THE leader of Portsmouth City Council has turned her back on professional advice – but delighted motorists – by scrapping a controversial bus lane.
Councillor Donna Jones has decided to open up the route between Havisham Road and Church Street to all traffic on the back of complaints it has caused misery on the city’s roads.
The 100m stretch of bus lane was introduced by the former Lib Dem administration last year to coincide with the introduction of the city’s park-and-ride service.
Many motorists say it has caused heavy congestion as they’re forced into two lanes travelling into the city centre while the bus lane appears to be used infrequently.
Cllr Jones insisted taking it out would have a ‘minimal’ impact on the city’s public transport service – and the priority had to be attracting new businesses to the city and stopping them from leaving.
And she didn’t rule out the bus lane coming back in the future when the overall city centre road layout could be improved should £22m be found for a new one-way system.
Cllr Jones said: ‘It is justified to take away just over 100m of road to ease our busiest route into the city, to make traffic move quickly.
‘I believe on balance, the impact that will have on buses and bus users will be minimal and the impact it will have on people who come by car will be substantially positive. It’s a bold decision, but I don’t think it will be forever.’
But critics say axing the lane will do little to minimise the number of cars on the road and will only make matters worse.
Cllr Jones has been criticised for an ‘undemocratic’ approach – as she went against the move adopted by Tory traffic boss Ken Ellcome last month to protect most of the bus lane following pressure from bus and cycle campaigners.
Jon Spencer, of Portsmouth Cycle Forum, said: ‘The decision is no surprise – the decision was announced by the leader on February 3 in an article in The News.
‘It puzzles me why a councillor can be allowed to chair a decision-making forum when they have made their decision in advance.
‘I am very disappointed that the democratic process seems to be entirely subverted here.’
Council officers did not support Cllr Jones’ proposal, with Claire Upton-Brown, city development manager, warning in a report the road network into the city via the M275 is ‘reaching its capacity’, with buses facing delays and queues creating a ‘poor quality environment’.
But Andrew MacDowell, 59, of North End, hailed the decision. ‘Donna is very courageous and this is in the interests of the majority of people in Portsmouth,’ he said. ‘It’s a victory for the future prosperity of Portsmouth.’
City resident Fiona Watts said: ‘I know people who don’t come into the city to do their shopping any more and spend their money.
‘The issue is about how we get people back.’
Cllr Jones said she received 52 emails from drivers this week, with 70 per cent being in favour of taking out the bus lane.
As part of the changes, hatched markings at the top and bottom of the lane will be removed to allow people to manoeuvre easier.
The scheme will cost £11,000 and will come from parking reserves.
New signs will be put at Rudmore roundabout informing drivers of the new layout. The move is temporary and being tried over the next six months before a review is carried out to determine whether it has been effective.