Were things really much better in the past?

Lanark is now doing more to market itself as a visitor destination

Most people will tell you that Lanark has slipped back from being the proud town it once was. This column has often gone along with that notion and has usually sought to blame the local council for the Burgh’s decline. Is this fair, or are we a bit guilty of look back in time with rose tinted glasses?

It is often said that Lanark used to attract far more visitors to the town. I am not quite sure how accurate this is. It is true that on a Monday many people from the country would visit the market and the wife of the farmer would do the weekly shopping? Nowadays, despite the market relocating two miles from the town centre, I do not believe people from outlying communities have turned their backs on Lanark as a shopping town. Lanark is well covered with supermarkets and people use them in great numbers.

Does Lanark attract fewer tourists as opposed to shoppers today? Again this is debateable.
My memories of Lanark in the 1950s are one of a rather smelly place! The tannery had a very strong aroma - smoky and fishy - and the town council received constant complaints about it. The skin works up the road was little better. In the summer the market and the slaughter house reeked of dung and urine. Hardly a suitable background for a town you would want to visit.

Even if a visitor did arrive in Lanark, what was there to see? New Lanark was in decline and the magnificent Falls of Clyde reduced to a trickle as the Bonnington power station stole the water to make electricity! Castlebank was popular, but poorly signed. It tended to be patronised by local families, as it is today. New Lanark now brings around 300,000 visitors a year, it has a successful hotel and a well appointed Youth Hostel. Today the Clyde Walkway is a popular attraction for visitors, and Lanark Loch is often packed on a good summer’s day. Lanark town trails booklets are readily available to show visitors some of its secrets, and the Wallace Trail is starting to prove popular.

Lanark used to attract visitors to the Racecourse. Sadly poor allocation of race meetings caused the numbers to fall and it became unsustainable by the 1970s when it closed.

Before I get too carried away it would be important to look at areas that might be discouraging passers-by to stop and explore. This is where the council can help.

Firstly the approaches to Lanark leave a bad first impression. Coming from Hyndford Bridge we encounter some abandoned buildings at the former Winston Barracks. Next comes the neglected racecourse with an abandoned C-listed tote building. At the retail park another disgraceful abandoned B-listed building in the form of the stone auction building. The school building in Hyndford Road is a further disgrace.

Arriving from Cartland Bridge we are greeted by a “Welcome to Lanark” sign struggling to be seen as the overgrown grass verge envelops it. On entering the town we join a traffic queue, inevitably around the Mansefield filling station. The other day I timed it to see how long it would take for the queue to disappear. It took seven minutes to travel the half mile to pass Oxfam in Bannatyne Street, meaning that section of my journey had an average speed of 4.3 miles per hour!

A recent report in the local Gazette suggested the diagonal crossing for pedestrians crossing between Subway and Oxfam requires a longer time to go from one side to the other. Diagonal crossings are frowned upon by the department of transport in their advice to pedestrian crossing design. Children are taught from an early age to cross straight across the road, never a diagonal crossing. The upshot of all this is that traffic is halted for nearly 30 seconds to make the crossing time at the diagonal safe. The same crossing time from Kildare Road to the former post office halts traffic for only 12 seconds.

Other causes were the crossing lights in the High Street, and hold ups as people try to park in a space in the High Street. Narrowing the traffic lanes in the High Street was always going to reduce the traffic flow. That is simple physics. A quick measurement of traffic flow up the High Street gives a rough rate of 8.9 cars per minute. Flow of cars at Steele’s Cross was 11 cars per minute. The queue forms when two cars a minute don’t get through. After an hour the queue would be 120 vehicles long. Giving traffic back their lost 18 seconds would allow another 2.7 cars through and thus the queue would be reduced considerably. The council need to sort this out. Visitors are easily put off.

One disadvantage of queuing in the High Street is it gives visitors time to examine just how shabby our main street has become. The attractive banners are an improvement, but a lack of hanging baskets in the shops and many requiring a lick of paint creates a poor impression. Again to balance things, remember how bad things were when the Co-op buildings were abandoned in the High Street?

Imagine our new visitor makes it to Bannatyne Street. Again frustration as parked cars and a bus stop causes further hold ups. They decide to stop and have a look round. Where do they park? It seems car parking signage is a topic still being investigated after many years of talking about it. We need car parks that are close to shops, well sign posted and properly designed and maintained.

Lanark may have had the appearance of being a busy town back in the 1950s. Remember in those days it was a manufacturing town that employed many people from lots of places. It had four hospitals and five factories making shirts and knitwear. Add to that our railway station and goods yard, again using a decent size workforce. It also had five garages repairing cars and tractors. Several businesses set up to deliver milk to your home every day. Two picture houses entertained people before television. The county council had a roads yard and we even had an ambulance station.

Technology and the global economy have changed much of this. We need fewer people to make things work. The closure of the Lockhart Hospital, and the moving of local services from the district council is another reminder of how things have changed.

Lanark knows what it needs to keep things moving. To be run by officials from a distance is not progress. People want a say about the issues the town faces. Bring back our local council and give them the resources to make Lanark the town it deserves to be.

Local volunteers can have a limited effect, but proper progress requires professional help and expertise. We do pay for this in many ways. We sometimes deserve better!