JEREMY Hunt met with Surrey County Council leader Tim Oliver this week to demand an immediate end to Farnham town centre’s barrier bonanza.
The South West Surrey MP, writing in his exclusive column for the Herald, expressed “dismay” at the town’s pavement widening experiment, which he said is doing the “precise opposite” of his long-term ambitions to reduce traffic and cut pollution in Farnham.
"When I started my long campaign to transform the centre of Farnham, the goals were always clear: reduce traffic, cut pollution and turn into somewhere greener and more family-friendly where people could enjoy the shops and cafés without having to bunch up on the pavement as a huge lorry trundled through the middle belching out unpleasant fumes.
"To my dismay – and many in the centre of Farnham – the temporary pavement widening we have had for the last two months is doing the precise opposite. The centre of Farnham is once again gridlocked with idling cars and oversized lorries. The combination of traffic jams and fumes is putting people off coming to the town centre – to the understandable exasperation of retailers.
"At the same time the sheer ugliness of the ‘temporary’ roadworks can only be described as depressing for those of us who have spent so long campaigning to make the town centre more attractive.
"Even more seriously, the chaos this is causing risks damaging the credibility of the Farnham Project Board, put together so painstakingly to secure consensus for the big changes we all agree need to happen.
"The solution seems to be fairly straightforward. Remove the plastic roadworks and replace them entirely with planters – and if that is not possible remove the whole lot, at least until the gasworks are completed.
"I appreciate that pedestrians have to be safe – but the gridlock we see at the moment is itself an invitation for people to cross in multiple places and increasing pollution levels that were already illegal is hardly looking after people’s health.
"We need to recognise that there is no solution and no change that can be guaranteed to be 100 per cent safe. But if we transform the town into a pedestrian and family friendly shopping and social destination, it is likelier to be a lot safer than what we have right now.
"I spoke this week to Tim Oliver, the leader of Surrey County Council, who has shown great personal commitment to the need to transform our town centre. He understands the issues and assures me the issues will be resolved quickly.
"Thanks to his leadership we have a highly professional team now looking at how to take things forward, the first time that has happened during my time as local MP.
"So the signs are encouraging – but it will be a huge disappointment if the roadworks issues have not been resolved when the Project Board meets next Friday.
"The town’s patience is running thin."