Very busy this evening, as I was double booked for Darlington Residents' Panel and Springfield STAR.
The Residents' Panel brings together members of residents' association across the town. I was invited there in my capacity as Cabinet Member for Highways. 40 minutes of thought-provoking questions ensued, on matters as diverse as the operation of the concessionary bus pass scheme, the frequency of buses into the Memorial Hospital, why there isn't a "Northern Bypass" between Great Burdon and the A1M, and road safety on Victoria Road.
Understandably, a fair proportion of questions were about the ongoing Pedsetrian Heart works. Pedestrianising the greater part of a town centre involves a lot of upheaval, although the Council is working hard with traders to keep the disruption to a minimum. Some issues were raised tonight where the contractors frankly haven't got it right (parking dumper trucks in disabled parking bays for example) and I promised to go away and try and resolve these difficulties.
It was interesting that during discussion, it was acknowledged that there is a huge amount of investment in Darlington at the moment - not just the Pedestrian Heart, but the new Commercial Street shops and cinema, the College on Haughton Road, the new Education Village and, maybe, the redevelopment of Feethams. These new developments bring more money and people into town, but also potentially more traffic and congestion too. I was able to quote the new College as an example of where as part of the planning process, the College had to produce a Green Travel Plan. They will work to encourage as many people as possible to use alternative forms of transport to the car to get to the site. There will be (relatively modest) car parking charges for example, and after Christmas a new pedestrianand cycling bridge will be built over the East Coast Line on Haughton Road. This should minimise the potential for increased congestion.
The Panel meet regularly, and you can learn more about them at http://www.communigate.co.uk/ne/dragnet/
Then off to Springfield for a meeting of residents in my own patch, together with my ward colleagues Cllrs. Andy Scott and David Lyonette. I arrived in the middle of a presentation by Melanie Morley, who is fronting the Council's "Let's Get Cracking" initiative, whereby an extra £2.5 million is being spent over three years tackling potholes and broken pavements identified by residents themselves, rather than Council engineers. Came away with several issues that need following up after chatting to people after the meeting.