Cllr Roger Mathew's Current Issues Page

This is where I hope to bring you current issues on which you can feed back your views. I do not promise to agree with you: this would clearly be impossible, since different people will have radically divergent views. If I have time, and if I have some feedback to encourage me, this page will grow as new issues emerge.
Feel free to email me if you have an issue that you would like me to air or have a comment on anything that I have written. I'll publish and link comments of reasonable length, provided they are not offensive or defamatory. You don't have to agree with me - in fact, it will be more interesting if you do not. I shall feel free to comment on your comments. This is an experiment in interactive representation.
NB Views expressed here are my own. They do not necessarily represent either the views or the policy of any of the councils mentioned.

On this page: Duke Street (pt 1) Duke Street (pt 2) Bedford Square (pt 1)
Bedford Square (pt 2) Consultation Result The Councils Try Again!

Duke Street "Enhancement" - 1 (4 Aug 96)

On Tuesday, 30 July 1996, the Tavistock Town Council debated yet again the vexed question of Devon County Council's Plans to "enhance" Duke Street. Cllr John Wright had chanced upon some plans that did not seem to square with what we had been led to expect. In particular, the Brook Street end of Duke Street had sprouted an unexpected 'bus shelter, as well as perhaps the widest pavement area ("footway" in council-speak) in Devon.
It all seemed a bit much.

Given the experience of the six months or so of operation of the one-way system, two things emerge clearly:

In the light of this experience, the council felt strongly that County's plan to narrow almost the whole street artificially to a single lane and confine parking to a few, rather short bays would, far from "enhancing" the environment, merely create a congested, fuming mess. The issue has to go to the Area Highways Sub-Committee in September, so we decided to ask that sub-committee - on which, by the way, the Town Council has no representation - to reconsider the draft plan in the light of the experience of the experiment so far.

If you have a view, please let me know. You can email me, or write to me care of Tavistock Town Council, Drake Road, Tavistock. Better still, write to the County Engineer. He calls himself the County Environment Director these days, but the job is much the same. His address is:

4 Aug 96

Duke Street "Enhancement" - (2 Oct 96)

Area Highways Sub met on 2 September at 10 am. It was preceded by a hastily convened special meeting at 9:30 of West Devon's Planning & Development Committee, which received a report from the Director of Policy, extolling the virtues of the draft scheme and urging the committee to declare the Borough Council's support for it. Only (some of) the Tavistock members offered any serious criticisms of the layout. Unfortunately, the only two Tavistock members who sit on the P&D Committee did not support the critics, and the rest of the committee went along with the report, so the Director of Policy's recommendation became the official policy of West Devon Borough Council. Thus are elected representatives manoeuvered into doing the bidding of permanent paid officials.
I was not best pleased, as the opportunity to extract three or four additional parking spaces at the eastern end of Duke Street has now been lost, and the probability of severe congestion being created and carried back into the anti-clockwise recirculation via Pepper Street has been increased by the plan to obstruct the carriageway quite unnecessarily in this area.

At Highways sub, our County Councillor, Roy Cook, moved recommendations of his own, based on his consultations, which would have sought to remove some of the unnecessary obstructions - though not enough to satisfy me - restore some additional parking on the south side, and would probably have been just about acceptable to most of the people who bend my ear about the future of Tavistock's main shopping street. Had it not been for the confusion created by WDBC's intervention, these proposals would, in all probability, have been carried, and, despite some reservations of the County Engineer's representatives, the final plan would have gained Duke Street, Tavistock significantly in terms of flexibility and room for manoeuvre. In the event, because the WDBC view, far from seeking to remove the unneccessary proposed obstruction at the east end of Duke Street, supported it strongly, Cllr Cook's suggestion that it ought to be removed was not pressed home. In the end, there was a great deal of confusion, not helped by indifferent control from the chairman, who was decidedly off form that morning, and it was far from clear to those of us watching what had actually been decided.
In these circumstances, it is left to the officers of the council (Devon County Council in this case) to interpret the decision into a Minute. There has been some subsequent dispute about the correctness of the Minute that emerged, but I fear that Tavistock is probably stuck with it now.

What saddens me is that Duke Street, created in the last century as a spacious avenue, is now set to be disfigured by a motley collection of abrupt excrescences and sinuous curves which do not relate even to each other, let alone to the architectural ethos of an essentially Victorian streetscape. Quite apart from the failure to address the challenge of maximising the opportunity to achieve additional shoppers' parking, the sheer vandalism of this assault on the Bedford inheritance of which Tavistock is so rightly proud is a lamentable reflection of planners' obsession with fashionable sentiment against everyone else's motor cars.

Oct 1996

The next assault is to be on Bedford Square.


The Bedford Square Proposals - (October/November 1996)

The next target for remodelling in Tavistock is to be Bedford Square. Whilst contractors are digging up Duke Street during 1997, the planners at Devon County Highways will be putting the final touches to the scheme for Bedford Square. These are intended to go out for public consultation during the winter of 1996, and the draft plans were shown to various interest groups during October. It is a pity, in my view, that the general public have not been allowed to see the plot so far, but that's the way the County Council do things. As I cannot scan in any plans for you to see, you will have to use your imagination to envisage the way things are intended to look if the scheme is adopted by the County Council.

Bedford Square Town Hall At present, Bedford Square is a large, open space, dominated on the eastern side by an imposing Town Hall, built about 150 years ago by the Duke of Bedford. There is parking for about a dozen cars and two or three coaches in front of the Town Hall, and two lanes each way for shoppers' traffic, bounded north and south by mini-roundabouts joining four roads at the northern end and three roads and a car park's entrance at the southern end. A single taxi-rank lies on the western side, and traffic islands divide the carriageways beside each of the mini-roundabouts, affording pedestrian crossing points at each end of the square. Traffic is usually light, since through traffic is routed via an inner relief road which avoids the town centre.

The draft proposal is to divide the broad expanse of the square into a narrow carriageway along the western edge, with a single lane each way to serve the multiple junctions at either end, and a large expanse of granite paving in front of the Town Hall. A large extrusion of granite-edged footway will cut off vehicular access to the eastern two-thirds of the square, although it is intended that the granite lagoon thus created will continue to be used for parking. The disadvantage of this, as I see it, is that vehicles intending to park will obstruct those leaving the town, creating congestion that does not now happen.
A "feature" will be planted in front of the Town Hall. The present idea is for a "water feature", probably some sort of fountain. I should have thought that the Town Hall was feature enough, but the planners seem to think not.
The mini-roundabouts will be removed. So will the taxi-rank. There is a notion to replace the taxi-rank with a 'bus rank. At present, ideas are fluid about where the displaced taxis will go: the original plot was to move them to Elbow Lane, off Duke Street, but this was not popular with the taxi firms, and would entail the loss of a dozen or so valuable town centre parking places for shoppers. Another idea is to move them to Market Road, but the same drawbacks arise. My view is that it makes a good deal of sense to leave them where they are, but extend the rank around the north-western corner of the square into West Street, which is wide enough to accommodate them, since it carries only one-way traffic these days.
An uncontrolled pedestrian crossing will be planted at the bottom of Drake Road (between Lloyds and Midland Banks). This junction carries a lot of pedestrians, and the County Engineer feels that a formal crossing is needed, despite the fact that it has never had one, and that the present arrangement works well, and does not lead to congestion either of traffic or of pedestrians.


The Town Council's view, at a Special Meeting on 15 October, was as follows:

If you are reading this, what do you think? Email me if you have a view.

The Bedford Square Proposals - (February/March 1997)

In this section: Consultation Draft Secrecy Imposed Public Consultation Consultation Document Released 4 March

Informal Consultation Meetings

Since last November, when I wrote the foregoing, there have been meetings between County Council officers and a miscellany of local representative interest groups, ostensibly to refine the County's proposals to accommodate the concerns of local people. One might suppose, therefore, that some attempt would have been made to accommodate the Town Council's views (outlined above), so that the final public consultation document would reflect a consensus of locally desired objectives, worked up by the County Engineer's staff into a practical scheme; or, at the very least, that some options would be offered for public consultation, so that the final scheme would reflect the desires of those who live in Tavistock and will be most affected by the outcome.

Draft Public Consultation Document

You might think that, but what has actually emerged is a draft consultation document almost entirely unchanged from the County Engineer's original concept. The only significant alteration is that the Drake Road pedestrian crossing has been dropped. It seems that the informal consultation process has focussed on persuading locally influential bodies to favour the County Engineer's blueprint and been not at all concerned with finding out what local people want, let alone trying to accommodate our concerns. The attempt at persuasion failed dismally, because, apart from the council officials, none of the consultees see any benefits in proposals to narrow access, remove parking and create traffic congestion.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the Town Council is furious, and the draft consultation document is unlikely to be supported by any of the members of the working group other than those appointed by the County and Borough Councils. Notwithstanding this, the document claims that it "incorporates many of the views expressed" [by the consultees]. The Town Mayor - one of the Town Council's two representatives on the consultative working group, has claimed in the local paper: "We have been stitched up and I want everyone to know that the county council is foisting on the town a plan for Bedford Square which nobody wants." Pretty strong stuff.


Secrecy Imposed

The officials responsible for this seem to know it, too, for they have tried to cover the whole process with a blanket of secrecy. There has to be a public consultation, during which the plans will be made public, but until then, consultees have been told that all the information they have been given is "confidential". So much for open government!
There is no statutory justification for this secrecy: nothing contained in the information released on a limited basis by county officials falls under any of the 12 headings allowed by the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 or section 100 (A)(5) of the Local Government Act 1972 as a reason for excluding press or public from knowledge of the material. What can the County Council be afraid of? Could it be that they know exactly how unpopular the plan will be, and want to keep it quiet for as long as possible to reduce the opportunity for an effective protest movement to emerge? You may think that: I couldn't possible comment.

Public Consultation - 13 to 15 March 1997

The public consultation period will start on 13 March, and run for 3 days. All addresses in PL19 will get a copy of the consultation document, which will unveil a plan proposing: The objective is clearly to deter shoppers' traffic from using Tavistock's shopping streets by creating artificial congestion at the main access and by removing the most convenient shoppers' parking. The long-term objective, in my view, is to create a justification for a future plan to pedestrianise the whole of the centre of Tavistock. This was the declared objective of the infamous "Tavistock Traffic and Parking Plan", unveiled in 1986, and drew such a storm of public protest that even the terms "partial pedestrianisation" and "pedestrian priority" have been quietly dropped from subsequent publicly-released intentions of the County Engineer.
Whilst there are those who support the notion of pedestrianisation so strongly that they would happily ignore its practical difficulties in particular locations, the consensus - accepted even by pro-pedestrianisers - is that a narrow river valley, with no physical space for the central car parking needed to make a successful pedestrian centre, is not the right place for such an experiment.
The public will have its very limited opportunity to react formally to the Bedford Square plan in mid-March. I hope that we shall all make full use of the opportunity to tell the County engineer just what he can do with his plan to ruin Tavistock.

In fairness, it is only right that I should say that there are those who support the County Council's plan. My contention is that these are a small minority, and that it is not right that their doctrinaire view should be imposed willy-nilly on an unwilling populace by secrecy, manipulation and subterfuge. If I am wrong, and there turns out to be strong support for the proposals, so be it. At least no-one can say that I have not done everything possible to make people aware of the issues.


Consultation Document Released - 4 March 1997

The public consultation document was released to all addresses in PL19 starting on Tuesday 4 March, somewhat earlier than I had expected. It is a little different from the draft document, mentioned in last week's update. I have to say that, in my view, it is an improvement on the draft, inasmuch as a clear option is afforded to people to say that they do not agree with the proposals generally. I hope that this is a reflection of the concerns expressed about the draft by those who felt that their views had not been fairly (if at all) reflected in the draft.
I remain concerned that there are no real options offered apart from rejecting the proposals in toto. This is a pity, because there are a few ideas which might be worth pursuing, were they not tied to accepting a narrowed carriageway and utterly inappropriate pastiche "prettification" of the town's historic centre.

The Town Council had its regular meeting on 4 March, so was able to address the issue fully. After some debate, we decided to issue a short leaflet co-incidentally with the County Council's consultation, advising respondents to reject the proposals. We were concerned lest this be misinterpreted as a purely Luddite reaction, but felt that to issue a detailed document, arguing the issues in detail, would have served only to confuse people. The Annual Town Meeting on Tuesday 11 March will afford the public an opportunity to cross-examine us in open session. I hope it will be a lively and informative meeting.
The reasons for our rejecting the proposed "enhancements" are, broadly, that the major elements of the scheme do not meet any of the Town Council's policy objectives as determined on 15 October 1986, which formed the basis of our representatives' negotiations and which had been accepted by all the local groups that were parties to the negotiations with the County Council.

It remains to be seen whether the public generally will agree with its Town Council. You can still email me if you have a view about any of the proposals, or if you have a local issue that you think I should be concerned about.


The Consultation Result - (May 1997)

In this section: Further Discussions Emerging Indications

60% Reject the Proposals

The result of the Public Consultation on Devon County Council's proposals to "enhance" most of the practical functionality out of Bedford Square Tavistock met with a resounding Public Rejection. 2668 questionnaires were returned - a much larger number than had been returned in any of the previous consultations on the future shape of Tavistock. Of these, 60.2% rejected the proposals.
This was reported to the West Devon Highways Sub-Committee (a sub-committee of the County Council) on Tuesday, 27 May 1997. Notwithstanding this clear rejection of the plan, West Devon Borough Council's Planning & Development Committee, meeting on the previous day, resolved a policy of attempting to salvage something from the wreckage of the plan that it had supported by urging the County Council to attempt a further local consultation with a view to putting forward a revised plan.
The Highways Sub-Committee agreed that:
...should indications suggest that there is support for a compromise scheme, 
discussions be continued with those organisations identified ... limited 
consultation take place provided that safety, amenity and environmental 
impacts within the square are not compromised;
if a revised scheme is accepted after a further low cost public consultation, 
a report could be taken to a future Committee to identify a scheme which 
could be implemented in the 1998/99 financial year subject to finance being 


Further Discussions

These decisions have raised a storm of protest. The tone of the majority of letters to the local paper in the ensuing weeks suggest that most members of the public who took the trouble to respond to the consultation seem to think that, having roundly rejected the County Council's plan, that ought to be the end of the matter, and the square should be left alone.
I have argued, with some success in the Town Council, but with very little impact on the Borough Council, that, given the need to respect all the many uses which the public make of the square for a wide variety of perfectly legitimate reasons, there is very little scope for radical change unless the balance between those various uses is to be compromised - a notion which the public clearly rejected when they were asked for their views.
It seems to me - as it has seemed all along during the 10 or so years that the scheme has been developed - that the proponents of the scheme had inflexible and regimentary ideas about the uses that they considered acceptable (to them), and were intent on imposing their ideas on the public by means of a carefully managed consultation process. This has backfired, because the public declined to play out the planners' endgame. This is, perhaps, an uncharitable and somewhat jaundiced view. You must make up your own minds on the basis of the facts.


Emerging Indications

Meetings have been held at which at least one detailed scheme has been put forward. I understand that it came from a faction within the Chamber of Commerce. It bears some striking resemblances to the ill-fated County Council scheme. In particular, it removes most of the taxis and parking from the square and narrows the carriageways to 2 lanes - albeit somewhat wider than the County Council's scheme. In both those respects, it fails to meet the Town Council's policy objectives (viz retaining 3 traffic lanes and the existing taxi rank).
I think that the planners will have to do better than that if they hope to gain public support for any revised scheme.

Watch this space for further developments .

Updated 30 June 1997
Pix added 17 Feb 98
New link added 21 June 1998
Mailto updated 23 Oct 02

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