Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Boxing Day Bazaar

Up early this morning to try and beat the rush to Westwood Cross and the PC World Sale and the all "singing and dancing" new printer I wanted.

Hardly anyone about and the PC World salesman tells me that it's much quieter than the previous year. Unfortunately for me though, I find that the printer I want is not featured in the Christmas Sale, so I could have bought it for the same price last week!

Nobody appeared to have told all the early shoppers that most of the retail outlets at Westwood weren't opening until 10am. I ventured across with my daughter to the main area and lots of annoyed people were milling around at 9am, peering through windows with visible frustration. Unable to take her to the video games shop as promised, I had to make my way back on my motorcycle with her at noon, which at least guaranteed me a parking spot, only to find that the games shop had a queue for the tills that stretched back to Cafe Nero! - She gave up and will buy her next Playstation game on the internet instead!

For one of the most deprived areas of the country, Westwood Cross appears to be heaving with bargain hunters. With Thanet so short of cash one has to wonder whether a great many people are in denial over the predicted "credit crunch" to come in the New Year. Examined from another perspective it may simply be the urge to spend today, pay tomorrow and enjoy Christmas while the government worries about recession, failing banks and lost data.

Unable to find anything for myself, I did discover an attractive new "hoodie" for my dog for those cold winter mornings on the beach - pictured - although she seemed far from impressed with the result!

Finally, whoever designed the traffic-flow pattern in and out of the Westwood Cross car park did not think clearly about the consequences. Sitting on my motorcycle and watching the tortuous progress of the cars, it seems pretty clear to me that this bottleneck design is a major contribution to the traffic jam problems we now have on the approach to the centre. Whether this can be resolved, is another question and one I will certainly be asking in the New Year.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

The other thing you might raise is why taxis and private car hire cars cannot pick up in the same area as the buses; this would relieve some comgestion!.

anon again! said...

anon again!

I have always said, since WC opened, that the roads all around it are a waste of time being far too narrow and dangerous. Effectively inefficient. However, TDC knew this but said they would wait to see how things proceed. How much longer are they going to wait until they do something? Let's have wider safer roads before ANY houses are built in this horrific insult to 'normal' Thanetians mentality!
It would be so easy, ask me!!!

Anonymous said...

Fair points made. Like Simon, all us Councillors use this junction too! I usually go through it several times a day, and, again like Simon, I share your concerns.

Without wishing to get particularly political, Westwood had a set of road plans prior to the approval of the development in its first phase, when TDC was under Labour control. The problem is there was no money from Central Government, and none available at County level (look at the delays to Ashford and Chatham’s road improvements for proof), and only minimal funding was negotiated with the developers. Effectively it was given away for free.

On a development of this size, that’s inexcusable. The developers are welcome, but effectively were let get away with only paying for the relatively short stretch of improvement between the WWX roundabout and the WWX entrance. Thanet taxpayers deserve better.

After (the Conservative group) regaining control of the Council a little under five years ago, we’ve made a lot of progress in finding funds, and fixing the problem. No-one’s going to see overnight miracles, as it’s been a long process of separate negotiations and raising money, in which KCC have been very active and very co-operative with TDC.

Work starts in the New Haine Road officially a couple of weeks ago, but as far as bulldozers and site huts are concerned, you should all see work well underway in January. This first development will ease pressure on the existing Haine Road, as well as providing much better access to the Marlowe Academy (and removing pressure in the adjacent residential roads such as Stirling Way). The road departs the existing Haine Road just north of Stirling way, and runs through the EuroKent site, rejoining the old road by the pub/carvery. Funding for this road was created by a joint venture between TDC and KCC (no money from Westminster), essentially by staking future commercial revenue from the site to secure current borrowing.

The next point concerns anon again’s good point about the Westwood housing land. He’s quite right that the previous Council regime allowed the development to be granted with no requirement to build roads first and no money to build them. That’s been fixed. We’ve been back to the negotiating table with Gleeson Homes, the lead developer, and they’ve now agreed both to pay for the roads, and also that the roads must be built before the houses are. The main feature is a new road joining directly to the end of the New Haine Road (by the carvery) which runs into the housing land, then turns down a widened Star Lane to join the Ramsgate Road. This will be a natural flow for traffic to or from Margate, rather than hitting the roundabout. Manston Court Road will be shut off at its current end, as it has an existing rat-run problem, but will instead join in with the new road further to the west. This scheme also includes widening of Nash Road. The bad news is we have no control over when this second development will be built. I suspect the developers would want to get the roads in so they can get on with the housing (and negotiating with sub-developers), but if the property market takes a downturn, the whole issue might be land-banked.

For anyone very keen on the details, full and detailed plans for both developments including orad widths etc. can be found on ukplanning.com. The one “grey area” is presently the Star Lane/Ramsgate Road junction, where there is insufficient road wodth for a preferred solution – this remains work-in-hand as to how this can be resolved.

Other developments include the much-needed dualling of the stretch from the roundabout to the Tesco/Sainsbury roundabout, which is the worst bottleneck. Dualling should improve the flow to the outside lane, which is currently only accessible when you clear the bus box junction section. Funding for that has been provisionally agreed with the developers of the old Wickes site, and you’ll notice the land has already been marked back to accommodate the dualling. The old Wickes site will be restricted to left-in, left-out only. This can’t go ahead until planning approval for the site development has been achieved, but I’m optimistic we’ll see it in 2008.

For the future, it’s intended that, when the old Homebase site is re-developed, the corner will be annexed to provide a bleed lane for traffic turning to Broadstairs, again easing pressure on the roundabout. The lane at the back of the site will also be widened to turn it into a primary access route.

Once all these improvements have been made, we should see better traffic flow. It’s worth remembering that vehicle use has doubled over the last twenty years, and this has always been a difficult junction. Fair do’s to the critics, but we are working hard to get it fixed, from a position which should never have been created in the first place. Please note – there is not a penny of central government funds going into all this, despite our having a former transport minister as half of Thanet’s MP’s (the other half, Roger Gale, may I say, has been very hard-working, and absolutely key in getting these initiatives through).

I would personally like to see some innovative work on the roundabout as well. Reverse priority outside lanes is something I’ve seen used elsewhere, and seem to work well when there is a heavy bias to the flow. I’m talking on a constant basis to KCC about this, and also the associated developments, such as new “intelligent” traffic lights for the troublesome Victoria/College Road junction (coming in 2008).

I think we all have to accept that traffic is never going to get any lighter, and we need to think of alternatives too. I had a couple of days in Paris recently, and was intrigued to see ranks of electric-assisted hire bicycles all over the place. Just pop a card in, it unlocks, and off you go. You leave it wherever you wish (in another rank, naturally! – the lock includes the charger). Very popular and widely used.

Finally, concerning the use of the bus turning area at WWX for private/public hire vehicles, I did take that one up with KCC. Their concern in that the lights are currently only triggered by bus GPS systems, or by pedestrians. The concern is that higher flows of vehicles in or out of the area would result in yet more red lights. I do agree, though, that the current let-off/collection point inside WWX could do with improvement. Noted, and we’ll do what we can.

With regards to all

Cllr Ewen Cameron

Anonymous said...

I am very proud of the fact that I shopped at WC once, two years ago and have never returned. Until something is done about the traffic I will continue to support my local shops and enjoy a personal service. If you don't like the traffic situation, why don't you do as I have done and boycot the place ? Margate is dying on it's feet and needs loyalty from its residents.

Mr Friday said...

One obvious question about Westwood X car park - why do they cone off the first few "left turns" into the car park ? For a newly designed car park are they admitting they got the plans completely wrong ? The space available to turn left after that is also compromised if a car is exiting the car park as the exit is too narrow. Anyone know how this happened ?

Jeremy Jacobs said...

Difficult to disagree with Cllr Cameron's points. (Unless you are a trader in Northdown Road or central Ramsgate)

There was talk years ago of widening Hash Road from the top of Hartdown Road. Is that being looked at again?

Michael Child said...

Ewen I have tried to make sense of what you have said but can’t see that these measures will do much to help. The main problem seems to be that access to Sainsbury’s and WC car parks from the roads is badly designed, in Sainsbury’s there is not enough run in to the car park before the turnins to the block so parking bays, this could be easily resolved by blocking the entrances to those nearest the roundabout so they can only be accessed from the other end. Also the roundabout just inside Sainsbury’s is unnecessary and just causes congestion both exit and entrance to the petrol station would be better from the car park.

The problem with the access into WC is fairly similar with an unnecessary roundabout combined with not enough run in and out without turnings and could be solved in the same way.

Obviously connecting the two car parks together would help a lot too and it may be possible to negotiate this as both WC and Sainsbury’s must be suffering considerable loss of revenue due to the congestion.

The old problem of mixing roundabouts and traffic lights always gives trouble and at WC there are sets of lights to close to the roundabouts that means when the lights are red the traffic can’t get off the roundabouts so they gridlock.

Jeremy as far as being a trader in central Ramsgate goes the real problems are properly managed parking and the fragmentation of the town centre shops by the planning department allowing too much change of use from shops.

Planning wise decisions like allowing the harbour street arcade to be turned into a bar restaurant are disastrous, not only is there now nowhere for the potential shopkeepers to get started but this Christmas Harbour street has all but died. Allowing the ground floors of town centre shops to be turned into residential accommodation keeps leaving blocks of shops marooned in a poor residential area that in tern close.

Then parking easiest explained on my own patch but applies everywhere, 20 years ago before pedestrianisation the roads in this part of Ramsgate were much busier however there was a great deal of on street parking allowed, now it has all been double yellow lined. There is also a fair amount of council housing in this area where the residents don’t have cars but do have parking, which stays empty.

I suspect that the big out of town retailers are a powerful lobby at every level of government, and that many of the parking changes that are responsible for damaging the towns is done under the dubious umbrella of health and safety.

I think that the bottom line is that while no one wants to see towns without shops unless there is concerted action at local and national gov level that is what we will get.

Anonymous said...

I don't cycle a lot but I do when I think its going to be busy at Westwood Cross. I can't see an excuse for so many local people to drive there when they can walk, cycle or bus in, maybe that why there are so many fat people around.

Mr Friday said...

Walking or cycling are fine but, in my opinion, the whole concept of a shopping centre is one where you receive goods in return for payment. Sometimes these "goods" are too heavy to cart long distances or too heavy to carry safely on a bike. The success of the retail outlets in the centre depends on selling these goods I would imagine.

Bus ? They don't stop round my way and only seem to serve people on the main roads so they are out of the question. So sometimes a car is a necessary evil I would argue.

PS - I'm under 11 stone and run marathons so not as porky as the last poster suggests !!!

Anonymous said...

What a pity your daughter didn't travel the shorter distance to Margate, a once thriving shopping centre!

There she could have visited Gamestation, a computer games shop in the High Street, which was quiet on Boxing Day and Thursday!

Another Margate shop that has it's back against the wall due to Westwood Cross!

They also do better deals than Game at Westwood!

DrMoores said...

It's a nice idea 12:54 but she has a games store card with credit on it from selling her back old games over the year!

James Maskell said...

Anyone going to Westwood Cross and not needing a car, should just leave the car at home and use the bus instead.

Mr Friday said...

The reality that we need to address is that there is absolutely nothing that will force motorists away from their cars and onto public transport if they do not want to do so.

We have tried excessive fuel duty rises, reduced car parking design, subsidised park and ride, and more locally the Thanet Loop. Motorists in the UK pay through their noses but still use their cars in ever increasing numbers.

None of this has, or ever will, make a difference. Research has shown that some people actually choose to pay for motoring-related costs rather than visit the dentist for example. Until that has been sorted there is no hope, either nationally or locally that we will ever be able to solve what is becoming an unsolvable problem.

So, James' viewpoint is an admirable one but the reality is that it will never happen.

Michael Child said...

I think the whole point is that the big retail chains want to cut their distribution costs and other overheads by having fewer and larger outlets that we all have to travel to.

Central to these large outlets are the car parks that they are clustered around and between which we have to drive loading our cars with their products. Frankly the customer who visits most of the shops in WC, Tesco, B&Q, Comet, PC World etc. today by bus and is able to carry what they have bought on their person is probably not the type of customer that these stores are trying to attract.

While these big companies pay lip service to environmental issues in practice what they are doing is very environmentally unfriendly indeed. The human environment, our towns where these companies developed suffering the most in the short term and in the longer term causing an environmental disaster for the whole planet.

We have got parasites and we need all levels of government to work together to protect us from them.

Anonymous said...

Just a couple of points to respond on;

TDC does not have any control over the internal controls in the car parks – these are privately owned land, but we can of course voice any concerns, and I will ensure these points are raised. I’ve no idea why the first few turn-ins get coned off, and have not personally seen this, but I will keep an eye out.

The New Haine Road and Westwood housing schemes do include both longer slipways into WWX and should also, hopefully, improve use of the southern entrance.

Concerning opening up the division between the Sainsbury and WWX car parks, we’ve already lobbied for this between Sainsbury and Land Securities, but Sainsbury are not keen. Perhaps unsurprising given the lengthy queues that sometimes form to get out, but if the dualling to the roundabout eases this (which it should), we’ll have another go.

Again, I would urge anyone with a keen interest to look at the detailed plans on the ukplanning.com web site. These are very large pdf’s which show all the road layouts, with the exception, as mentioned in my last post, of the Star Lane/Ramsgate Road junction, which remains to be finalised.

Happy New Year to all here.

Cllr. Ewen Cameron

Mr Friday said...

Question to the Councillors - what impact do you think relocating the College to Westwood will have on the existing traffic problems ?

Anonymous said...

The Collage relocation shouldn’t, I think, have a major impact. The existing College traffic has to negotiate the roads into Broadstairs already (which are often more congested that WWX), plus many of the students arrive by train each day. The current College is very difficult to get to, and near-impossible to park near to. We’re already struggling with excessive traffic in Broadstairs, and currently looking at further schemes to try and reduce it (Broadstairs Traffic Plan phase 2).

There could actually be some net improvements. I’ve spoken to a number of people at Christchurch Thanet Campus, and they are very happy the college is being built. It will give the two units sufficient mass and flow of people to negotiate shuttle bus services to and from the station, and similar routes as can be identified, and I know that at least one of Thanet’s two bus operators is keen to get involved in this.

What I would like to see is access opened up from the Tesco car park to the new College site (Tesco own or control both), but, like the other side of the road, the difficulty will be persuading them to allow this.

With regards

Cllr Ewen Cameron

Mr Friday said...

I really hope your predictions are correct Cllr Cameron. As someone who lives relatively near to the proposed site I know how congested the roads get in the mornings & afternoon which adds to the general WWX problems.

I also hope that the design incorporates sufficient car parking spaces for students in a way that the existing college has never got to grips with to avoid turning neighbouring residential streets into an extended student car park.

Thanks for taking the time to reply.