Fifteen years ago, I moved home to Brighton and Hove a coastal city of 250 000 familiar around the world thanks to Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock, the Language Schools, accessibility for a day trip from London, its LGBT scene, the Green MP Caroline Lucas (England’s only Green member of Parliament), a Royal Pavilion – and more.
Soon after I arrived, the city council (I forget who was running it then, but it would have been Labour or Conservative) embarked on a pavement narrowing exercise – this in a city which is often overwhelmed with pedestrians. Along the length of the east – west thoroughfare of Western Road and Church Road, it began installing very large black cast iron containers at frequent intervals along the pavements. I think they had been offered a Special Price for a bulk purchase of these containers and the council always needs things to spend money on – it has a very large income from Parking charges (which must be spent on transport related things) and has never really known what to do with the money.
Anyway, the big black obstructions contained earth, planted with shrubs which soon died from neglect and the salty air. So they just became litter bins, the earth covered with cigarette ends and take-away food leftovers. Eventually, the Council conceded its mistake and removed the bins. I hope they got something for the scrap metal.
At the same time as narrowing the pavements with the bins, the Council was licensing every shop along the route to put out sandwich boards on the pavement – that brings in more money for the Council. The overall result was to turn the pavements into an obstacle course.
Fast forward fifteen years. Yesterday, I was walking in the city’s North Street – a rather unpleasant and dangerous area which functions as a super highway for the city’s over-numerous buses - Pedestrians beware! There are lots of pedestrians.
You’ve guessed. Not black bins this time - there is a Green council now - but very large grey manufactured stone containers. With shrubs. At frequent intervals. The shrubs already look pretty sickly though this is a recent “improvement”. I don’t think the chill east winds which sweep up North Street will help. The stone urns are already being used as litter bins. Worse, each container is twinned with two harsh metal seats – this in a street where the last thing you would want to do is sit down next to very large and fast moving buses.
More intelligently, there are bike racks which were in full use. But the overall effect is, once again, pavement narrowing.
The shrubs will die and eventually the stone containers and the seats will be removed, unattractive hazards.
It gets worse. The area around Brighton railway station is always crowded with pedestrians. A pavement narrowing scheme has been put into place there. Large areas are blocked off with lethally sharp concrete borders, and more seats in an area where people are hurrying to catch trains and hurrying home from work or down to the beach. Expect accidents.
There is a larger issue. In this country when local government makes mistakes we set up Enquiries – into failures to identify children At Risk of abuse, failure to spot Care Home scandals, and so on. The Enquiry Reports are often savage. Councils respond by promising to Learn from their Failures.
They never do. They have no institutional memory. If they can’t Learn from Failures for something as simple as pavement schemes, they are unlikely to do it for more serious matters.