A council leader has apologised for a £1.3 million seafront redesign which saw a cycle lane and wiggly markings installed and attracted criticism from a campaign group who said the "Mickey Mouse" road layout had made them the "laughing stock of the nation", an independent review now recommending major changes to the design.
North Somerset Council's changes to Clevedon seafront caused uproar from some sections of the town, campaigners holding multiple headline-grabbing protests over the new road layout, which they said made the seaside town like "Balamory from hell". In January, the 'Save Our Seafront' campaign organised a conga line protest demanding action, while in April a "flash mob" to block the bike lane with cars followed.
The scheme's eye-catching design caused national media coverage, with the RAC describing it as one of the "most bizarre new road schemes", and to a backdrop of complaints about the "crazy" design, wavy lines, two-way cycle lane, and loss of parking, the council agreed to an independent review into the scheme which ITV reports was £1.1 million overbudget.
The council had originally suggested the scheme would improve safety, encourage active travel and reduce unwanted parking, however the local authority's leader Mike Bell has now apologised and said it was a "big mistake".
During the review, infrastructure consulting firm AECOM heard the views of thousands of people, concluding in its recommendations that the two-way cycle lane should be removed and replaced with a contraflow lane on the eastern side of The Beach, the town's seafront road.
It also recommended restoring the sea-facing parking, creating a pedestrian crossing, changing the mini roundabout, introducing a coach pick-up and drop-off bay, as well as retaining the one-way system and 20mph speed limit.
"We got it wrong"
Speaking following the review, council leader Bell said the council had "got it wrong" and the scheme, which will cost an estimated further £375,000 to fix, was a "big mistake".
"We'll have to try to find the money — it's not going to be easy, but we will try to do that," he said. "The big mistake was that we implemented a scheme that wasn't supported by the community and I'm really sorry that happened.
"We didn't get the consultation and engagement right, it took place during the Covid pandemic and, as a result, we've delivered a scheme that didn't work for people. We're under immense financial pressure, as are all councils. I would not wish to be in this position if we could have avoided it.
"But the right thing to do is to try to deliver some changes and deliver a scheme that works for the people of Clevedon and that's what we're going to try to do."
The comments mark the end of an 11-month period of protests and campaigning following the unveiling of the new layout in January, pictures of the "wiggly line" design appearing across the media and social media.
While a public consultation found that 50 per cent of locals supported the plans, compared to 42 per cent who opposed the scheme, since the initiative was announced 'Save Our Seafront' has led a high-profile campaign against the redevelopment and penned a petition to the council which attracted over 6,000 signatures.
The Conservative MP for North Somerset and former cabinet minister Liam Fox was among the locals opposed to the measures, and in early 2023 tweeted that "huge numbers" joined a protest "on a cold and windy January day against North Somerset Council's plans to destroy our seafront with a cycle lane that is neither needed, wanted, nor a good use of scarce resources."
Weeks after its unveiling, campaigners formed a conga line to protest the scheme before, in April, they formed a parking "flash mob" to block the cycle lane and park vehicles in the old layout, facing out to sea.
Campaign group member Chris Berry said dozens of drivers had parked in the cycle lane in protest at the "monstrosity" as a "peaceful parking flash mob".
"I can see about 40 cars all enjoying the view of the sea," he said. "These aren't people who are accustomed to civil disobedience; these are people who feel incredibly strongly about what's happened to their sea front. If you reduce the number of cars, you reduce the number of visitors and reduce the amount of money coming into the town.
"Businesses unfortunately are struggling — the reduction in parking is going to have a significant impact on them."
Speaking at the time, one local cyclist explained how the row had seen the town to become "very anti-cyclist", while another said the campaigners were "disproportionately vocal" and the protest is "completely misplaced because people can't see what the future could be".
"It's the car lobby that is ruling the roost and I think that's wrong," Howard Parker said. "[The campaigners] have to recognise that if they want parking they're going to have to park round the corner and that's not such a big imposition."
Ultimately that does not seem as though it will be the case, the council expected to follow the recommendations of the review. That despite previously stating that it wants to reduce driving visits and "encourage more walking and cycling in the town" as part of a "commitment to promoting healthier lifestyles and tackling the climate emergency".
Just three months later, in July, the independent review was announced as the council pledged to review the scheme and arrange "a number of pieces of work as part of the process".
Dan joined road.cc in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining road.cc, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.