THE GREAT PARKING DEBATE

Neil Crooks pictured on Kirkcaldy High Street
Neil Crooks pictured on Kirkcaldy High Street
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THE centre of the High Street has been pedestrianised since the 1980s - but it has never been entirely free of cars.

If anything, the difficult balancing act of giving access to Blue Badge holders and deliviery lorries, while keeping people safe as they wander along the street has become more of a problem.

The most recent attempts to find a solution simply exacerbated matters, so now Fife Council is seeking to sort it out once and for all.

A new consultation process has started and three options are being put up for public comment.

The views will then go back to Kirkcaldy Area Committee when a decision will be taken on the way ahead.

Councillor Neil Crooks, committee chairman, is anxious to avoid repeating the mistakes in 2011 which sparked such controversy last year when Blue Badge holders were limted to just one hour in the pedestrianised zone.

‘‘That just wasn’t suitable for people with disabilities who had to get up, into the town, go about their business and be out again within an hour.’’

‘‘That isn’t acceptable to me as chairman, to councillors or officers.

‘‘With this new consultation I am very anxious not to make the same mistakes again when the previous area committee came up with ideas how to tackle the issue rather than go and ask people what they wanted.

‘‘I want to do things differently.

‘‘We want to get a feel for public opinion. We are elected to represent the people and we have to listen to them - and we should not be afraid of what they have to say.’’

The way the High Street has been shaped over the decades means there are no simple solutions - more than one peson has said that if you wanted to create a town centre from scratch you wouldn’t use the current model.

Solution

A solution has to take into account the needs of disabled people, residents living in the area, retailers and business, and shoppers.

Blue Badge holders, many of whom have mobility problems, cannot use many of the alternative car parks Fife Council highlighted after it closed Tolbooth Street - by far the most popular and easily accessible car park - to build the town’s new swimming pool.

As a result, the number of vehicles driving into the pedestrianised zone has, anecdotally, increased - there are days when cars line the length of the zone from the former McDonald’s to Burtons.

‘‘We know that this is a very important issue for the town,’’ added Cllr Crooks.

‘‘It has generated a lot of debate and we need to look at this again to find a solution that will meet the needs of everyone who uses the High Street.

“Although it is a pedestrianised zone, lots of people including residents, blue badge holders, pedestrians and businesses need access.’’

Cllr Crooks and key officers have already met with disabled groups to explore the issue further, and work on possible solutions.

‘‘We met with the Access 4 All group before the election and they presented information to us we had not seen before,’’ he said.

‘‘We also met with local businesses to see if a consensus exists because we want to avoid creating anxiety for the community about changes to access, particularly for people with disabilities.

‘‘We understand and recognise people had very strong views on this issue last time and we felt it was important to work together to find a solution.

“However, it is also important the council gathers the views of as many people as possible before considering any changes to the current arrangements and while we have considerable data provided through the transport regulation order consultation we can’t have too much input on such key decisions.”

The outcome is a choice of three options which take into account the access needs of all groups.

People taking part in the survey are asked to rank them in order of preference - but they can also come up with their own suggestions.