As a child growing up in the 1960s ‘The Magic Roundabout’ was a daily highlight of my TV viewing bur the offbeat adventures of Dylan, Dougal, Ermintrude, Brian, Mr Rusty and of course Zebedee are nothing compared to the ongoing saga of what to do about the two roundabouts on the A35 as it passes through Bridport. Oh how I wish I had a magic wand and could finally put this saga to bed.
You will be aware of the ongoing dialogue that the Town Council has been having with Highways England regarding the state that the two roundabouts have been allowed to deteriorate into under their care. The East Road roundabout now resembles a waste land and the Crown roundabout a huge mass of brambles thanks to the lack of maintenance programme carried out by Highways England over recent years.
On the 3rd August the Town Council received the latest and on the face of it final proposal for the future of the two roundabouts from Highways England, the content of which can be read below.
I wanted to canvass the thoughts of the Council on proposed horticultural works to the centre of Crown roundabout, Bridport over the course of the next few months.
There has been a significant amount of correspondence from yourselves and other local stakeholders regarding the condition of the central features of the roundabout, namely the trees and shrubs contained therein. In the relatively short period of time I have been in post, I am patently aware of the strong feelings the council and other local stakeholders have about this roundabout, and I thought it only fair to give you the opportunity to speak with the Council as to what my course of action should be.
With this in mind, I have sought (and been successful in obtaining) additional funding to effect one of two options, namely:
Option 1: To completely clear all trees and shrubs from the Crown roundabout and return to a flat, grassed roundabout.
Option 2: To retain the central elements of trees and shrubs, but to substantially reduce their size/footprint, and in removing some trees and shrubs around the periphery of the roundabout .
Please be conscious of the fact that, should Option 1 be chosen, it will be non-reversible, and it will not signal the likelihood of the introduction of any other central features or planting strategies in the future. The roundabout will be a plain, grassed roundabout cut to the designated length dictated by the maintenance contract we have in place at the time.
The time for response is relatively short, as the maintenance contractor is already working on the route for a defined period and would need to plan to incorporate these works. So effectively, I need to know your answer by the end of August 2021 latest.
As an aside, I also considered an option for laying the roundabout to wild grasses but the mixed feedback we are receiving from what Dorset Council have actioned in the centre of East Road roundabout leads me to discount this as an option.
I look forward to hearing the Councils thoughts on our proposals.
On reading the proposed options I was struck by the fact that the people of Bridport were being threatened rather than being engaged in a serious dialogue. The first option can only be described as a nuclear option and is one step away from completely concreting the roundabout over in order to remove any need for ongoing maintenance. As such it is not worth spending any time discussing its merits here because there are none. Given the tardy manner in which Highways England has maintained the roundabouts over recent years I would envisage them both rapidly becoming unkempt overgrown waste lands once again if this option is adopted.
The second proposal has some merit in so much as there is a proposal to maintain some of the existing trees and shrubs. However, once again the long term success of this option is wholly dependent on the removal of the bramble bushes that have been allowed to overwhelm what were once attractive trees and shrubs. This will not be achieved by merely chopping them down, they will need to be dug out and the ground thoroughly cleaned up. Failure to do this and properly maintain the roundabouts and they will quickly return to the litter collecting overgrown state they are in today.
With regard to the wild grasses option, which Highways England has already dismissed as an option, Dorset Council merely scatted a ‘wildflower’ seed mix on the East Road roundabout without preparing the ground hence the mess we see today. A wild grasses or prairie style planting would, if properly installed, be a thing of beauty. I recommend Highways England make a visit to Burrough Farm Gardens near Axminster where the grass garden is a sight to behold.
To think how Groves have for years been willing to plant and maintain both roundabouts and how has the current situation been allowed to happen under the long-term mismanagement of Highways England.
I know that wild spaces are a vital part of the ecosystem and that leaving the roundabouts to become overgrown is one way of helping nature. However, I believe there is a balance to be struck which can provide biodiverse wildlife habitats and be visually attractive at the same time.
Many of you I know, given the level of correspondence I receive about it, feel that the roundabouts should be regarded as gateways to the town and as such should be more representative of the character of Bridport. The Town Council has put forward designs that we think achieve this, but has been told that any form of structure will not be considered. And yet across the country there are numerous examples of ‘statement’ roundabouts on trunk roads.
Following his success in the 2012 Olympics long jump, a roundabout on the A421 – a dual carriageway which links the M1 to the A5 – had a leaping Greg Rutherford was installed in his honour.
The Black Cat roundabout on the A1, named after an old garage that opened in the 1920s, today boasts a simple black cat silhouette, its minimalist approach nods to an eminent past.
On the A41 as you enter Bicester from Oxford you are greeted by a beautifully planted roundabout with trees and shrubs and a life sized wire model of a shepherd and his sheepdog and a small flock of sheep. A lovely welcome and an uplift on long cross-country journeys.
Closer to home the badgers that adorn the roundabout on the A354 in Blandford Forum offer a link with the famous Hall and Woodhouse brewery a few hundred metres away.
All of the above and numerous other examples from across the country show that it can be done creatively and sensitively unless of course you happen to be Bridport.
The other reason cited as to why such structures will not be considered in Bridport is the hoary old chestnut and last resort when all other reasons cannot to be justified excuse, Health and Safety issues. Although both roundabouts are on the A35, a trunk road, they are also subject to urban speed limits of 30mph as you approach them. As we all know the risk of serious injury is considerably reduced below 30mph hence this figure being used in built up areas, a driver losing control at this speed and mounting the roundabout would be at low risk to themselves, in fact the embankment down to the Crown Inn car park is of possible greater risk of serious injury.
Sight lines are another H&S reason cited for reducing the vegetation on the roundabouts. You only have to observe the manner in which drivers use the two roundabouts to see entirely different patterns of behaviour. At the Crown roundabout, drivers approach and proceed with caution because they are only able to see traffic approaching from their immediate right. At the East Road roundabout however there has been a noticeable increase in the number of drivers failing to slow down and instead making risky dashes as they see what appears to be a gap in the traffic since the waste land scheme was introduced.
Maintaining the planting or any other structure is another H&S issue cited as a reason for the proposed solutions. If safe maintenance can be achieved in other parts of the country, it can be achieved here in Bridport.
Whilst on the subject of H&S issues at roundabouts why does Highways England continue to insist that the cycle path which runs alongside the A35 Sea Road South forces people to get onto the road in order to negotiate the roundabout when making their way towards Burton Bradstock and the West Bay cycle path which is controlled by traffic lights making it a safe place to cross. This should all have been sorted out when the latest upgrade to cycle routes took place but thanks to muddled thinking on the part of Highways England it remains a serious issue. Perhaps Highways England would like to explain why this continues to be a serious accident waiting to happen and when they are going to do the right thing for once and sort it out.
Returning to the two roundabouts there is an opportunity at the East Road roundabout to carry out the thorough removal of the pernicious and invasive plants e.g. brambles. Once this has been completed a planting scheme which is based on native species of trees and shrubs such as Rowan, Hawthorn, Cherry and Spindle underplanted with wild flowers including spring bulbs is clearly both desirable and achievable. As to whether a structure representing Bridport should be incorporated, I can see no reason why this should not be possible given examples from around the country. An invitation or competition to design such a centrepiece would do much to engage the townspeople positively and return a sense of pride in the eastern gateway to the town.
The Crown roundabout already has a number of attractive shrubs and trees which have been allowed to be overwhelmed by brambles through years of neglect by Highways England. The first task is to eradicate the brambles and see what can be saved and then add native trees and shrubs in a manner similar to that suggested for the East Road roundabout. The Crown roundabout is the gateway to West Bay and this needs to be reflected is some way. Once again there is an opportunity to engage the local community in the design of this.
Sadly I suspect Highways England have already made up their mind what is going to be done and it would not surprise me if the work to carry out their preferred option has not already been scheduled.
As to the longer term I have little confidence that Highways England are capable, once the ‘work’ has been carried out, of maintaining the roundabouts to any thing like an acceptable standard given their track record as can be seen in the image on the right taken recently on the East Road roundabout.
I strongly urge Highways England to think again, and enter into a meaningful dialogue about the long-term future of our two gateway roundabouts before any work is undertaken. The two ‘gun at the head’ options currently on offer from Highways England are wholly inappropriate and unacceptable and a more attractive and environmentally friendly solution in keeping with the spirit of Bridport can and must be achieved. Working in collaboration with the Town Council, local businesses and the wider Bridport community is the way forward.
I look forward to hearing your comments which I will forward on to the relevent desk at Highways England on your behalf.