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A Long Division?

A Long Division?Something very odd is going on in the outer reaches of Fylde.

St Anne's long standing northern boundary with Blackpool is (Squires Gate Lane and) Division Lane - which runs from Queensway (just before Trebaron Garden Centre) up to Wild Lane (also known and 'the Moss Road').

Today, Division Lane is a narrow carriageway with some fairly recent properties that are of impressive scale.

The houses on the Fylde side are in St Annes (Fylde Borough) and the houses on the other side are in Marton (Blackpool Borough). We think the actual boundary is the ditch line which runs along the right hand side of Division Lane from the Queensway end.

That's because in 1606 Cuthbert Clifton bought the Lytham Estate and by 1609 there was agreement on the division of what was then common land between the manors of Lytham and Layton (as what would become Blackpool was then called). This involved the founding of the boundary by digging a drainage ditch on Lytham Moss in the vicinity of what is now 'Division Lane' to separate Lytham and Marton Moss.

In 1611 the first Manorial Court was held for the Manor of Lytham naming who would must work on the moss. This included work to maintain the watercourses and attempts to stabilise the sand dunes with star grass planting. The Court also set out the turbary rights this was the right and duty to cut turf for fuel and other uses both for the individuals and as a manorial service to provide turf for the Clifton family.

This spot was also the scene of what our friend and local historian Arnold Sumner speaks of as the 'Battle of Mad Nook' which - after a glass or two of ale - is a tale he can tell you about a conflagration between youths from both Layton and Lytham over claims to salvage from an early shipwreck on the seaward end of the boundary as the division 'ran out to sea'.

So, Division Lane marks both the ancient boundary, and today, it is the scene of another skirmish, if not a battle.

Regular readers will know that the proposed Queensway development is supposed to fund a replacement for Wild Land - a new Moss Road - running alongside the present Wild Lane which is due to become a bridalway and cycleway.

But before that could happen, parts of the Wild Lane collapsed into the side ditches, and the Highway Authority for the area (Lancashire County Council) closed it because they said the northern section was too dangerous for traffic to use.

They don't want to spend (or haven't got) the money to repair it - especially when a new road is expected to replace it, so they closed the road.

This has led to pressure from local people to re-open it because the additional traffic (which is supposed to use Queensway and Clifton Drive North) is causing bottlenecks.

But as well as those routes, some motorists are using the southern section of Wild Lane from Cypress Point up to its junction with the top of Division Lane, then turning left into Division Lane for a short stretch before turning right into Midgeland Road and crossing School lane to the extension of Squires Gate Lane and the M55 Motorway.

Perhaps a map would be helpful

Map
Click to enlarge

A month ago we published 'Moss Road' where the Government had made some funds available that it hoped would lead to the construction of the new Moss Road. We said at the time we were less sure it would happen and we were hearing about a 'Plan B' - in which the County Council was arguing for a smaller sum to repair the northern part of Wild Lane (or to build just the first section of the new road) from Cropper Manor Roundabout to Division Lane.

We concluded that article by saying "As an aside, we're also hearing stories about more road closures in the Division Lane area, and we suspect there will be upset over some of them. We believe an announcement on this matter is due soon."

Sure enough the following week, Lancashire County Council announced it was going to close the top section of Division Lane (from Wild Lane to Midgeland Road).

The argument was that the carriageway on that section (which had seen a lot more traffic) had become unsafe to use. There were also complaints from properties on Midgeland Road about it having become a 'rat run'

(Personally we don't have much sympathy with that. It's a road funded from everyone's taxes like any other road, and albeit more a 'lane' than a 'road' in our book that means it is and should remain open for use by anyone that funds it).

However, we heard Blackpool was pushing the County Council very hard to have Midgeland Road closed.

We've not seen this said in public, but we heard it from reliable sources.

Furthermore, just as threats of closure of the top of Division Lane emerged, it was rumoured that LCC were also going to close off Midgeland Road at its junction with Division Lane as well.

We're pretty much opposed to that idea, partly for the reasons above and partly because there are businesses along Midgeland Rod that would be affected if it turned into a cul-de-sac. (For example, you don't have to be a genius to work out that less people from Lytham St Annes would want the hassle of having to go to and up School Lane to the 'other end of Midgeland road' only to turn back on themselves to reach the Garage - or whatever business they were wanting)

Also, we've never seen a closure notice published for Midgeland Road (and we've been looking out for it)

That said, some believe the ambiguously worded closure notice for the top part of Division Lane also covered closing Midgeland Road.

So whether LCC thinks it has the authority to close Midgeland Road as well, we're not sure. We suspect a court would find that the notice was not sufficiently clear because it said the proposed closure was of "Division Lane in Fylde Borough between its junction with North Houses/Wild Lane and Midgeland Road...." and we can't see that justifying the closure of Midgeland Road as well. Nor would that description have given those of us who might want to object to it the opportunity and the information to do so

If it happened, this would have resulted in Division Lane becoming a cul-de-sac to through traffic which could enter at Queensway, but would have to turn around by the RSPCA centre at the Midgeland Road junction and come back to Queensway.

But LCC's highway officers insisted that the top section of Division Lane WAS going to close because they had no money to repair the carriageway, and the published closure notice said it would be closed from this Monday (18 August) - UNTIL FEBRUARY 2016.

Yes really!

We thought that was distinctly odd. Surely it couldn't take a year and a half to find the money to patch up a road surface that was not much more than a couple of hundred yards long?

So that was the first oddity.

LCC's Sim Lane Dixon told the Gazette "Although we've applied for an 18 month closure we don't expect the work to take that long" adding that they hadn't decided what they were going to do and "To avoid making repeat applications for short term closure and to same on advertising and legal costs, an 18 month closure was agreed"

Our response to that begins with B and ends with ollocks.

What a load of tosh that is. Something distinctly fishy was going on here.

Then, in a complete volte-face a few days later, LCC announced they had, in fact, found the money to repair the top section of Division Lane.

So they were going to close it on Monday, but they would do the work then re-open it straight away.

This led to the absurd situation of reports in this weeks Express with Mr Lane Dixon saying it would be closed for up to six weeks whilst carriageway repairs were undertaken, and it would be open again with a posh new surface for September, immediately next to a statement from County Cllr Paul Hayhurst saying that the [18 month] closure was just what was needed because it would help to help put pressure on LCC to get the REAL cause of the problem resolved, and that meant them fixing - or replacing - the section of Wild Lane from Division Lane to the Cropper Manor roundabout.

We imagine Cllr Hayhurst would not be too excited about being shown up in this way by the County Council backtracking on its 18 month closure plan without (apparently) keep him in the picture as to what was going on.

But then we moved into the realms of fantasy (or at least pantomime).

Readers can now get ready with cries of "Oh No they didn't did they?"

A phone call to find out what was going on was made to Mr Lane Dixon. He had gone on holiday. But a colleague told the caller not to worry because he was sure they would NOT be repairing and opening the short section of Division lane in six weeks. The newspaper must have got hold of the wrong end of the stick. It would be closed for 18 months.

That was in the morning.

In the afternoon, he rang back to say Sorry, he was wrong with the earlier information. The top of Division Lane was going to be closed on Monday, as was Midgeland Road at its junction with Division Lane, and traffic would soon be able to come from Wild Lane/Moss Road down Division Lane again to Midgeland Road, but the Midgeland road closure would stay in effect - meaning all the traffic would have to come down Division Lane and exit onto Queensway!

Utter madness.

It's also why, (we suspect) that in the last couple of days, much of the undergrowth and trees at the exit of Division Lane onto Queensway has been savagely cut back to create a better sight line for traffic attempting to join Queensway.

As readers might gather, one or two of the folk on Division Lane itself were not best pleased (actually we understand that's pretty much all of them) because what has been a country lane was about to become much busier as traffic from Lytham and Cypress Point went along Wild Lane, turned left into a newly surfaced top end of Division Lane, found they couldn't turn right into Midgeland Road and were forced to go all the way to Queensway where they would have to fight to join the rush hour traffic.

You can see how the idea of angry and frustrated drivers - maybe late for work - would not improve road safety along the main part of Division Lane (where there are no footpaths and where horses and cyclists are often found).

To be honest, our suggestion of them being "not best pleased' is probably a bit of an understatement.

They were hopping mad.

A council of war was held at one house last Wednesday.

We understand Cllr Hayhurst (whose Fylde West County Council Ward includes Wild lane and the top of Division Lane) was invited and attended, and Cllr Fabian Craig Wilson - (whose County ward of St Annes South (strangely) includes the houses on Fylde's Northern Boundary in the main part of Division Lane - was also invited but was unable to attend).

One resident in particular was so incensed, that they have put aside something like 50,000 to fund a judicial review of the County Council's decision, and instructed solicitors to contact LCC to advise them of this matter.

We said there were some impressive sized properties on Division Lane didn't we ;-))

In true 'Punch and Judy' style, we have to say well done!  'That's the way to do it'

And it did.

That got the matter straight through to the LCC's Highway Cabinet Portfolio Holder - Cllr John Fillis (of Skelmersdale)

(after the change of political party at the last election, Cllr Fillis took over the Highways job from Dim Tim - and DT's numerate relative who had calculated the 20mph schemes across Lancashire - Dim Sum).

Cllr Fillis replied to say he had not seen the site himself and wanted to do so before any action was taken. So he changed the decision for the third time in one day, postponed any closure, and, we understand, he is making arrangements to visit.

Meanwhile the Division Lane Support Group are holding their second meeting tomorrow evening (Monday 18th) to make sure all the residents are kept up to date.

So what are we to make of all this?

Well until the threat of a Judicial Review looked a reality, the last people in the County's mind when planning what to do were the folk who live on Division Lane.

But they've suddenly shot up the ranking.

Although we've seen no proof, it feels very much to us like a battle of wills going on about bigger topics.

For a reason we don't yet understand, officers at Blackpool seem to be pushing LCC very hard to close Midgeland Road at its junction with Division Lane.

We suspect this might have something to do with proposals to make School Lane even more difficult to negotiate for vehicles later this year. Were hearing stories of even more draconian 'traffic calming' being implemented (if ever there was a contradiction in terms that must be close to the winner), for when the school re-opens in September.

And if that does happen, the pressure on Division Lane / Midgeland Road as an alternative Motorway route can only intensify.

There's also an epic battle waging with Government, County Council, Fylde Council and Developers, about if, and how, the new M55 Link Road (the New Moss Road) might get built, or at least how the existing Wild Lane can be re-opened.

Either of those would solve the problem for folk on both Division Lane and Midgeland Road.

After all, it's a problem that was caused by a Highway Authority trying to move a problem somewhere else instead of solving it, so the answer is really in LCC's hands.

They were the ones who pushed designed and pushed like mad for the M55 Link - the New Moss Road - to be built, which (eventually) helped the developer secure the planning permission.

One final point. If is Blackpool who are at the root of the issues on Division Lane and Midgeland Road, they might have shot themselves in their foot.

In 2009 (we think, when they were enmeshed in awful plans for a lot of houses on parts of Marton Moss), they published a report called "The Historic Characterisation of Marton Moss".

Starting at page 51 it looks at the Moss today and assesses the changes in character that have taken place over the years. It notes that some lanes have now become roads. It says "a significant dominance of the car over the pedestrian and a much more urban feel than that to be found along the lanes. Midgeland Road (the northern part), School Road and Common Edge Road have all been widened and new ring roads constructed from the 1950s. This has resulted in a divorcing of historic setting from those significant historic buildings remaining and a loss of visible historic links to the past. It has also resulted in a name change for most of the major roads from Lane to Road."

It also says (p77) "The quiet rural lanes of un-made road surfaces with high hedgerows on either side are not well suited to increasing traffic. They are however essential to the historic character of the area and where the road network has been improved around the periphery, it has been to the detriment of the historic character resulting in divorcing quality buildings from their settings and reducing the use of the area by pedestrians. Any changes in the study area should seek to retain the rural road network and leafy lanes, particularly in character area 1. "

"This would fit in with policy LQ3 in the Local Plan and the requirement for any new development to put the needs of pedestrians and cyclists first. By restricting the use of the lanes they could remain safe havens for non-car use and retain the very qualities which have attracted people to the area. If the road network is improved to meet modern highways requirements it will lead to an unacceptable degradation which is already underway in character areas 2, 4 and 5"

Character Area 1 is defined in the Summary as being "(The Mosslands) consists of the areas of small piecemeal post medieval enclosure along Division Lane, Midgeland Road up to Chapel Road and west to Common Edge Road"

So we can't see that Division Lane or Midgeland Road should be treated any differently from each other in terms of suitability for significant traffic flows, and the answer is, as it always has been, for Wild lane to be repaired, or the M55 Link Road to be built.

Dated:   17 Aug 2014


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