A CONTENTIOUS “rat-run” may be blocked off in January as part of a major £13.5m scheme to widen the A31, Ringwood councillors heard.
Members of the town council’s planning committee voted 5-4 to lobby Highways England to close off the West Street access to the A31. But they added an addendum: the road stay open until HE begins work on the site in 2021.
However, county councillor Michael Thierry revealed the request would fail since he had been told county council workers had to begin work in 2020 and HE wanted to get locals acclimatised to West Street being closed.
As a result, he added, it will “very likely” be closed off at the start of 2020.
The committee also opted to support a suggestion by Highways England and Hampshire County Council (HCC) to reverse the traffic direction on Meeting House Lane.
That one-way road currently allows cars to access the shops and market in Market Place as well as West Street. Mayor Cllr Tony Ring said it could prove “the first stage of pedestrianising” the shopping area in the town.
As reported in the A&T, the major Highways England scheme proposes widening the A31 westbound carriageway to three lanes to improve safety and reduce congestion, and will begin in spring 2021.
It comes after a series of fatalities on the road in recent years, and bids to reduce the speed limit to 50mph.
One of its more controversial aspects is whether West Street – a short road which feeds on to the A31 close to the Fish Inn pub – should remain open or not.
Some want it kept open to alleviate congestion but critics say it is dangerous as it causes cars to merge on the A31 among traffic already travelling at the 70mph speed limit.
As part of the main scheme, HCC secured £380,000 worth of funding to spend on traffic improvements in and around Ringwood, and has allowed the town council an input.
It has proposed blocking the access to the A31 from West Street and reversing the way the traffic goes on Meeting House Lane, using the cash to impose traffic regulation orders (TROs).
Debating the TROs, members of Ringwood town council’s planning committee came to the conclusion West Street’s A31 access should be closed off. The only question left was when that should be done.
Cllr Day said it was a rat-run but lobbied to delay the closing until spring 2021. He argued doing it sooner could result in “chaos” and “reduce Ringwood to total gridlock”. Eventually the majority of colleagues supported that suggestion.
Members then clashed over Meeting House Lane before rejecting Cllr Day’s suggestion it oppose the reversal. The town council has long been trying to lessen the presence of cars in Market Place to help the weekly market there thrive.
When the debate was over Cllr Thierry revealed he had spoken with HE and HCC, and both had already said if West Street was closed, it would happen in early 2020.
The final decision will be made by both bodies in the coming weeks after a public consultation on the two TROs.
Cllr Thierry said he was against the reversal of Meeting House Lane since he believed the road was too narrow for lorries and would not pass safety requirements.
The committee decided to hold off debating other, minor projects – such as improvements at Strides Lane, Gravel Lane, cycle infrastructures and The Furlong. They voted to create a working party to meet with the HE officer and report back to its October meeting.