Reconstruction works at the University Arms

This article was published in 2015, in Newsletter 118.

If you travelled along Regent Street in mid-November 2014 you will no doubt remember the chaos caused by construction works at the University Arms hotel. While that stage lasted just for a few weeks, construction will start in earnest in 2015 and the arrangements need to be much better.

On 17 November the pavement was fenced off outside the (closed) University Arms hotel between Park Terrace and the access to Parker’s Piece by Pizza Hut. A temporary pelican crossing was put in: people walking were expected to cross there and then cross again at another temporary crossing at Pizza Hut. The timing of the signals was much slower than the lights they replaced, making this a long and frustrating experience.

To the surprise of no one, except it seems the county council who authorised this layout, people walking didn’t want to cross twice and instead walked in the road to get around the closed section of pavement. There was a dangerous mix of people walking and cycling among cars and buses in this area. Quite simply the layout did not work.

At the same time, the gap between the hotel and Pizza Hut was narrowed to little more than one metre for people going in and out of Parker’s Piece. This temporary layout was to last for two whole weeks and was again agreed between the contractors and the county council.

I contacted the city council’s planning team who visited the site. They saw that it was impossible for people to cross on to Parker’s Piece because of the opposing queue blocking the narrow way. They spoke to the contractors and the fence line was moved to the long-term position. (The fence has currently been entirely removed). So thank you to the city council’s planning team for their quick action.

Although the works have paused on the highway, they will be back soon, with the same layout that we know is unworkable. It is very disappointing that the county council appear to have little concern for the safety or convenience of people walking and cycling. Their insistence on no loading for the construction works from the highway (including the bus and parking bays on Park Terrace) has meant pedestrians have been forced into the road.

At the city council’s West Central Area Committee meeting at the end of October the issue of the building contractor using Parker’s Piece was discussed, and permission for this was subsequently granted. There were also lots of questions about access but it was too late: the planning application had been granted and all the conditions had been discharged. To the contractor ‘health and safety’ seemed only to apply to people on their site and they showed little interest in the risks posed by their lorries in the city centre streets.

I am concerned that there is a trend in the decisions by and advice from the county council: the total closure of Abbey Street (since moderated to a partial closure); the blocking of the pavement for loading at Mickey Flynn’s on Mill Road; the conversion of an urban footway to shared use on Cowley Road; and this unworkable layout. It seems that if you are not in a motor vehicle you get the scraps when highway space is allocated.

I hope the county council will review the layout at the University Arms urgently in light of the chaos seen in November.

Richard Jennings

Contractor McLaren all but closed the exit from Parker’s Piece to Regent Street and installed temporary signals with a very long cycle time.
Image as described adjacent