City centre road closures are blocking ambulances, meeting hears
- Credit: Matt Adams
Paramedics responding to emergencies are being hampered by road closures in St Albans city centre, councillors have heard.
One paramedic described it as "a nightmare".
Parts of Market Place, High Street and George Street were closed at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to allow social distancing.
Herts county council is now considering keeping them closed to make space for markets and al fresco dining.
But concerns have been raised over safety and over alleged flaws in a consultation, which an IT expert said had been “open to fraud”.
The final decision will be made in a private meeting by county councillors, civil servants and the Business Improvement District (BID).
Last Wednesday (September 15) civil servant Rupert Thacker said ambulances were being affected by congestion since the closures.
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“They have raised issues about general congestion, but that is on routes that are both directly affected and potentially indirectly affected by the measures within the city centre,” he said.
He said sat-navs were also not aware of the closures, “which has potentially caused them some challenges in terms of getting to locations quickly enough”.
A meeting last month heard paramedics were forced to abandon an ambulance and carry equipment into the city centre as they could not get through High Street.
Another crew was delayed in attending to a child in anaphylactic shock.
Conservative councillor Annie Brewster told the meeting: “I have spoken to the ambulance service again this week.
"At the moment they can’t get to the places they could get to in eight minutes, because of the displaced traffic. So that’s a real health and safety, life and death issue.”
The police and fire services said they had not yet faced any delays.
The meeting also heard that roughly 1,000 people left comments on an online consultation – but residents have been banned from knowing what they said.
Mr Thacker said civil servants forgot to tell respondents that their answers might be shared, so data officers had blocked their release.
County Hall said: “This was not our intention and is due to an oversight on our part for which we apologise.”
In the meantime, councillors have only been given broad numbers for what residents wrote about.
The most common issue raised in the comments was “traffic and congestion”, cited by 562 people.
There were 81 comments saying the closures were good for businesses and 83 saying they were bad for businesses.
Businessman John Singleton – founder of IT firm Hertscom and chairman of the St Albans Round Table – said he believed the survey was “completely invalidated” by the data error.
He said his business was being impacted by resulting congestion, tripling journey times and forcing “massive detours”.
“They were originally closed for health reasons and asking to keep them closed on, I think, questionable grounds requires particular scrutiny – and I’m not convinced it’s getting that scrutiny,” he said.
“We have decisions behind closed doors, based on data that can’t be made public. That is not British democracy.”
“Open to fraud”
Mr Singleton said the survey had not been publicised widely enough, as only those living within 200 metres of the closures received written notice.
He said: “Those are the people least likely to be affected, because they can just walk.
“The people most affected by this are people who drive to St Albans to work, do their shopping, spend their money. I worry that it’s such a pain that they will go elsewhere. People are avoiding it.”
He added that in his expert opinion, the online survey had been “massively open to fraud”.
"There was no verification," he said. “You could fill it in and submit it, as far as I could see, as many times as you liked."
Mr Singleton said he had raised this concern with the council and received no satisfactory answer.
We asked County Hall about Mr Singleton’s concerns but it did not reply.
A county council spokesperson said the authority was “engaging with the local community to gauge how much support there is for this idea."
“We have received representations from a number of residents groups that appear to support the measures and others who are against, and we’re in the process of engaging with them, and the local county councillor, to make sure we fully understand their views,” they added.