition calling for Portsmouth City Council to review the consultation process and traffic arrangements in the area. I wasn’t involved in setting the petition up, but I support it wholeheartedly. The changes haven’t worked, they have wasted about £500k without the public being properly consulted, and as I explained last year they are a terrible example of incompetence by Lib Dem councillors.
PCC has now put out its own consultation on a plan to narrow Osborne Road, widen pavements, and lose some parking spaces accordingly. There are also plans to move the zebra crossing about ten feet along in front of Knight & Lee (why?), moving the bus stop outside Nat West Bank (the plan doesn’t make clear where it will go), ripping out the perfectly-adequate bench seats in front of Subway and replacing them with new ones, repaving the area in front of Debenhams and putting in planters, and various bollards at the entrance to Palmerston Road’s southern half. The council would also put coloured tarmac down on the road, presumably to warn motorists that they are entering a disaster area. As with the Palmerston Rd petition, please click through to the PCC survey linked to above and make sure you register your views. You’ll note that the PCC consultation has no option along the lines of “Put Palmerston Rd back how it was”, but you can still make the suggestion.
The News are carrying a story reporting the “mass opposition” to the plans but we cannot afford to be complacent given PCC’s record of ignoring public consultations in the past.
The Lib Dem plans risk driving shoppers and visitors away from Osborne Road because parking will be more difficult. The narrowness of Osborne Road at the Queen’s Hotel end already creates problems because cars find it hard to pass larger vehicles coming the other way, or parked for deliveries. Narrowing the road elsewhere is a nonsensical idea. What PCC should be doing is listening to residents and traders already affected by the Palmerston Road pedestrianisation, and undoing it immediately. Instead they propose to repeat the damage in the same way round the corner.
Parking has been a problem in Southsea for decades, traffic management in the city as a whole has reached a crisis point as the council’s screw-up at the weekend with the M275 shows. The changes already carried out, closing Palmerston Road to traffic and blocking Lennox Road South, have contributed to the mess. The new roundabout at Locksway Road is a death-trap. Temporary traffic lights, driven by poorly-coordinated utility work, reduce traffic to a crawl all over Portsea Island.
At the weekend The News tried repeatedly to contact Cllr Jason Fazackerley, the Lib Dem cabinet member for Traffic & Transportation, but he wouldn’t answer. Eventually Gerald Vernon-Jackson appeared to give the press some emollient quotes, and promised to cancel any parking fines levied at the weekend by way of apology. This tendency of Lib Dem cabinet members to hide behind Gerald Vernon-Jackson is nothing new, or suprising; some cabinet members can barely string a sentence together. But we have reached a point now on the roads where Cllr Fazackerley has to come clean with the people as to what is going on. I’m told that PCC missed Armed Forces Day off the “calendar of events” they supply to the emergency services and other outside agencies; it was this failure that led to Colas programming works for the busy weekend, through no fault of theirs. GVJ was very angry in The News saying
“I don’t know how the decision was made to do a major piece of roadworks on such a busy day. I don’t know who it was who took that decision, but whoever thought that this weekend wouldn’t be busy, clearly got it wrong”
Well, Gerald, if your colleague Cllr Fazackerley forgets Armed Forces Day don’t you think it’s his fault and something should be done about him? Shouldn’t you also apologise for allowing the impression to get about that PCC were the innocent victims in all this? The News also ran a report on the demand for an inquiry into the weekend chaos from Cllr Donna Jones, leader of the Conservative group on PCC.
Last week a fatuous leaflet came through my door from the Lib Dems, who for this purpose still seem to include Mike Hancock. I’m surprised Cllrs Eddis, Mason, and Andrewes are happy to appear so ostentatiously linked with Hancock, but as their own records are far from stellar maybe they feel it can do them little further damage.
The leaflet is headlined “Southsea Improvements!”, which they feel includes the Lennox Road fiasco, Palmerston Road South pedestrianisation, the Southsea library (which is already two years old), and moving the taxi rank in front of Debenhams where visitors may more easily stagger across from the drinking zone to get a cab home. Taxi drivers themselves now refer to Palmerston Road as the “OK Corral”.
Lastly, the councillors are suggesting a further cutback in public transport (following First Hampshire’s springtime service cuts) by suggestion Stagecoach no longer run their 700 service through to Southsea. At present it runs all the way along the coast from Brighton to Chichester to the Hard, Clarence Pier, and Palmerston Rd. The councillors – not Stagecoach – are now suggesting that this service should terminate at The Hard and force passengers to change buses there to travel on to Southsea. After a weekend which proves how desperately we lack a viable public transport alternative to private car use, this is a staggering thing to suggest.
The Lib Dems are pinning their hopes for preventing a repetition of the chaos on the 600-place park and ride at Tipner, and putting those people on public transport for onward journeys into the city. You didn’t have to do a lot of counting at the weekend to realise that there were far more than 600 cars clogging up the roads. You could have removed those 600 cars and made no difference to the gridlock. Compare our situation with that of Oxford, a smaller city but one with five park and ride sites with capacity for 4600 cars – that is the way to tackle the problem! The total car-park (excluding on-road completely) capacity of the city centre, including Gunwharf and Dockyard, is just over 5000 spaces. Add on I-don’t-know (yet) how many on-street and along the seafront and you will see that taking 600 of those out to Tipner is not going to make very much difference. Every little helps, true, but I think it’s important to balance some of the fanfare surrounding this scheme with the likely reality.
One final thing from that leaflet that genuinely had me laughing aloud is the Lib Dem councillors’ concern at the impact the “proposed Northern Quarter” will have on Southsea. It is no longer “planned”, or “due to open in 20XX”, or even “much-delayed”. Northern Quarter is slipping away into the fanciful mists of “what might have been” along with an Ikea at Mile End Road, an LRT system linked to Gosport and Fareham under the harbour, and a monorail from Southsea to Cosham. Anyone who follows me on Twitter will be familiar with my scepticism about Northern Quarter and how PCC has (mis)managed the redevelopment of Commercial Road, and maybe one day I will finally get round to writing a blog on it!
(Many thanks to @luvvielighter on Twitter for the prompt about Oxford’s park & ride scheme)