Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Skelmersdale - the Lancashire town designed with motorists in mind

THERE'S a cruel irony in efforts to reunite Skelmersdale with the nation's rail network. It is, for better or worse, a New Town made with motorists in mind.

I got thinking about this the other day as I drove one of the Champion's Renault Meganes towards the Concourse centre, where I'd be quizzing Maria Eagle, the shadow transport minister, on her support for a new town train station. Skem has many things to reccommend about it, but its transport links for non-motorists isn't one of them. The government of the day designed the New Town for the age of the car, and it shows.

In many ways it's brilliant when you're behind the wheel. There are, as far as I know, absolutely no traffic lights, the dozens of roundabouts are all well signposted and offer plenty of visibility, and thanks to the town planners' liberal use of bridges and underpasses there's very little risk of a zebra crossing getting in your way. It's also right next to the motorway network, meaning that unlike the residents of Southport, Skemmers don't have to drive through miles of farmland to reach the motorway.

But it's also the only place in the north west where I still regularly get lost, because once you drive in there's something weirdly disorientating about the road layout. Yes, there are plenty of roundabouts and wide, open roads, but when you're a non-native venturing about in a car which isn't yours it's all too easy to lose your bearings.

Yet the most obvious giveaway that Skem's New Town was designed in another era is when you pull into the multi-storey at the town's shopping centre, because it was clearly designed for a world when everyone drove around in Cortinas and Austin 1100s. The Megane's by no means a big car, but threading it through some of the building's tighter turns somehow transformed it into a Humvee with widened wheelarches.

It's weird; Skem has clearly been redesigned with the motorist in mind, yet driving around it always demands a fraction more concentration because it has a road network quite unlike any other in the north west. Next time I think, I think I'll leave the Megane parked up and get the train in instead.

Oh wait...

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