Set The High Street Free

Exeter's High Street, I read, is going to have some new trees in it. One report also speaks of its being "spruced up". I would here and now like to lodge my objection to it being spruced up.

Oaked up, ashed up, or even sycamored up, yes. But not spruced. There's a time and place for Christmassy-looking trees (it's late August), but we don't want a highway of them down the centre of the city. Thank you.

There, having got that off my chest, let's look at the general plan for High Street.

Many councillors have rallied round the Bus Stop Brigade, and suggested that bus stops be placed along High Street, so that not only do people get on and off the buses, but know where to get on and off the buses.

David Morrish himself has spoken out. "It is important," he said, "we have buses where the passengers want to get on and off."

This isn't very reasonable, is it?

Many people might want to get off at the Cathedral. Some might want to get on at the traffic lights at the junction with South Street. There are probably some people who want to get off at Thornton's Chocolates, and back on at Dingle's, which would mean the bus having to hang about like a weary husband, and then actually reverse.

It will be a sad day for Exeter if buses actually stop where people want them to stop. Buses don't exist for passengers in the twenty-first century. Exeter has just been declared way up the list on recycling, apart from its composting policy, which has pushed it way down again. This is according to an Audit Commission report with the snazzy title "National Performance Indicator Results."

If we want to start pushing up our environmental image, then we might as well start with the buses in High Street.

We don't put letter-boxes where people want to post letters. We don't put phone-boxes where people want to make calls. We don't put waste-bins exactly where people want to put their copies of "National Performance Indicator Results", either.

Nor do we put out-of-town supermarkets where people want, either, i.e., in the centre of town.

So I say, let's be a little more ruthless. Stop listening to bus passengers, and their needs. Let people do as they're told, learn to obey orders, and behave themselves. That way, young people will learn respect for authority, and our crime indicator, which is low (which means that we have too much crime), will start to rise. And then we'll be better than Cheltenham and Oxford and all these other namby-pamby shopping centres they keep comparing us with! Yes!

I am going to start being a bit more constructive in a moment, but I just want to lob in two other facts about the proposed changes to High Street. One is that it is apparently too "cluttered" at present, and should look like a straight line. The other is that "longer buses" are being proposed.

OK. Let's look at the evidence, as Loyd Grossman says. Trees in the High Street. Longer buses in the High Street. Buses stopping where passengers want in the High Street. Very poor report on composting. And High Street to be de-cluttered, and re-designed so that it is fashionably straight and narrow.

What therefore can we do to turn back this tide of re-branding by our political masters and mistresses?

Well, in the first place, there is no reason why little buses should stop at all in High Street. In fact, they should surely be banned. They're not nice to look at, and they clutter up the view no end. If you're standing on the left-hand pavement, they interrupt your view of the right-hand pavement, and vice versa. You may have just sat down (for lots of new seats are promised) to watch (say) The Co-op Bank, when a bus whizzes past, and obscures your view.

Why do we not introduce instead one Very Long Bus, permanently travelling the length of High Street, on a loop which takes it back through the Harlequin Centre, Gandy Street, past the Library, and up to the rear of Boot's, and then round again?

This bus would not endanger pedestrians, because it would move very slowly. Passengers would join when they were told to, and helped aboard by trained council staff. And passengers joining it from one of the many Venetian style bridges to be built over the street could literally just drop in, or indeed clamber out.

This circular ride would not be straight. In fact, it would be on an interesting chicane, so that citizens watching from the comfort of the many plush and tiered seats lining the sides, under the peach and plum trees, were visually stimulated.

It would be a scenic ride. It would be scenic because the outside of the train would be one-way-mirrored. Passengers could look out, and see the banks of nasturtium, wild morrish and climbing connel and glorious yolanda which had replaced the (currently very dull) shop fronts. Pedestrians and seated visitors would see these reflected in the generous mirrors on the sides of the bus.

And don't tell me it couldn't be done. If even half the stuff they reckoned they could do in the last Bond movie was true, then it will be a doddle. (If the bus was invisible, even better - but we may have to wait a couple of years to get the technology straight).

And in what would this floral riot be planted?

Why, compost, of course, lots and lots of it, thus lifting us steadily up the league table of National Performance Indicator Results.

I suggest this be put to the panel of voters who decide council policy (the two thousand, 83% of whom have just voted that it would be an all-right idea to have a referendum on whether to have a regional government, who are regularly consulted. I am coming round to the idea that we don't need elections any more).

Foliage. A single, curvaceous, permanent coach on a meandering and circular highway. A ride in which to reflect. A ride which will be reflective. No bus stops whatsoever. The sweet smell of compost.

It will no longer be a High Street. It will be the stuff of dreams.

From Express and Echo