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Frustration as local views yet to be heard while Highland Council agrees to keep controversial traffic islands

By Scott Maclennan

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Councillors Graham MacKenzie and Councillor Margaret Paterson at one of the controversial traffic islands on Dingwall's Back Road.
Councillors Graham MacKenzie and Councillor Margaret Paterson at one of the controversial traffic islands on Dingwall's Back Road.

CONTROVERSIAL traffic-calming measures are to remain in place in a Ross-shire town, despite concerns they are a “menace”.

Members of Highland Council’s Black Isle, Dingwall and Seaforth Committee, agreed this week to retain two traffic islands on a key commuter route for the town, along with a 20mph speed limit, which has largely been accepted.

This is despite claims by residents that the islands – on the town’s Back Road leading to Evanton and in front of the police station – cause regular tailbacks and are a safety hazard.

A report before councillors contained details of a site visit carried out in August in response to concerns about visibility on the approach to one of the islands and said: “There were no observed issues that would suggest drivers were having difficulty negotiating the island.”

However, Dingwall councillor Margaret Paterson said she was in no doubt there are problems on the road and that she has personally been told about, and observed, a number of near misses.

At the committee on Tuesday, she demanded that her dissent for the proposal to continue with the islands be officially recorded.

“I am really not in favour of them where they are now, and people that have talked to me about them are really genuinely worried there might be an accident,” she said.

“The council should have listened to the locals who use these roads on a daily basis. I am very disappointed in the decision that was taken.”

Ward colleague Councillor Graham Mackenzie said he was also disappointed that the matter had gone to the wider area committee rather than being decided at a local level, by those in the know.

“The traffic islands have caused quite a lot of upset in the town and there are serious concerns about where they are located,” he said.

“I would like this to go to full public consultation as soon as possible.

“I think the people of Dingwall should have their voices heard.

“One problem in all this is that there are places in Dingwall that could greatly benefit from enhanced traffic-calming measures, I am just not certain that these islands have been put in the best places.”

The islands and 20mph limit were being planned by the council as far back as 2018, with a public consultation “paused” earlier this year when coronavirus lockdown restrictions were imposed.

The scheme was then implemented without further consultation using Scottish Government Spaces for People funding, provided to traffic schemes that support social distancing and encourage walking, wheeling and cycling.

A temporary traffic regulation order governing the scheme runs for 18 months.

Cllr Mackenzie said he would be “content” for the traffic-calming measures to remain in place “until such time as we can see how they operate when there is a normal number of vehicles on the road.”

He said coronavirus restrictions meant traffic in the town was still below pre-outbreak levels.

It has also been claimed that because it has been many years since there was any kind of crash in the vicinity of the two traffic islands there are better locations for speed calming measures.

Chairman of Dingwall Community Council, Jack Shepherd, also called for further consultation after the committee’s decision.

“I hope the council listens to the people of Dingwall over this,” he said.

“We are not against traffic control measures, but these traffic islands are a problem.

“Restrictions in the right place are a good thing, in the wrong place they could be a menace. These islands are in the wrong place.

“They were unpopular from the beginning with locals, for very good reasons – they pose a potential danger.

“In the case of the Back Road, the island is essentially on a blind corner.”

While he said the 20mph limit had been welcomed by many people he added: “There should have been much more consultation with people in the town before this was done.

“I hope this still happens because there are places that these islands could be good.”

Two other Dingwall and Seaforth ward councillors, Alister Mackinnon and Angela Maclean, were both supportive of the measures.

Cllr Mackinnon said: "Many residents live to the north west of Back Road and nearby Maggie’s Wood is a popular place for people to enjoy a walk.

"Before the temporary 20mph restriction 60 per cent of vehicles were recorded as exceeding the speed limit so I am glad about the decision taken today as I feel it will certainly improve safety.”

Cllr Maclean said: “We have the ideal opportunity to not only improve the safety of walkers, cyclists and wheelchair users, especially the primary and secondary pupils that use the Back Road route regularly, but this also ties in with the council’s commitment to climate change and cutting emissions.

“It is all about getting people out of their cars with the confidence that they can travel around safely.

"Public safety must be paramount. Car drivers need to slow down and by having the 20mph limit as well as the traffic calming measures this clearly reinforces the need to be aware of all other road users.”

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