Just under a quarter (24.1%) of households in County Durham do not have a car or van, and in urban areas the percentage can be a lot higher. People without cars mainly rely on walking to local shops, home delivery, or travel by bus to get their shopping done (though a few will use bike, taxi or lifts from friends). The most accessible retail in Durham is clearly the town centre, which can be accessed by bus from most of the surrounding villages. The pedestrianised streets and independent shops add to the attraction.
Over in Gilesgate it is a different story. Retail there is dominated by very large stores. The biggest is Tesco Extra, set back so far from Dragon Lane that you have to walk the equivalent of almost half the length of North Road just to get through the car park. The shop even has its own traffic light controlled junction, and queues of cars arriving can cause tailbacks beyond Renny’s Lane.
The area covered by the shops and car parks, stretching from TK Maxx and Matalan at the southern edge, to B&Q in the north-east, is over twice the extent of the city centre retail and leisure area.
If you want to travel by foot to the major stores of Dragon Lane and McIntyre Way there are bus services, about four or five an hour, along the Sherburn Road and the Sunderland Road, but the range of destinations is obviously more limited than for the town centre. There is also a bus on Dragon Lane twice an hour: potentially a long, dull wait if you miss it.
Once you have arrived, walking around is a miserable business. Everywhere you go, you have to take care crossing the access in and out of the car parks and the “drive-thru” facilities (McDonald’s, KFC and Starbucks so far). Even at the main road junctions, help for people on foot is limited. Two of the arms of the Tesco junction have pedestrian lights:
The other two do not. Without even a central refuge, you just have to take your chance with any turning traffic:
Still, at least we have tactile paving and dropped kerbs to help blind people and wheelchair users!
Up at B&Q there is a great ramp to allow people to get to and from the Sunderland Road, as an alternative to the steps, so someone has thought about accessibility here.
But once you have reached the Sunderland Road, the main problem for bus users is the complete lack of a safe crossing to reach the bus stop on the other side of the road. Dropped kerbs and tactile paving are provided, but on this busy road you can easily have to wait five minutes for a gap in the traffic.
In order to build the link from Renny’s Lane to Damson Way in 2020, the Council collected contributions from developers over a number of years. When planning applications are determined, it is possible for councils to require a Section 106 payment in order to improve infrastructure to cope with the increased demand or change in needs which will result from the development. Do the highways and planning officers deliberately prioritise car access (like the new road link) over basic pedestrian facilities? Or does this stem from lack of awareness, perhaps because they are not members of the 24% of households with no car?
The 2021 census data is now available. The area around Dragon Lane has some of the lowest car ownership in the city. In fact 43.5% of households in the Gilesgate and Old Durham MSOA have no car.
Why should those without a car be treated as second-class citizens? And think how discouraging this is for those who might wish to cut down on car use, for financial or environmental reasons.