Update on Totnes Fore Street and High Street

Posted on: 27 April 2016

This post sets out information on the traffic management scheme in Fore Street and High Street Totnes, following the decision of the High Court on the Traffic Regulation Order.

It explains:
•    Why the Devon County Council proposed a scheme
•    How the council consulted with the community on scheme options
•    How the council decided on the introduction of a Traffic Regulation Order
•    Data collected by the Devon County Council before and after the scheme
•    Court rulings

A number of scheme options to reduce collisions were developed. They were the subject of community consultation.

The decision to introduce the scheme as an experiment followed extensive consultation in which alternative options were explored.

An option to introduce a ‘Right Turn Ban’ at the Narrows/Plymouth Road junction was considered. It had been discussed over several years and could not be progressed due to objections received at the time from ‘Bob the Bus’ and Totnes Town Council.

As this option would have physically restricted ‘Bob the Bus’ it would have required a Public Inquiry to have been held. This is an expensive process, which reduces the cost effectiveness of this option and reduces its priority for action when compared to other schemes across Devon. Another option, reversal of flow on Station Road and Lower Fore Street by introducing a ‘Traffic Regulation Order’ was chosen as the preferred scheme as it allowed access to all roads concerned and had public support from 61% of those who responded to exhibitions and consultations undertaken in 2012.

The decision to introduce the ‘Traffic Regulation Order’ scheme as an experiment followed extensive consultation in which alternative options were explored.  The local Highways and Traffic Orders Committee (HATOC) considered a report and decided to undertake a trial scheme in November 2012. View the report here.

In July 2013, South Hams HATOC agreed a further report, which presented information on the impacts of the scheme. They decided, based on the evidence, to continue with the Traffic Order. View the report here.

In September 2013, South Hams HATOC agreed a report, which presented updated information on the impacts of the scheme and on feedback from the community. View the report here. 

In April 2014,  South Hams HATOC agreed a further report, which presented data on road collision casualties, car parking, footfall, economic performance, traffic volumes and traffic speeds. Public input at the meeting was heard in favour and against making the ‘Traffic Regulation Order’ permanent. Making the ‘Traffic Order’ permanent was agreed and a shared space scheme was also agreed. View the report here.

The data that Devon County Council has collected on the scheme is tabulated below. (Click to expand)

Totnes table 1

Court action was brought against the Devon County Council challenging its decision to make the ‘Experimental Traffic Order’ permanent.

In his judgment, his Honour Judge Cotter did not to accept the County Council’s position. He decided that the Order amounted to a restriction on the transport service provided by ‘Bob the Bus’. Therefore the Traffic Order was quashed and Devon County Council was ordered to return the direction of traffic flow to its former route.

Following the issue of this judgment, at a hearing on 20 April 2015, his Honour Judge Cotter refused leave to appeal and awarded costs against the County Council in the amount of 70% of the STAG submission, which at the time was £57,000.

Following this hearing Devon County Council decided to apply to the Court of Appeal for leave to appeal Judge Cotter’s decision. The reason for taking this course of action was that the ruling appeared to introduce a new interpretation of the legislation in relation to ‘restrictions’ brought in by a Traffic Regulation Order.

On 9th July 2015 the Court of Appeal granted the County Council leave to appeal stating that: “There are real prospects of succeeding in persuading the court that the term ‘prohibit or restrict the passage of public service vehicles’ is concerned with preventing them using the road in question altogether, or parts of it”.

This prospect of success went some way toward allaying concern over the continued high level of legal expenditure being sustained by STAG and the potential that the public purse might be required to fund this.

The Appeal Court heard the case on 19 April 2016. It ruled on a single point of law resulting from the action undertaken by Mrs Jane Williams supported by the organisation known as Sustainable Totnes Action Group (STAG).

It ruled that the Order ‘restricted the passage’ of Bob the Bus on Lower Fore Street by changing the direction of flow and that a Public Inquiry should have been held, before the Order was made permanent.

The County Council argued that it understood the term “restriction of passage” to refer to a length, weight, height, width restriction or a closure but that a change of direction did not affect Bob the Bus’s ability to travel along the road if the operator so chose.  In a witness statement the co-ordinator of Bob the Bus had provided evidence on passenger numbers as follows:

Bob thr Bus passenger numbers tableDevon County Council argued that this evidence supported its position that Bob the Bus had not been restricted – the temporary drop in numbers was subject to external factors and that passenger numbers had recovered to pre-experiment levels within a year of the change.

On 19 April 2016 Devon County Council lost its appeal against a High Court ruling handed down by His Honour Judge Cotter on 20 April 2015 quashing its Traffic Regulation Order (“the Order”) which had reversed the flow on Station Rd and lower Fore Street, Totnes.

In his pre-prepared judgment Lord Justice Jackson referred to the steep hills in Totnes, the predominantly elderly passengers carried by Bob the Bus and Ms William’s interest as the owner of both a Fashion Boutique and Aromatherapy business in having potential customers able to access her shops by making use of Bob the Bus.

His Lordship was however careful not to criticise the merits of the Order and accepted that the matter of the traffic issues in Fore Street and High Street was not straightforward one and that no particular solution would be ideal.  We await the formal judgement.

The costs of introducing the scheme, including additional design of shared space options undertaken at the request of Totnes Town Council and predecessors of STAG, have been in the region of £32,000.

Given the collision savings on Fore Street in the 3 years the scheme has been in operation, this represented good value for money and had also delivered other benefits to the town.

The direct costs of defending the High Court action to the County Council prior to the Appeal Hearing had been in the region of £16,000.

Devon County Council has not yet been provided with details of Ms William’s legal costs for the Appeal Hearing.

The County Council has now reversed the flow of traffic to its previous pre 2013 direction on the lower section of Fore St and on Station Road.

The work was undertaken on Thursday 28th April, 2016.

Based on the available evidence, Devon County Council continues to regard the former experiment and subsequent permanent Traffic Regulation Order as having been successful in the stated aims of reducing injury collisions to pedestrians, reducing traffic speeds and hence the risk of severe injury and reducing illegal through traffic in High Street and Fore Street. These factors, in Devon’s opinion, are important in the context of developing the shared space concept. The County Council very much regrets the need to remove the scheme. We now need to take time to monitor the impact of the change in flow before considering any further traffic management changes in and around the town centre.

The town continues to enjoy one of the lowest shop vacancy rates in the region and no persuasive evidence that the changes have caused economic hardship has been submitted to the County Council.

The scheme has proven to be controversial throughout its conception and implementation, with strong views expressed by opposing groups within the community

In future, due to budget constraints and the need to factor in the possibility of legal Actions and Public Inquiries it is unlikely that an economic case for a scheme of a similar nature would result in a cost effective scheme being identified. Casualty reduction schemes are prioritised based on the likely cost benefits due to a reduction in collisions, and the associated implementation costs, including the costs of processing an Order, Consultation, Public Inquiry (if necessary) and likely legal proceedings.

In the current economic climate any traffic management changes across the County, such as shared space schemes, need to be considered carefully in terms of objective need, cost and against Countywide priorities.

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