Paignton Pedestrianisation Observations : 12th October 2022.
Torbay.gov.uk reported that £13.36m of Future High Streets Funding (from the Government I assume) had been secured and of that £3m had been allocated (by Torbay Council - also assumed) to improve Torbay Road and Station Square in Paignton.
Yes, we all want a vibrant, safe and profitable town centre fit for residents of all ages and attractive to tourists, but at what cost?
It must be that most of the officials, consultants, advisers and self-appointed community representatives had just come back from holidays in Spain, Portugal or France in the summer or even perhaps Thailand in the winter because they had, and possibly still do have, visions of both local residents and tourists benefiting from eating and drinking alfresco style throughout the year on a car free Torbay Road. Have you been to these or any other holiday countries off-season? I have and what you get in many cases are deserted residences, alongside shops, cafes and bars that are empty. Proprietors lock up and flee for their own holidays elsewhere leaving an ugly carcass of a seaside town behind them.
Anyway, the question of to be car free or not I believe was never asked or at least not publicised. Was there a prevailing impression that this was too complex a question for the public? Only those in the know should make that decision?! It was reported that the Chairperson of the Town Centre Community Partnership and other partnership members said it would be confusing for the public. So, to save the mental health of “Joe Public” we were offered three options in tick box format. That'll still be difficult for them but we can say we listened through public consultation and here are the results.
How was the survey of opinion carried out? Well, all the Partnership committees, local community members and Council officials knew that consultation would take place from 7th February to 27th February 2022. There were, I believe, stalls set up and members of the public could get information from there. A good start, but as for the rest of the structure, rather poor, because not everyone has a computer or is familiar with it's range of functions. Remember that 26.5% of Torbay residents are 65yrs old or over (18.1% is the average across England) so perhaps this demographic should have been more rigorously targeted and taken into account when constructing a meaningful survey. Apparently, Bettesworth Estate Agents offered a vacant shop in town to explain the plans and engage with the public but the Council turned it down. Surely that would have helped understanding.
We were supposed to be impressed when one result was reported as being 60% of 640 selected full pedestrianisation. It's rather like those adverts on television for shampoos or face cream that have small subtitles stating that 73% of 104 people agree with this statement. Big percentage, small sample size. That's only 76 people of all the people in the world! In the case for pedestrianisation the claimed 60% represents 384 people in Paignton said YES to full pedestrianisation. If we are using statistics try this one. It was estimated in 2020 that the population of Paignton, not Torbay, was 67345. So a YES vote of 384 from the whole population of Paignton represents 0.0057% said YES. That's almost zero!!
Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) said, “There are three kind of lies: Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics” and this was quoted in 1904 by Mark Twain who also said, “Data is like garbage. You had better know what you are going to do with it before you collect it”. I think that perhaps that could apply here. A desired outcome was achieved by employing shoddy surveying construction and the collection of a minimal amount of unbiased data. The sample size should have been at least 10% of the population, 6,734, and collected randomly if all categories forming the group were not proportionally represented. This would avoid biased results based on socio-economic differences such as race, age, sex and income. The results could then be declared as valid and reliable. However, in this instance it appears that a desired outcome was established before the survey was conducted and a sham consultation process was employed to justify the predetermined decision.
From talking to business owners and users (there are very few of them around now and it's only mid-October) in Torbay Road the situation is chaotic and businesses are already at risk. It is interesting to read Mr Mark Meakins article in the Herald Express about his experiences in Fleet Street, Torquay. Will pedestrianisation of Torbay Road generate a similar culture and anti-social behaviour patterns in Paignton? The potential is already there but I certainly hope not.
Anyway, it's only a trial for 18 months!! At the end of it everything can go back to what existed before if it's not a success. Yeah?! Will there be another survey then or will consultants, charging outrageous fees and milking the system, produce a document supporting whatever the interested parties want? How much will the project run over the £3m budget?
Remember that other trial of putting parking meters on Marine Parade, Preston back in January 2020? They're still there, but wait until the results of a survey about them comes out. I expect everyone, or 384 people out of 640, will want to keep them! This doesn't bode well for the validity of the results of the success, or otherwise, of the pedestrianisation project of Torbay Road.
On a brighter note, when the new hotels on the seafront are finished and occupied we should see Torbay Road populated again, at least in the summer season because the guests can walk in and will not have to find parking nearby. However, it used to be that Paignton residents could come to Torbay Road, park for, say, 30 minutes, shop for a take away or whatever and then go home. This trade and facility for locals has now ceased of course. So the local trade in the winter season, once the backbone of off-season survival will not be there. Let's see.
The implementation of the plan has been rather inept. It started a few days before the declared 3rd October and has caused confusion about which roads go which way due to lack of structure. I heard that £200000 has already been spent on fittings and fixtures that look of rather poor quality and inadequate. I also believe some of the issues have been caused or solved, I'm not quite sure which, by the painting of wiggly white lines on the ex-road. What do they mean? Planters are in place and a road closure sign, which is moveable, stops cars entering the area. Well, apart from the 250 or so cars seen doing exactly that earlier in the week when the sign was put to one side. Again, today, Wednesday 12th at 12:46pm the road was being used as no sign was present. Perhaps the area should be patrolled by traffic wardens to help the public cope with the changes and educate motorists. That would be beneficial for all.
It looks like it's going to be a long hard winter for some business operators and they may not come out at the other end. We will, however, end up with a nice cycle, mobility scooter and skateboard area in the summer of 2023.
That's What I Think, How About You?