A desperate attempt to save face – that’s the verdict of a disabled campaigner after the two main backers of a shared space backtracked on their recent views about the controversial £3m scheme.
Leader of East Dunbartonshire Council Rhondda Geekie said live on BBC Radio Scotland a few weeks ago: “I’m disappointed it hasn’t worked in Kirkintilloch” and added the project could be reversed.
While a spokesperson from Sustrans, who set the design criteria, said at the same time: “We have no wish to impose a design on the street that will not work for local people.”
But on Monday, Councillor Geekie told the Herald: “I listen to all opinions expressed to me which was why I stated my disappointment if shared space hasn’t worked for some people.”
And Daisy Narayanan, Acting Director of Sustrans, said this week the environment group continued to support the council regeneration works in Kirkintilloch, adding: “We anticipate that detailed monitoring being conducted as part of the scheme will show a trend towards a more people-friendly space, with reduced vehicle speeds and volumes, and an improved environment for people on foot and those travelling by bicycle.”
Thousands of people have been protesting over the £3.1 million project because of safety concerns, with a string of road accidents over the past few months.
Disabled campaigner Sandy Taylor, who has been leading the protest, labelled the latest developments as “a desperate attempt to save face, having wasted over £3 million of public money on a scheme detested by motorists and pedestrians alike”.
He added: “The Council went ahead with this scheme disregarding all safety and exclusion concerns in order to secure funding from the Scottish Government via Sustrans, who provided 50% of the cost provided this scheme was adopted.
“On behalf of the elderly and disabled people of the town together with the 3500 members of the local community who signed my petition, I join MSP Rona Mackay in demanding the reinstatement of traffic lights and controlled crossings, as the town is now a no-go area for many people due to the dangers of crossing the road safely.
“Claims that this scheme would reduce the dominance of vehicles have now proved to be utter nonsense, as without traffic controls, vehicles are now more dominant than ever before, this can be proved by the hundreds of people who feel so intimidated and terrified that they avoid the town altogether.”
Strathkelvin and Bearsden MSP Rona Mackay, who was also on the BBC Radio Scotland show and has also raised safety concerns for constituents, criticised council leader Rhondda Geekie for “backtracking” on the comments made on the programme.
Ms Mackay said on Monday: “I am absolutely astonished. Councillor Geekie is effectively doing a U-turn on a U-turn. She admitted live on air she was disappointed the scheme hadn’t worked and that it could be reversed.
“Now she is avoiding the issue by saying she was reflecting a view held by others. This simply isn’t good enough and she is treating the residents of Kirkintilloch with contempt.
“Constituents complain to me almost on a daily basis over this junction.”
Ms Mackay had been trying to meet with East Dunbartonshire Council boss Thomas Glen to discuss the process of replacing safety crossings at the Catherine Street junction.
However this week Mr Glen said there were no plans to reinstate the lights and work would continue “in line with council decisions and our contract with Rainton”.
Ms Mackay said: “I will write to Councillor Geekie directly and ask her to put this on the agenda at the next council meeting so the process of making the town safe can begin. She must not be allowed to ignore the wishes of residents. I will continue to press her – and her Labour/Tory administration – on this issue until they see sense.”
Councillor Geekie responded: “I must emphasise again as I said in the interview I don’t have the power to overturn a council decision nor does the administration have a majority which I am sure Ms Mackay knows.
“Listening and working for local people has been part of my life for more than 20 years and I listen to all opinions expressed to me which was why I stated my disappointment if shared space hasn’t worked for some people in Kirkintilloch.
“I have done no U-turn and as I said, ‘let the council decide.”
Ms Mackay replied: “I understand the council has to vote on reversing the dangerous alterations it made to the road at Catherine Street. My question to Rhondda Geekie is, then, when will she be putting it on the agenda for a full council meeting?”