Covid Lockdown and Street Closures

The latest lock down has had a considerable impact on the centre of Chesterfield in both accessibility and appearance. This prompted a consultation amongst members of the Civic Society which resulted in the following communication to Bridget Gould the DCC member responsible for the policy in Chesterfield, and it is published below for information. This issue has also been reported in the Derbyshire Times and can be accessed here

CHESTERFIELD AND DISTRICT CIVIC SOCIETY

Chairman: Philip Riden

Dear Ms Gould,

When the first round of street closures and related measures was introduced in Chesterfield earlier this year I spoke to one of the officers concerned and he advised me that you were in overall charge of this policy in Chesterfield. I am writing to you on the assumption that this is still the case and in the light of the DfT Statutory Guidance issued earlier this week about the impending second round of funding for these measures. You have probably seen the article in Friday’s Daily Telegraph headlined ‘Councils warned over street closures’, which has also prompted me to write.

The Civic Society, which at present can only communicate with its members via a monthly newsletter and email, has sounded opinion about what has been done in Chesterfield. Briefly, our collective view is:

1  The closure of the upper section of Corporation Street has achieved nothing. This road is mainly used as a taxi rank, with very little through traffic. We fail to see how its closure has encouraged people to walk more, or reduced the volume of traffic in the town centre. 

2  The closure of South Place has also achieved little or nothing. Again, we fail to see how it has encouraged people to walk more, except that the closure has meant the loss of about a dozen short-term parking places. If the aim was to encourage people to park in the car-parks in the shopping precinct on Markham Road and walk into the town centre, this was misconceived. As has been widely publicised in the Derbyshire Times, anyone who does this is likely to be fined for unauthorised parking by the owners of the car-parks concerned, who insist that they can only be used by people visiting shops in the two precincts.

3  We consider the erection of crash barriers and, more seriously, large concrete blocks along several streets in the town centre, so as to widen pavements, also to have achieved little if anything. Both are ugly and make the streets less attractive to shoppers, which is surely the opposite of what local authorities should be trying to achieve. I am quite sure most people would keep 2 metres away from each other on the ordinary pavement without these barriers. They have also reduced the available parking, particularly for disabled people. I was recently in a queue outside the HSBC branch on Glumangate where I was joined by a 96-year-old disabled ex-Serviceman who had struggled, with a walking frame, from one of the Rose Hill car-parks to get to the bank. He pointed out that, with a Blue Badge, he had previously been able to park across the road from the bank entrance, where there is now a row of concrete blocks. There must be others who are simply avoiding shopping in Chesterfield for the same reason.

4  Several of our members believe that there has been a noticeable upturn in graffiti in the town centre since the first lockdown. As a general problem, this is not directly a highways matter but one member has pointed out that the offending concrete blocks seem to have become targets for some of this graffiti. This does nothing to improve the appearance of the town centre.

I am attaching two photographs which illustrate my points about concrete blocks and graffiti.

In short, we hope that the County Council will not use this new funding round to close any more roads in the town centre or install any more pavement-widening measures. Indeed, we would like to see both steps reversed as soon as possible. We fail to see what they are achieving in reducing the risk that people walking through Chesterfield town centre will contract Covid (except perhaps by persuading them to stay at home).

I note that the new DfT guidance lays considerable stress on the need for public consultation, of which there was none in the last round. This has, particularly I believe in some London boroughs, aroused considerable irritation among residents affected by the changes. This is a point made by several Civic Society members, who are familiar with the traditional local government procedure of advertisement and consultation before changes to highways are made.

Could I please ask what form of consultation the County Council intends to follow in this case? I think in towns which have an active civic society, like Chesterfield, such groups could reasonably be asked for their view.

Finally, there is what several of our members regard as the eccentric but welcome decision to close part of Crow Lane. The eccentricity is that the County Council seems to have believed that this would encourage more people to cycle to the Royal Hospital. It will not, given the steepness of the road. We are quite sure that anyone who does cycle to the hospital would do so via the A632 so as to arrive at the front entrance. Conversely, my wife and I, and other Civic Society members who live on the Spital or Tapton side of Chesterfield, have warmly welcomed the closure, which has made Crow Lane much pleasanter and safer to walk along. The closure has also solved what was previously a serious litter problem. Early in the first lockdown my wife and I tried to have a personal litter pick on Crow Lane. We failed to reach the top of the hill before we had filled as many refuse sacks as we could carry. I am aware that the County Council cleared the road of litter before closing it, and virtually none has since reappeared. This shows that it must have come almost entirely from passing vehicles, not pedestrians or cyclists. 

Civic Society members who have expressed a view are all in favour of closing this section of Crow Lane to vehicles permanently, leaving access to the golf course at one end and to Dobbin Clough Farm at the other. In the longer run, if the scheme to build a new access road to the railway station from Hollis Lane goes ahead, we would like to see the section of Crow Lane from the junction with Piccadilly Road to the station also closed. This would obviate the risk of bridge strikes at the bridges carrying the railway over Crow Lane, get rid of another litter problem, and reduce traffic on Piccadilly Road.

Could I please ask whether the County Council has formed an opinion as to the desirability of closing the upper section of Crow Lane permanently and, if so, when it is likely to start a formal consultation process to that end. The Civic Society would undoubtedly support such a measure.

I would be grateful for your response to these points and appreciate that there may be some delay, given the difficulties under which you are working.

Yours sincerely,

Philip Riden

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