Devon residents breathed a sigh of relief as the long and costly battle to reverse the council’s change of direction in traffic in Totnes finally came to an end this week—but with the local taxpayer being the ultimate loser.
Devon County Council (DCC) reversed the flow of traffic through Totnes High Street in 2013 to supposedly make the town safer and greener but the result was traffic chaos with a negative impact on local shops. A no-entry sign barred access to the High Street, cutting the number of cars entering the shopping centre.
Furious that the traffic changes were discouraging customers and costing them money, Totnes traders launched a legal action against DCC. Local celebrities, including Jonathan Dimbleby, marched in support of them. "We had a big loss in sales as a result of the changes. It’s been quite devastating," said one shopkeeper. The traders claimed that at least 20 businesses had closed because of the drop in business.
Digging deep in taxpayers’ pickets, the Council fought the traders all the way. In March, the High Court quashed the Council’s original decision to reverse the traffic flow. The Council appealed, spending more taxpayers’ money, but this week a judge at Exeter County Court said they could not appeal.
The judge ordered the council to pay 70% of the costs of the traders’ action group, estimated at £57,000. That is on top of the considerable legal fees racked up by the Council itself, so a total of at least £100,000 of taxpayers’ money spent on battling the town’s own traders. That, of course, is in addition to the cost of changing the traffic flow in the first place and then putting it back to the way it was. The judge ruled that the original traffic order was unlawful because DCC should have conducted a public enquiry into its potential impact on local transport and businesses.
What a colossal waste of time and taxpayers’ money! When will Councils stop meddling in town centres—without first consulting the shopkeepers whose livelihoods these ill thought out transport schemes effect?
Tim Newark, South West TaxPayers’ Alliance