Pedestrian guard rails being removed in Haywards Heath

Haywards Heath Guard Rail removal March 2014. Area J - Sussex Square/South Road. Pic steve robards SUS-140303-220604001
Haywards Heath Guard Rail removal March 2014. Area J - Sussex Square/South Road. Pic steve robards SUS-140303-220604001

They are unsightly, drab, and grey, and this week work starts to remove most of the pedestrian guard rails in Haywards Heath town centre.

They are unsightly, drab, and grey, and this week work starts to remove most of the pedestrian guard rails in Haywards Heath town centre.

The town council is championing the move while West Sussex County Council has contracted the work and is picking up the £9,300 tab.

Metal safety barriers will be dismantled and not replaced in Commercial Square, Muster Green, South Road and Sussex Road, although some limited stretches will remain in situ.

The railings removal is part of a wider scheme called the Haywards Heath Greening Project being taken forward by Haywards Heath Town Council in conjunction with County Hall and consultants.

Totally funded by the latter, the project has already seen the removal of more than 30 pieces of unwanted or damaged street furniture.

But this latest bid to remove guard railings is proving more controversial, with many questioning if it is safe to remove safety barriers?

Leader of the Town Council Cllr Mike Puffer set the project in its context, explaining how the usage of South Road will change considerably when the relief road opens (see p19), redirecting some eight million traffic movements from the town centre each year.

“This gives a great opportunity to make the town centre more attractive and a better place for pedestrians,” said the civic leader.

However, many pedestrians we spoke to walking along South Road on Tuesday remained to be convinced.

“So they are getting rid of them to make it more aesthetically pleasing,” said Juliet Johnson from Wiveslfield.

“But then they won’t be able to have the plants on there,” she added, looking a little perplexed and pointing to the colourful spring displays beginning to bloom in planters mounted on the railings.

“I think it looks nice with all the flowers,” added her sister Gemma Rogers. “I really don’t understand why they are doing it.”

Joining a growing consensus on the street, they both went on to say that safety was their biggest concern though.

Sue Simpson, of Heath Road, pushing her little girl Imogen in her pram, agreed.

“I don’t think its a good idea,” she said. “As a mother with a little one sometimes you need a bit of safety when you are waiting for the cars – I think they should keep them.”

Grandad Colin Hedge, of Oathall Road, out with his twin grandchildren Pippa and Shannon, also thought they should stay.

His daughter Kimberley Golding added: “It’s about safety.

“If they are taken away you are going to have kids run out in front of you and there are going to be accidents.”

Cllr Puffer refuted these concerns and wanted to reassure residents that railings were only being removed ‘following consultation, independent safety audits and approval by West Sussex County Council as the Highways Authority’.

The county council signed off the removal of guard rails in March 2012, after producing a document called Haywards Heath Green Project Guard Rail Removal Appraisal.

perceived not actual risk

Discussing ‘pedestrian guard rail’, it states: “While many studies have recognised that used appropriately it can successfully reduce the risk for vulnerable road users, it has been over used in the past and provided at locations to address perceived rather than actual risk.”

It continues to cite various policy developments in recent years that have challenged convention.

However, it does also stipulate where some guard rails are deemed to be necessary and will be retained, such as a run of four rails on South Road at the entrance of the Orchards shopping centre and the south east corner of the Sussex Road roundabout where the curb is raised and identified as a trip hazard.

Clive Layton has run music and guitar shop Rockability on the junction for seven years.

He said: “I have seen about six people hit by cars and that is where it is considered safe to cross.”

The musician said he was concerned that when railings were removed elsewhere in the town people would try to cross at any point.

Trevor Stenning, from The Pantry in Commercial Square, raised similar worries.

He said: “Not only are we going to be having people crossing the road where ever they want, but if they take the railings out, when cars turn right in to Queens Road, they are going to start coming up on the pavement.

“And we have lots of kids going across, and they now have to cross where the barriers are, but if we take them out they are going to be crossing the road on the double junction at Queens Road.

He added lorries would be able to cut the corner too and pose a risk to those on the pavement.

“It is just going to be farcical, and unsafe,” he said. “I think its a disgrace.”

Back at the other end of town Mr Layton was also equally unimpressed.

“Railing are there for a reason,” he said.

“If they were replacing them with something more elegant I could understand that, but if they are just simply taking them down I think that is foolish.

“Someone might lose control and all of a sudden instead of bouncing off the railing someone might get hit by a car

“One of my friends fell off his motorcycle on this roundabout once because of spilt diesel and his bike just clattered into the railings.

“What if it had slid up the curb and in to a little old lady?” he questioned.

Addressing safety concerns, Cllr Puffer stated: “Records show that in town centres which are devoid of railings, there is not any evidence of increased accidents or injury.

“Pedestrians already cross roads where they see it is safe and we are sure that they will continue to move around safely in the town centre areas.

“This and other road improvements are referred to in the HHTC Neighbourhood plan,” added the council leader.