FARNHAM town centre’s unsightly cones and barriers are to be removed from 8pm tonight (Friday), it has been has announced.
In a joint statement, Surrey County Council leader Tim Oliver and Farnham Town Council leader John Neale confirmed the barriers would be replaced with planters, and the scheme managed by the town council from now on.
It comes just a day after MP Jeremy Hunt, through the pages of the Herald, called for an immediate end to Surrey’s pavement widening experiment in its current guise.
The South West Surrey MP, writing in his exclusive column for the Herald, expressed “dismay” at the scheme, which he said is doing the “precise opposite” of his long-term ambitions to reduce traffic and cut pollution in Farnham.
“The centre of Farnham is once again gridlocked with idling cars and oversized lorries,” he wrote, adding: “The combination of traffic jams and fumes is putting people off coming to the town centre – to the understandable exasperation of retailers.”
Mr Hunt also expressed concern that the ensuing “chaos” risks damaging public support for the Farnham Project Board, “put together so painstakingly to secure consensus for the big changes we all agree need to happen”.
Mr Hunt acknowledged the need for social distancing – but added: “Increasing pollution levels that were already illegal is hardly looking after people’s health.”
The MP challenged the county to find a fix before the Project Board meets next Friday – but it has instead acted a week earlier than mr Hunt’s deadline.
The two council leaders, Cllr Oliver and Cllr Neale’s joint statement in full: "Farnham Town Council and Surrey County Council (SCC) met on September 9 to review the Covid?19 pavement widening measures that have been in place in Farnham town centre since June.
"These measures were put in place, at short notice, to respond to government guidelines for creating wider pavements in town centres, in order to assist in social distancing and queuing outside shops.
"Whilst the Farnham scheme meets these objectives as best it can, we are conscious of the downsides of the current arrangement. Feedback from the community has told us that the scheme is unsightly and off-putting to our residents and visitors. Therefore, it’s not giving the full benefits we want the scheme to deliver.
"The traffic problems recently seen in the town centre have been compounded by the unavoidable roadworks that were brought forward to the, expected, quieter period caused by the pandemic.
"With this experience behind us, and being mindful of the likely need to maintain effective social distancing measures into 2021, the councils have now agreed to change the scheme immediately.
"From 8pm on Friday, September 11, SCC as the highways authority, will be removing the existing barriers and we will be reconfiguring the scheme with an emphasis on using the planters to define the wider pavements.
"The planters will be supplemented with some much less obtrusive temporary kerbstones and posts to ensure that vehicles are properly separated from pedestrians.
"This arrangement will also make it easier for people to cross the roads without being confronted by barriers. Until the kerbstones can be installed, the separation will be defined by traffic cones.
"Whilst the scheme is continued, it will in future be managed by the town council on behalf of SCC, which will ensure that any problems can be resolved quickly.
"As with all COVID responses at government and local authority levels, we have to be prepared to respond and adapt according to any new factors that arise. We hope that Farnham people will understand what we are doing here and support the councils.
"We are continuously listening to both our community and to our local businesses when we decide the way forward."