Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Coney Island treatment for the Cobb

IT’S not often that disabled visitors are the subject of finger-pointing at any meeting of Lyme Regis’ town councillors, so it was unusual to see it at the Planning & Highways Committee last week.

Lyme is a welcoming, understanding town. Quite rightly, we provide special parking rights all along the Cart Road so that the disabled can stop on double yellow lines and enjoy the view and facilities, and we turn a blind eye when some of those armed with the precious blue badge then get out of their cars and behave about as disabled as my Aunt Fanny’s electric cat.

Tuesday’s highways committee had effectively convened in the atmosphere of bad atmosphere because disabled visitors are now parking at the bottom of Cobb Road in such clusters that it could cause an accident when an RNLI crew on a shout comes belting down it.

Because there is no specific “no disabled parking” rule in traffic law, the only way to prevent this swarming of blue badgers is to invoke super parking lines, “no loading or unloading at any time whatsoever whomever with knobs on” lines on Cobb Road.

Councillor Chris Clipson and deputy town clerk Mark Tredwin had thought this uber-Achtung prevention would be a good cure for the badger problem when they signed off a map of this proposal from Dorset County Council’s traffic officer. 

The trouble was that in colouring-in the area for this new no-man’s land, those in the Crayons Department at County Hall had illustrated that Cobb Road and Cobb Square should be painted with more yellow than The Beatles’ submarine. 

Clearly, the public servants had not thought through that a wheeze to disable the disabled with “no loading or unloading” would have the repercussion of also disabling – to the point of closure - every single business at Cobb Square which depends upon deliveries. Worse, they had not consulted with The Cobbites on whether any of them minded this wizard plan to force them into bankruptcy. 

Which was why Councillor Clipson and Mr Tredwin were looking especially gloomy as Cobb businesswoman Ashleigh McClements witheringly berated them from the public gallery, as what appeared to be the entire Cobb community seethed behind her.

“How dare you!” castigated Ashleigh as the heads of the hapless councillor and officer shrank into their collars like tortoises.

“How dare you presume that it is OK to prevent deliveries to my business!” she scolded, “you should be ashamed of yourselves!”

A barrage of further battering followed as Cobbites rose to angrily protest that they had not been consulted about the small matter of their impending ruin and in vociferously doing so rammed home the point that you wouldn’t want to mess with this lot on a dark night outside The Standard.

I felt sorry for Councillor Clipson, whose usual well-meaning jolliness at council meetings always reminds me of the affable Mr Pastry of my youth. But despite his protests that it was only a county council idea, nothing had been agreed, Mr Pastry was getting baked at Gas Mark 700 as few in the chamber were falling over to back him up and instead councillors chipped in to say it was a rubbish idea.

“I am most aggrieved that a councillor and officer made this decision,” said Councillor Michaela Ellis, as the poor chaps continued to shrink like Alice in the knowledge that Michaela, even at her moderately aggrieved, is scary. 

“There’s no way that I would agree to no loading or unloading – what about the park and ride bus?”

Ah yes, quite, but nobody from the MENSA Club at the county’s traffic department was present to try return that ace.

“I was horrified [by this proposal],” said Councillor Owen Lovell, “this affects our business community and we should have talked to them.”

“One thing that we don’t do as a council is that we don’t  talk to people,” added newest council member Cheryl Reynolds, making it game, set and match to town common sense over county lack of it, “we need to talk to the town”.

Banned by standing orders

As it happens, councillor, mayor and a Cobbite herself, Sally Holman, had spent most of the previous weekend talking frantically to the Cobb businesses, assuring them that this proposal was a complete cock-up and she would not let it happen. Sally could have helpfully told the meeting all of this, but she was banned by standing orders as she had “a pecuniary interest”, being a Cobb resident. Or, as every other sphere of business would call it, “an expert”. But you know what the councils are like about preferring to be arcane about rules.

But, and possibly encouraged by a ceaseless barrage of heckling by Cobbites who didn’t do rules, committee chairman Anita Williams suddenly chucked standing orders out of the window. 

Having made it plain that she personally considered this “Mothball The Cobb” proposal to be as smart as Air Icarus, Anita re-opened the floor to the Cobbites to ask for their steer, irrespective of any “interest”. What did they think was the nub of the problem here?

It was then that Mike Higgs, deputy harbourmaster, outed the elephant in the room. The problem was not whether the tortoise twins agreed to whatever, nor whether the county’s traffic officer had the faintest clue about how to either run a business or do a nice drawing, nor whether Cobb Road should be double yellow-striped, quadruple yellow-striped or whether a traffic warden of Usain Bolt-like fitness should be employed to enforce parking restrictions on the planet’s steepest hill.

No, the problem was, said Mike, the disabled drivers.

“They come down the road and see a car parked at the bottom with a blue sticker and they think ‘I’m going to do the same’,” said Mike, with blunt honesty.

Now, Mike and I have a very, very dear disabled friend and both of us would let him park on our heads if it meant that he could without great difficulty join us in The Cobb Arms for a pint, and I’m sure that everyone at The Cobb and in the council and indeed the town feels the same. 

But my friend is a local and locals know that, disabled or not, you don’t park on Cobb Road, especially in the summer. 

But as Mike pointed out, visiting disabled people don’t know that... there’s no signs to say please don’t park here, it’s an emergency access, there’s a call-out almost every day and by parking here it makes it “a death trap”.

“So what do you need?”asked vice-chairman and former Cobb businessmam Terry O’Grady, looking as hacked-off as anyone that Lyme’s principal tourist attraction should be facing closure.

“Can we have traffic cones at the bottom of Cobb Road?” said Mike.

“Yes, just do it. Get the police on it”, said Terry, as the committee encouraged Cobb businesses to, in the meantime, phone the police every time they see a disabled car parked obstructively as the council arranged to make a coney island of The Cobb.

There may be a lot of calls. I hear that there are not enough police cones in Lyme and the town will have to buy new ones at a tenner a time from police HQ, if they have any spare.  

We could do something as outrageous as put up a sign, but we don’t know if county hall has the crayons for that.

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