Friday, 8 August 2014

Car Is King In Honest Toun

I’ve spoken before about the problems of air pollution in Musselburgh town centre and the weirdhostility in some quarters to the idea of allowing people to enjoy a bit of public space.

Well, work has now begun – and is due to last until just before Christmas – on a programme of pavement and parking refurbishment at the easternmost end of the town’s High Street.

There was of course a grand plan for a town square, following heaps of comments from local people, but the current council have seen fit to shelve it, instead coming up with a patch up and re-jig job to refresh the pavements and amend the lay-out of the area’s parking spaces.

We’re always hearing how important town centres are yet I’m afraid what’s happening in the Honest Toun right now simply demonstrates the lack of action behind such warm words.

The first I knew about the patch up job was a letter from the council telling me it was about to happen, including a satisfaction survey for me to complete after the job is done. No consultation.

Having looked at the drawings I contacted the council and after a fortnight got a reply.

Apparently the normal working hours of the contractors will be 8am to 4.30 but work out with these hours will be required. I suppose the prospect of a pneumatic drill outside our house at 7am on a Saturday isn’t as bad as the hideous Orange band striking up during marching season.

Key to any improvements in a town centre like Musselburgh should be traffic reduction and promotion of walking, cycling and public transport as these will increase footfall and spending for businesses, and improve air quality for the benefit of public health. However, in reply to my questions the council confirms that the project involves the creation of more car parking spaces, not fewer. It also appears that bus stops outside the old Post Office and Luca’s are to be removed, with a replacement bus stop much further east beyond the Pinkie Pillars.

During the consultation on the grander plans I did make a case for cyclists, and I’m pleased to see that bike racks are to be installed outside the old Post Office and Luca’s. I also like the look of built-out sections of pavement at Pinkie Pillars to narrow the entrance to the High Street, hopefully encouraging boy racers and generally inconsiderate drivers to keep the heid.

I’ve blogged before about the problems of motorists parking on local pavements and I’m told that bollards will installed at “strategic” locations. However, it seems the additional parking spaces being provided are in some way meant to be a response. So, rather than making it harder to park and easier to walk, cycle and catch the bus, the council is making it easier to park.

Given the council’s stated priority of sustainability and the fact that it has been forced to declare the High Street East Lothian’s only air quality management zone, I don’t see how this refurbishment work was approved. It’s an enormous missed opportunity, does not have a public mandate and will if anything contribute to increased traffic, poorer air quality and lack of retail vibrancy.

Still, maybe I should be celebrating a small victory - the arrival of the High Street’s first bike rack! Yes, that’s what I’ll do. As the new parking spaces are laid I’ll channel Lt Col Kilgore from Apocalypse Now. I love the smell of tarmac in the morning. Smells like victory.

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