DESPITE the many uncertainties about the pandemic, there are some very positive things to look forward to locally in the new year.
As Herald readers know well, one thing that has always been a priority for me (and as Tony Blair would say, has given me not a few scars on my back) is to make improvements to Farnham’s town centre, particularly to reduce pollution levels and make it more pedestrian-friendly.
So I am pleased to report last week’s Farnham Project Board, the last of the year, showed we have finally moved beyond the talking shop stage to action. Practical changes are now happening on the ground – and 2022 will mark a big acceleration in progress.
Here’s what’s happened so far:
The A325 has been formally reclassified so it does not go through the centre of the town, with Google Maps now informed.
A Traffic Regulation Order banning HGVs from East Street and West Street has now been passed. Road signs now need to be changed (including on the M3) but that is in hand.
Another consultation will finish next week about 20mph limits in many parts of the town, with implementation expected by the end of the coming year – something that will make the town both safer and less polluted.
At the same time there is an emerging consensus (words I never thought I would write) about the town centre which includes better provision for pedestrians, removing the gyratory system and making more streets two-way.
Issues to be resolved include better cycling routes and use of town-centre car parks.
The plan is to bring all these changes together for a full public consultation over the summer which I hope will involve a letter to every household with a reply-paid letter to allow people to express support (or dissent) on the direction of travel.
I am avoiding use of the ‘R’ word (okay, ‘referendum’ in case you were wondering) but I do think there needs to be a democratic mandate for the major changes, not least because they will involve significant upheaval.
On the bigger projects, good progress is being made on Hickleys Corner but longer-term feasibility studies are needed for a Wrecclesham relief road and the western bypass, both of which are unlikely to get government funding at this stage.
But remember, this is a 25-year project so we should not give up hope on solutions that divert traffic from Wrecclesham or allow a fuller form of pedestrianisation by creating better options for north-south traffic.
Yes, there are lively opinions on the board – and it wouldn’t be Farnham if we didn’t have healthy debates about the way forward. But there is a strong cross-party consensus that progress is being made.
As Farnham Residents councillor Andy McLeod said: “It’s going pretty well overall.”
He was also right to point out that of the many towns Surrey County Council could be focusing on, it has chosen Farnham.
That constitutes very welcome leadership by council leader Tim Oliver, who is giving a lot of his personal focus to the project.
The path to a pollution-free, pedestrian and family-friendly town centre may be long and winding but the journey has now started.
Happy new year to all!