I sent the following letter to the Mayor, Chair of the Environment, and Councillors Lizzie Deane and Louisa Greenbaum in the hope of getting the traffic in Surrey Street sorted out once and for all. I should very much appreciate it if you could publish it in The Whistler.
I bought a house on Surrey Street in January 2014 and moved in on the day the Brighton Station Gateway Scheme works began. During the following 12 months residents were informed in advance of works to be carried out by Tom Campbell, the project manager, who was on hand for any queries or worries we had. He was always very courteous and helpful, as were the team who carried out the work. It looked so pretty and idyllic when it was completed but it wasn’t a week before the two of the newly planted trees had been mowed over by traffic using the pavement.
Mr Campbell’s letter of 28 April 2014 stated: “The works are part of the Brighton Station Gateway project which aims to improve circulation and access and create a sense of welcome for people and vehicles in the area around Brighton.” It might as well have read: “Welcome to Brighton’s answer to the M25 with round-the-clock stationary and queuing taxis blowing their horns; buses doing likewise, plus mounting the pavements to get round parked taxis; queuing domestic vehicles, vans and lorries.”
Residents are suffering from polluted air from the stationary traffic; windows and front gardens are permanently filthy; our gardens are virtually unusable; painted rendering is covered in dirt and grit, as are our inner windows and sills. Opening our windows is a misery due to the noise, even into the early hours. Far from the welcome which was intended, any visitor to Brighton arriving by train, bus or road is greeted by heavy fumes and chaos.
I appreciate it was my choice to buy in Surrey Street and accepted it was town living near the station with 3 pubs in the local vicinity but it is none of these things about which I complain – it is all the things which have turned out to be opposite to the Gateway Scheme’s intentions. It is this that all the residents take issue with, together with the lack of interest or commitment from the Council to do anything about it.
Why would anyone make a small, largely residential street into single lane traffic and then proceed to direct all the traffic from town through it? There have been several attempts to update the scheme since it was introduced: eg moving the communal waste bin to allow buses to get round the corner; an extra loading bay was added, but this, together with the original two bays, is permanently used by parked taxis; and a bus pull-in at the end of the street has been added, which has not alleviated anything at all but rather made it worse. Homes near the bus stop have people using their walls as seating while waiting for buses and front gardens have become litter magnets for food wrappers and cans. Pedestrians can no longer walk on the pavement past the bus queues but have to walk in the road instead. It’s just a matter of time before someone is injured. I personally have nearly been taken out by buses on two occasions whilst walking my dog when they mounted the kerb to get round parked taxis. I have seen two accidents between buses and other cars on the corner by the delicatessen when buses have collided with queuing traffic while trying to negotiate the corner. The emergency services cannot get through at peak times as there is nowhere for the traffic to move to – they are already using the pavement and the loading bays. This could be life-threatening and still nothing is done.
The biggest bane of contention is the taxis. The drivers continually sound their horns after 11pm as well as unnecessarily throughout the morning and afternoons. Surrey Street has double yellow lines along its length on both sides, yet I have not seen one taxi being moved on or one get a ticket! Just after the project was completed, a workman had taken out a bathroom from one of the houses on the street and pulled his van onto the kerb to put the removed bathroom parts into his van. A traffic warden, of which there were many at the time when the project was first completed, moved the workman on, telling him he could stay there no longer than 10 mins, no matter what his reason. If we require tradesmen to come and do a job for us we get charged more than normal for a job the minute Surrey Street is mentioned. When I needed a window replacement, the company rang me half an hour after they were supposed to arrive and said simply. “We’re not coming, there’s nowhere to park.” We now rarely see a traffic warden or the police, and even though the taxis are parked on double yellow lines, nobody bothers them.
I understand that the rail company allowed too many licences to be allocated for taxis using the station, hence the bottleneck. When football matches are on in Brighton, the station cordons off part of the taxi rank and far fewer taxis use it; even at busy times it is more often than not much quieter. This proves that the station can cope with fewer taxis in busy periods and that the station itself has the power to dictate how many taxis can use it. Better still, why not create a large enough taxi rank in a suitable place to accommodate all the taxis which have licences? Surely, this is the responsibility of the Council. I consider also the rail company has a moral obligation to bend and help sort out the problem which they have compounded by issuing far too many station taxi permits. Either way, this no-man’s land of responsibility for law breaking has to come to an end.
Surrey Street’s voice may be small but we do have our rights. We are a mixed bag of businesses, owners, renters; we love our street and have had enough of sleepless, noisy nights, being unable to enjoy our own homes. The money involved to implement change would be minimal compared with what the Gateway Scheme itself cost but not fulfilled. Of course, it means someone has to hold their hand up and admit they were wrong, that it is certainly not the “welcome for the people and vehicles” that was envisaged. Now, we get no communication from the Council, nothing to let us know how they intend to tackle the situation, nothing inviting us to meetings and no questionnaires to give our thoughts or say how it is affecting our daily lives. In the early days when this situation first started I managed to get through to a councillor who promised me faithfully that he would let me know when a particular meeting about the situation was coming up – I never heard a thing!
I hope my letter gets through to the powers that be. I would appreciate a reply laying out the plans to sort out the problem and give our community the respect and understanding we deserve for our patience in this matter. I hope my writing to you instigates some urgency to resolve our genuinely founded complaints and gives us back the enjoyment of our homes.
Ann Rushworth Lown
As we go to press, Ann told The Whistler that she has had a reply from Gill Mitchell and Lizzie Deane, whose letter we reproduce, with her permission, below.
Thank you for writing to me about Surrey Street. As you might imagine, I get a number of complaints about the taxis in Surrey Street, and the council also agrees that this is a situation that cannot continue. We are in discussions with Govia with a view to creating a rank at the back of the station.
It was never intended for Surrey Street to be used by taxis in this way, and it is not a formal rank. I agree with the points you make about illegal parking, and have raised this with the council and police many times. It is more of a police problem as they control the highways, and they seem to have limited resources to deal with it. Govia, as you rightly say, have issued far too many permits for the small space available at the station. At some £700 a pop this is clearly a lucrative business for them, which they are reluctant to relinquish.
As they own the land around the station, the council has no jurisdiction over it, and we can only try and work with their goodwill.
However, the council has finally managed to get them round the table to talk about sensible solutions and, although these things are never quick, the discussions are at least taking place now.
Terminus Road is not a viable solution, as residents object so strongly (understandably, given some cabbies’ behaviour). The issue of Surrey Street has been discussed at the West Hill Action Team meetings, which bring together residents, police, council officers and Councillors.
These have been advertised in The Whistler, and there is also a mailing list, which you may be interested in being added to. Do let me know if you would find this useful.
Kind regards, Lizzie Deane
The Whistler asked Deputy Leader Brighton & Hove City Council and Chair of the Environment, Transport & Sustainability Committee, Councillor Gill Mitchell for a statement. She said:
“Following the WHAT meeting last December, the concerns that residents raised at that meeting were put forward at a meeting between the council, Govia Thameslink Rail, Brighton and Hove Bus Company, a local Ward Councillor and taxi trade representatives. Two subsequent meetings have been held to further explore the possibility of locating the taxi rank at the rear of the station and this work is ongoing.”