Caveat: Any views expressed herein are not to be taken as those of the Parish Council, but this is an attempt to describe the content of discussions to date. I will try to make it clear where I am adding extra information.
YTFC expect a step change in attendance now that they are in the Championship League and Brympton Parish Council and your local councillors have been working together to address your concerns on parking, traffic and safety, particularly around Thorne Village and the bus route through Stourton Way and Westminster/Malmesbury Way. On Weds 17th July the working party’s second meeting was attended by James Hillier, the Stadium Manager for Huish Park to discuss the issues and to establish what could be done to address them. Neither County Highways or the Police attended the meeting.
The home gate last season averaged over 4,000 and YTFC only opened the away terrace on 5 occasions last season. The fixture list for this season, and increased sales of season tickets (now at 2,700), indicate that gates averaging over 6,000 can be expected. The total stadium capacity is 9,565.
In particular the club expect a large increase in travelling away fans, though this is fixture specific. A list of fixtures for YTFC here. The present away terrace capacity is capped at 2,054.
Some supporters, such as Millwall’s, are used to travelling by train in the expectation of socialising in a town centre pub before making their way to the ground. This is obviously awkward given the location of Yeovil’s stations. Previous attempts to run direct coaches from and to the station have been problematic, with significant delays in the traffic. The same problem befell attempts to run a park-and-ride using the Council Offices car park, making the journey much longer for fans. To address this, YTFC has already contacted supporters clubs to try to persuade them to travel by organised coach rather than by other means. The ground can accommodate 25 coaches easily and arrangements could be made for more.
For some fixtures, such as the Birmingham match on 10th August, the car will be an attractive option to away fans. The Club is well aware of the parking and post-match traffic problems, and that these are inter-linked. Although YTFC only charges £2 per match to park on-site, the ground remains only half-full, entirely because of the difficulty in getting away. Past attempts by the Club to manage parking and post-match traffic flows using cones and YTFC volunteer marshals have hit problems. As these are not “official” they are difficult to enforce, cones have been thrown into fields and staff have been abused, the latter leading to a lack of volunteers and concerns for the Club of legal liability.
To stop or direct traffic legally you have to be authorised (“badged”) by the Chief Constable. At the moment this power is limited to Constables and Police Community Support Officers. (Although the Highways Agency has Traffic Officers they only have jurisdiction on the main trunk roads). For YTFC this power to direct traffic is particularly pertinent as the key problems during exit from the match are the ASDA traffic lights (and the queue backing onto the Preston Road roundabout) and the priority at the junction of Western Avenue with Thorne Lane. The Copse Road and Stourton Way junctions are also important.
The post-match traffic flows make parking within the Club’s grounds or in the industrial estate unattractive for fans (they have to wait in traffic which is not moving for long periods). Technical solutions, such as part-time traffic lights at the junctions, would be very expensive (my guess is £750,000 provided no substantial road works were required) and all of these junctions are due for improvement (one day) as part of SCC’s Western Corridor Strategy, making the investment very unlikely even if the cash were available (which it isn’t). One ray of hope is that eventually (in five years or so) the Brimsmoor development will fix exit to the north.
The meeting did discuss putting some yellow hatched boxes at the ASDA Roundabout to improve flow. These were not legal when previously suggested (2005) but it appears that current regulations might be “interpreted” if the case were very strong. Councillor Sam Crabb is going to take this up separately with County Highways because the ASDA lights are always a problem, not just on match days. (As an aside, the possibility of “fixing” the ASDA problem by creating a new access off the Bluebell Road roundabout would depend on Palmers and ASDA agreeing a commercial deal, which looks very unlikely. The Councils have no powers to force that to happen).
The problem that most people complain about is the parking and congestion in residential areas, especially along Stourton Way, and the difficulty accessing Thorne village. In both cases vehicles park both sides and there are concerns about emergency access, the most important being ambulance service access. The Parish Council has already arranged for the Fire and Rescue Service to carry out surveys during matches, taking a fire tender into all of the affected areas. The good news is that, to date, they have been able to get through during these tests.
The parking also causes problems for bus services, with congestion causing delays and with parking at bus-stops preventing safe access from the kerb. Indeed the two regular stops on Malmesbury Way are often missed out, partly to avoid difficulty manoeuvring but also to allow the service to catch up and run more closely to its schedule. This diversion deprives older people living in that area of bus access to the town on the main shopping day afternoon.
The inconsiderate parking includes vehicles parked much too near to the junctions. By blocking the view and forcing much more careful driving it inconveniences local residents but the main issue of concern to the Parish Council and Councillors is the risk to pedestrian safety, particularly children. It seems that the problem parkers are mainly the late arrivals who, having not found a safe space, park on the end of the existing line of cars. In extreme cases they park right into the “bell-mouth” of roads, blocking access for people using buggies and those who have problems walking. In extreme cases, drivers have been given fixed penalty notices for the latter.
Regardless of the expectations set out in the Highway Code, the only enforceable offence at present is obstruction, and to meet this test the road has to be impassable, not just constricted. If a policeman can get the vehicle through, it’s not obstructed. In the long-term, a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) could be introduced (e.g. double yellow lines to protect the junction and bus-tops) which would make the parking controls permanent and enforceable. This approach is not uncommon in Town Centres (where the problem is continuous). Enforcement could then be carried out by the County Council’s on-street parking contractor as well as by the police. Although the contractor would need to be paid to work on a Saturday afternoon, any fines could be used to offset part of the cost.
A TRO would cost a significant amount of money to put in place and would require the support of the County Highways department. In the past County Highways officials have been reluctant to support permanent controls for a problem which only occurs on 23 days each year, but with the expected increase in travelling fans this may change. The County Council has a duty to ensure that the highway system functions reasonably. The Parish Council feels that protecting the visibility splays of junctions and preventing parking at bus stops will allow the roads to work, even with parking on both sides (effectively the road would become a single lane with passing places). It is hoped that this would also allow the buses to run properly. The Club was asked if it would be willing to contribute towards the cost of setting up a TRO and whether it would be willing to be “the applicant” because this was felt to be important, not least in influencing fan support and overcoming County Council/Police concerns. Mr Hillier said that with the recent departure of YTFCs Chief Executive, he would now have to ask the Chairman before he could commit the Club on either.
The meeting concluded by considering what could be done to influence fan behaviour. I have already mentioned that YTFC are trying to persuade as many away fans as possible to arrive by coach. The meeting also discussed using the Huish Park tannoy, printed programmes and local media coverage (especially the Western Gazette, BBC Somerset and social networks) to try to influence behaviour. Although this wouldn’t address the attractiveness of parking at the Club, we could encourage locals to walk in, reducing overall traffic (especially post-match). We could also encourage car-sharing (the meeting considered whether that could be incentivised, but we couldn’t think of a good way). The meeting agreed that it was important that the same message went out on all channels, to get the best effect. It was pointed out that campaigning would be unlikely to affect the behaviour of away fans, so it might have no effect on the on-road parking problem.
The group agreed to co-ordinate the message that went out ahead of early matches and to meet again at YTFC at 7pm on 27th August.
To summarise: Your local councillors (Parish, District and County) are working together with YTFC to try to reduce the match day problems, but we recognise that any fix is dependent on help from the Police and from County Highways. The councils’ main concerns are:
The key messages to supporters are:
Peter Seib 18/07/2013