Rosie Rutherford and I attended the council Planning Committee to speak about our issues with route to the new hospital. Here’s what we said:
– We do not wish to object to the building of the new hospital in this site per se. However it needs to be recognised that by moving it to a greenfield site at the edge of town, measures need to be put in place to mitigate the likely increase in traffic. We would like to see more concrete provision made in the current draft travel plan to ensure that those who walk or cycle to the new hospital have a safe and secure journey, thus reducing dependence on the private car (which is a requirement for this development), and encouraging people to take up active travel, with benefits for us all.The hospital has the ambition to have 1-200 members of staff cycling or walking to work – a not unreasonable goal given the Scottish Government target of 10% of journeys by bike by 2020. This will be essential if the current parking provision of fewer than 1000 spaces is not to be overwhelmed.There are 2 main routes to the hospital that those on bike are likely to take: the Maxwelltown path, for those living in Lochside, Maxwelltown and Heathhall; and through Troqueer for those living in Georgetown and Troqueer. A cycle route is only as good as its weakest link, which is usually where people have to cross a busy road. We note that in the planning report, the hospital cycle path plans are criticised because of the need to cross the car park entrances, causing potential areas of conflict. However, when you look at the routes outside the hospital grounds, there are 3 major crossings cyclists will have to negotiate, and these should all be mitigated in the travel plan with safe crossings.For those coming via Troqueer, they will have to cross the New Abbey Road and the Dalbeattie Road, but although the plan mentions a crossing on Pleasance Avenue, there’s nothing for these two busy roads. And for both the Troqueer and the Maxwelltown route, cyclists will have to cross Garroch Loaning, which is a 60mph road, with poor sight lines, on a major timber haulage route, and with no plans to create a safe crossing for pedestrians or cyclists. In our opinion, this could lead to a nasty accident – or else hospital staff will vote with their feet and opt to drive rather than have to negotiate this road.It is important to get these measures in place before the hospital is built. We would like the committee to put conditions in place that to require the council and the NHS to work in partnership to create safe cycling and walking routes that are in place as soon as the hospital is open. We’ve talked to Sustrans and they believe that such safe routes can be created without causing unnecessary delay to traffic or at exorbitant cost – especially if they are planned now, as it will be more expensive and less effective to retrofit these sorts of solutions once problems of congestion and overspill parking emerge.My understanding is that the NHS are fully on board with the need for these provisions to be made. However, they cannot act in isolation, the council roads department would need to do the actual work. We would like to see this written into the conditions for planning permission to ensure that it actually happens and doesn’t get swept under the carpet.
From the questions and discussion afterwards, it was clear that some of the issues had sunk in and that the councillors were taking the problems, particularly the crossing at Garroch Loaning, seriously. Although the planning application has been approved, there was talk of the matter moving to the Nithsdale Area Committee, giving councillors (and officials) a chance to look in more detail at the routes and how to make them more inviting and safe to cycle on. In particular, it appears that there has been discussion about reducing the speed limit on Garroch Loaning to 30mph, which would enable a toucan crossing to be put in.