As the Royal Borough’s work on the Chobham Road parking scheme in Sunningdale began this month, residents were reminded of a valuable lesson: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Sadly, it’s a lesson RBWM failed to learn and Sunningdale residents are left to pay the price.
Before RBWM began its work, a slip road along Chobham Road provided safe parking for eight vehicles with shade provided by six trees. RBWM decided improvement was needed, and decided it would be better—and safer—to replace these eight bays with fourteen bays, which will be installed perpendicular to Chobham Road. This means that drivers must back into (or out of) the road to park or leave, increasing traffic and the risk of an accident. The trees weren’t spared either; six trees will be replaced with one and a few planters instead. This does nothing to help our carbon footprint..
Sadly, the new parking bays were doomed from the outset by poor planning. The RBWM Council officer who designed the consultation simply asked whether more parking would be desirable; they failed to mention the proposed number of bays and the £240,000 cost of this mishap, or £40,000 for each additional parking bay.
Adding to the mess, those responsible for giving information packs decided to give them out by hand within the defined consultation area, rather than sending them by post; many of the residents who should have received an information pack never did. A Freedom of Information request found that, of the 491 respondents to the consultation, 135 gave addresses with postcodes outside the Borough. Making matters worse, the Council failed to conduct a Traffic Regulation Order, which would have studied the effects of the change on road users and the risk of harm these changes might create.
Despite all of this, both Conservative Councillors representing Sunningdale—Cllr Christine Bateson and Cllr Sayonara Luxton—consistently and uncritically gave their support to this debacle and now this nightmare is becoming a reality. The Council has responded to concerns raised by ignoring petitions and explicitly saying they would not reply to further communication.
In a recent survey commissioned by the Royal Borough, residents identified road and road maintenance as the council services needing most improvement. Our experience with Chobham Road shows just how much work lies ahead for the Council in this area. If anything, it provides an object lesson for how not to improve local public services.
A good Council would work with residents to identify both problems and solutions, so that changes made can succeed and that money spent isn’t wasted. It isn’t clear what problem the Council was trying to solve in this case, or what benefits they hoped to achieve. Councillors come and go, but we residents are left with the fallout of bad decisions.
Time will tell whether anyone gets hurt from this poorly planned, expensive (£40,000/bay!) change that few people wanted. We can at least minimise the chance of fallout by working together, replacing a clear “I know best” approach to governing to a “We can learn together” approach. We owe it to ourselves to give it a try before even more damage is done.
Valerie Pike is a resident of Sunningdale and a tBf candidate for Sunningdale and Cheapside Ward.
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