Oral History

Ron Dickens

Ron Dickens talks about how Castle Street in Hinckley became Pedestrianised

Interviewers: Mr. D. J. Wood (DW)

Interviewed: Mr Ron Dickens (RD)

Date of Interview: 27th August 2003

DW. Could I have your age please.

RD. Bit cheeky aren't you, I shall be 75 soon.

DW. I understand you had a fair amount to do with the pedestrianisation of Castle Street, could you tell me how this came about.

RD. Up until the Local Government Act came into operation on the 1st April 1974, the Hinckley Urban District Council, as it was then, was a Highway Authority, and as such was responsible for all the roads within the Hinckley Urban Area. It came to my attention as Leader of the Council, and Leader of the Labour Group, which had acquired a controlling majority on the Council the year before in 1973. We had this majority and I was concerned that we would not perpetuate the myth that Labour were spend thrifts, so I laid down an edict that a Chairman of Committees had to bring to our attention at budget time what items they wished to spend money on. We then drew up a budget, and that budget I said was sacrosanct, and extra money for items not included in the spending plans would not be approved. Shortly after this, my attention was drawn by the Chairman of the Highway Committee that the traffic lights, which were situated at that time at the bottom of Castle Street, were in danger of falling down. Incredibly when you think about it, Castle Street was at that time a main thoroughfare on the A47 in both directions, and was a major source of traffic hold ups, we did not get many accidents because it was to dangerous, people took a lot of care. So I was told the traffic lights were in danger of falling down and that we needed £2000 to erect new ones. They were not in the budget.

DW. So where do we go from here, what happened, couldn't repairs be made to the traffic lights?

Castle Street in Hinckley
Castle Street in Hinckley

RD. Well I was told that they were dangerous, that the authority would be responsible should they fall down and hurt someone. I did suggest that what we could do, was to take them up and weld a new piece of steel on the bottom as it was at ground level that they had rotted, that ought to do the trick, and that would not cost very much money. What happened was that Mr. Fell who was the officer responsible for Public Works sent for me, to tell me, no it wouldn't work because not only were the light poles in danger of falling over, but that the electronics that controlled the lights really ought to be replaced. I knew full well that if I allowed additional expenditure I would be besieged by other people who had "good ideas" that they wanted to put in. So I had to maintain a strong opposition to extra expenditure. I came under all sorts of pressure of course, and in the end I suggested to Brian Fell that he should go and think of another solution.

RD. What were you thinking of by another solution, diverting the traffic?

Well firstly why were they in danger of falling down? I was staggered to be told that dogs urine contained a high level of acidity, which had rotted the steel. I had never heard of such a thing, so that was the cause of the problem. Now what was the solution? Well clearly putting in complete new lights, which wanted £2000, which I did not think we should spend out of our reserves, that was point 1, we'd got the problem that should they actually fall down and injure anybody then the Council would be responsible, that would raise all sorts of tricky insurance problems, because we knew of the danger and ought to do something about it and I was looking for a original solution, an original solution to the dog pee problem, was that we should put a temporarily closing order on Castle Street for six months on the basis that we were examining the feasible of pedestrianisation. Now, as this met all the objectives, 1 we weren't spending £2000, 2 we weren't spending money on pedestrianisation, other then notices in the press, and 3 there was no danger. There was no danger of the poles falling down. It seemed a ready-made solution, and that is what happened. What actually we found was that it worked. Pedestrianisation of Castle Street, although it was bitterly opposed by the shop keepers of that time, actually improved trading in Castle Street, it improved pedestrian safety and all because dogs over the years had cocked their legs on the steel poles that held up the traffic lights, doing what nature told them came naturally.

Transcript by: Jean & David Wood.