After a week of shocks in which the Rutland County Council leader resigned and the new man in charge put a stop to the one-way system – the paper asks: Now what for Oakham town centre?
Coun Tony Mathias quit as leader and ward member on Monday (January 8), having championed the need for £3m investment in the town centre.
Following a consultation in which 53 per cent of those responding - just 501 people - backed a one-way system over an alternative with an “enhanced pedestrian environment and road space” - the council pursued the one-way system for Oakham High Street and Mill Street, getting as far as consulting on proposed designs.
But on Tuesday, just hours after taking up the role of acting leader, Coun Oliver Hemsley slammed the brakes on the project - informing the council’s chief executive Helen Briggs that it had been “removed from the forward plan with immediate effect”.
Back in June when Mr Mathias announced the plans, he said the High Street looked a “mess” and admitted it had been a “long time to get this far”.
On Tuesday, Coun Hemsley said he remained “committed to the need to invest” in Oakham but didn’t expand further.
So today we want to know from new acting leader Coun Hemsley:
n What is the future of Oakham’s High Street?
n Where is the £3m going to be spent?
n When will a new consultation start?
n How much did the consultations on both the original proposals - and the design of the one-way system cost - and where is that money coming from?
The one-way system faced fierce opposition from some residents who thought the way the consultation was conducted was unfair as it only looked at two options. They believed other options should also have been looked at.
On December 14 last year campaign group OK2WAY which opposed the one-way-system idea led a protest march in Oakham which concluded with the handing in of a petition signed by more than 3,000 people asking the council to think again about its plans.
Commenting on the council’s U-turn this week, Tim Norton, chairman of OK2WAY, said: “This is an example that really proves people have got the power to alter the course of what they do. It is a wake-up call for a far more open way of reaching decisions.
“Hopefully this will shake-up the council. Not only this project, there have been a lot of other projects they have steamrollered through.”
Gerry Robinson, who came up with the idea for the petition, said: “This is incredible news. I feel very pleased indeed. Now and again when people get together and say what they feel it does have an affect. This is what democracy is all about.”
And Mr Robinson is now calling for the council to consult more closely with the public and traders if a new scheme is proposed.
He said: “I would like to see a better consultation with members of the public with more options rather than just ‘one-way’ or ‘two-way’.
“The council could set up a proper working group with traders. The traders understand the impact on business and what wouldn’t work and would work and come up with a much better solution.”
Rutland MP Sir Alan Duncan (Con) also welcomed the council’s announcement.
He said: “I am very pleased that Rutland County Council has listened to the strength of local feeling expressed by a great number of my constituents and that they will now spend 2018 looking again carefully at all options for improvements to Oakham town centre.
“It is vital that any future changes are made with the agreement of those who live and work in Oakham and the surrounding area, and that the town is consistent with the rural character of Rutland.
“I welcome the clarity of the council’s statement and look forward to working with its new leader.”
Rutland County Council’s members are still due to debate the petition put forward by OK2Way at Monday’s full council meeting at 7pm at the council offices.
A spokesman for the council said it would only be withdrawn from the agenda if the person who presented the petition withdraws the petition.
We have put these questions to Coun Hemsley in this open manner to hold the council to account for its actions. If Coun Hemsley or a representative of the council would like to respond to the questions put to him here, we commit to publishing that response in full. E-mail: email@example.com