– A District Councillor Perspective

Reflections on Coming to Terms with the Loss of Coach Parking Provision in our Village – A District Councillor Perspective

As you will probably know by now, the Parish Council has taken the decision to seek to extend the existing restriction on coaches entering the main centre of the Village due to the lack of any managed provision for coaches to park. This decision was taken in the interests of the health and safety of residents and visitors, and to improve traffic flow for all. Our infrastructure just can’t deal with the numbers of modern coaches that have typically turned up each day in peak season. The roads aren’t wide enough. The bends in our roads are too tight.

The recent incident at the CO-OP petrol station on Station Road where a pump was partially knocked over by a is a chilling reminder of the potential risk of allowing coaches into Bourton without without any management.

As Parish Council minutes record, I have actively been seeking to establish what position the Parish Council would take, if no solution to the loss of coach parking could be found, for over 6 months now. And finally, we now have plan B.

As District Councillor for Bourton Village, I thought it might be helpful to reflect on how we got here and what happens next.

‘We’ in one sense refers to the whole community, because we are in this together, whether we like it or not. In another sense, ‘we’ refers to the Stakeholder group of Cotswold District Council, Gloucestershire County Council, the Parish Council, the Police, the Cotswold School, Bourton Business Network and Bourton Vale Car Parking. This is the group who have met regularly, over the last 18 months or more, working hard to find a solution to Bourton Vale Car Park’s decision to stop coach parking provision from December 2023.

 ImpracticalityUnaffordabilityImpact on safety/health
Cotswold School coach parking or drop-off+pick-upHighHighHigh
Rissington Road Car Park coach parking or drop-off+pick-upHighHighHigh (Number of coach movements around Post-Office corner and narrowness of Rissington Road when turning in, plus entrance opposite Cricket Club.)
George Moore Community Centre Car Park coach parking or drop-off+pick-upHigh (Car parking spaces are required by legal agreement with the NHS for health workers, and also for employees and people using the Community Centre.)Medium?High (Car Park is at the busy junction of Moore Road and Station Road.)
Station Road drop-off+pick-upHigh (Very unpopular with businesses and residents that would have been negatively affected.)MediumHigh
High St/Lansdowne drop-off+pick-up (Where there is free car parking in front of the manor.) An option put forward by several individuals on a private basis and which was withdrawn.HighHighHigh
Rissington Road (beyond pumping station) turning circle drop-off+pick-upHighHighMedium (No. of journeys around post-office corner.)
Industrial Estate coach parkingOnly available for 1 year and only works with a drop-off+pick-up solutionLow (BBN prepared to fund)Medium (Increased movements of coaches at Station Road traffic lights and industrial estate junction.)
Manor Fields and the Cricket Club have also been mentioned as possible options but were pretty quickly ruled out.

Of course, it saddens me to think that some businesses may suffer because of the loss of visitors to the village who come by coach (which represents typically just less than 5% of total village footfall). I know the hospitality industry, in particular, has been having a really tough time, across the UK, as result of austerity, Brexit, COVID and the Cost-of-Living crisis. It also saddens me that some people who don’t have a car, or who are unable to drive, are left with the options of minibus or a combination of rail and bus to get to see Bourton. But we have to look after the interests of our community, and I know many residents already feel that tourism is over-emphasised to the detriment of village life, to the extent that they stay away from their village centre during peak times. Getting the balance right clearly means taking uncomfortable decisions.

Many believe, as do I, that it is time to take a stand on behalf of residents who want to feel safe on the roads and pavements and who also want to be able to go into the centre of the village without feeling that the natural and social environment of Bourton is being sacrificed for over-tourism. This is why they have welcomed the decision taken by the Parish Council.

What Happens Next?

The Highways Committee of the Parish Council will now work out how best to enact a new TRO in conjunction with GCC Highways. The coach industry is being made aware of the intention to extend the restriction. And the Police and GCC Highways are working out how best to manage the situation on the ground until any restriction comes into force. There’s still a lot of work to do and the summer of 2024 may prove challenging.

Looking to the future, how would it be to see greater emphasis on tourism in the North Cotswolds by Rail to maximise the use of Moreton-in-Marsh station and generate greater demand for the local buses? More demand could lead to greater frequency and a more usable local service for residents – a positive outcome to reduce car trips all round. I think we’d all like to see less cars in Bourton!

Ultimately, looking further ahead, might we see located off the Northleach roundabout on the A40 the kind of park and ride scheme, that we see around Oxford and Cheltenham, to serve visitors to the rural communities of the North Cotswolds? I’m pushing these suggestions for consideration for inclusion in the Local Plan.

Debate, Not Hate

Finally, I want to extend my thanks to my fellow District Councillor for Bourton Vale, Cllr Len Wilkins, who has been totally supportive of taking a whole community perspective, rather than a political one, to this issue.

The abuse that many of my fellow local Councillors have been receiving as a consequence of the coach parking issue is really sickening. There is simply no place for this kind of extreme and intolerant behaviour. It’s okay to have an opinion. It’s okay to disagree with someone’s opinion. It’s not okay to humiliate or abuse them because they don’t think the same way you do.

Part of the problem here is not being in full possession of the facts. In many of the conversations I have had with residents, it’s clear that a lot of people only have a part of the picture. I recognise the passion and frustration that leads to selective presentation of information and deliberate misinformation that comes from those not bound by a Code of Conduct or the Nolan Principles in public life. But everyone has a responsibility not to stoke up conflict and hate in their communication.

If you have any considered and constructive suggestions on how to more effectively and harmoniously manage the visitors who come to enjoy the beautiful part of the world we live in, please do let me know.

Jon Wareing, District Councillor, Bourton Village Ward

[1] These businesses employ by far the bigger proportion of local people than the visitor economy in the centre of the village. This is not to suggest that tourism is not important, just that it is not the only ‘game in town’ and this has frequently been overlooked.