As news of an exciting new project aimed at revitalising Oswestry town centre is launched, the Advertizer’s Head of News, Emily Davies, went on an exclusive trip with local stakeholders to see what one pioneering village in Cheshire is doing for its residents, businesses and visitors.
COULD this be the future of Oswestry? A series of dropped kerbs, brightly coloured asphalt and roundels – yes, that’s right, no roundabouts or traffic lights here!
It all forms part of a plan being spearheaded by local councillors and stakeholder groups, pictured, to revitalise the town centre, giving everyone the right to travel where they want, sparking new life in trade, while hopefully culling the dreaded tailbacks and congestion that clogs the town at rush hour.
But while it certainly looks eye-catching, does ‘Shared Space’ really work? That’s what the members of Oswestry’s Transport Focus Group hoped to find out when they visited Poynton in Cheshire last week.
A busy village with a major road carrying 26,000 vehicles every day slicing through the middle of it, Poynton saw its traffic lights ripped out as it introduced the concept at a cost of £4 million four years ago.
Councillor Howard Murray, who brought the plans to life, explained: “We had a four-way junction, the town centre was dying and that was the overwhelming thing that the public wanted to stop. With the traffic Poynton wasn’t a comfortable place to be. Now you can spend your time here and your money – it’s dead simple.”
However, the scheme wasn’t without its opponents, with many fearing it would increase accidents, make pedestrians feel unsafe, increase congestion and kill the town centre.
Cllr Murray said: “Of course there are still those who don’t think it works. They say you need an 85 per cent acceptance rate and I think we’ve got that, but then you need about 30 per cent support before you even start.”
Ben Hamilton Baillie, the street design consultant who has a strong background in the European shared space model, worked closely on the Cheshire project.
He said it is “a scheme of society”, but warned that shared space is a concept and no two solutions will be the same.
“It’s about creating a sense of space, but you need clear objectives,” he continued.
“In Poynton we introduced edges to the road so they look smaller, artwork on the sides of the road for the eye to take in, courtesy crossings and all that slows drivers down, allowing a different relationship between them and pedestrians.
“It’s still 30mph but by introducing these changes people travel at an average of 16-17mph rather than thinking that is the speed I should travel at, that is the speed I will do.”
So what do the people leading this scheme think? Clearly enough to invite Mr Hamilton Baillie to Oswestry in the near future to look at how our town centre could benefit.
Transport Focus Group leader and Leader of Shropshire Council, Keith Barrow, said: “I was unsure of what it would be like before we got here, but the drivers are looking for the pedestrians and they just stop for them – there’s a lovely feeling to this whole place.”
The news was also positive from local artist Jas Davidson, who suggested the idea of shared space at one of the first group meetings.
He said: “I feel very encouraged. The visit has given a huge boost to our belief that we can get something done in Oswestry.”