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It's a fair cop officer

PUBLISHED: 09:51 05 October 2009 | UPDATED: 15:13 03 July 2010

Cars in the Town Hall area, probably in the sixties before the bus taxi lane was introduced

Cars in the Town Hall area, probably in the sixties before the bus taxi lane was introduced

IN the dead of night, when body and mind are at their lowest ebb, I experience this recurring dream. I awaken in a cold sweat, talking in my semi-sleep, the words pouring from my lips.

IN the dead of night, when body and mind are at their lowest ebb, I experience this recurring dream. I awaken in a cold sweat, talking in my semi-sleep, the words pouring from my lips.

“But officer, be reasonable,” I plead. “Everybody else does it all the time, and this was my first time, honestly. I just took a chance. There wasn't a vehicle or pedestrian in sight. The streets were deserted...until you stepped out from the bus shelter and put your hand up to stop me.”

Let me set the scene. It is in the small hours of a bitter January night, with a gale driving the stinging sleet and snow. The only two souls daft enough not to be home tucked up in bed are me in my car, and this police constable lurking in the bus shelter near Great Yarmouth Town Hall.

My crime? Driving down Regent Street past the empty former head Post Office and veering right to pass the Town Hall and attempting to pass through the traffic lights (at green) and cross on to Hall Quay. And I was caught red-handed, that short cut being reserved for buses, coaches, taxis and emergency vehicles. A fair cop, as they say.

But wait a moment. In that befuddled state, was I committing an offence against the traffic regulations? Or was my action perfectly legal, and a cold and miserable constable was seeking to stop me for a friendly chat to break the monotony of his graveyard shift, or to beg a lift back to the police station to save him a walk in those dreadful conditions - no simple journey for me because I am in the lane taking me across the Haven Bridge and he needed to go to the area headquarters in Howard Street North...

Oh dear! What a dilemma! I wish I could turn over in bed and get back to sleep. But

OK, I am wide awake now, penning this column and pondering a poser.

In the 1970s a short-cut was introduced to help speed Gorleston-bound buses and those other vehicular categories, allowing them to approach the Town Hall via Regent Street instead of becoming clogged in Yarmouth Way traffic that was particularly heavy in the teatime rush hour and the summer holiday season.

The original plan envisaged the corporation and Eastern Counties buses, local coach services and taxis being equipped with a sensor to turn those Town Hall lights to green to allow them to filter into the Hall Quay streams held up by red lights, but that gizmo was never fitted for some reason.

As for Regent Street, riverside-bound traffic (other than those excepted groups) had to turn right into Howard Street, or left towards the car park behind the old Matthes restaurant and bread shop, although officially that left turn was for access only and not for drivers wanting the car park. I think notices were positioned in King Street and then in Regent Street ahead of the Howard Street crossroad forbidding ordinary vehicles from proceeding beyond the crossroads and on to the Town Hall and Hall Quay.

But anyone who has waited for a bus at the Town Hall stop will testify that ever since, scores - nay, thousands - of drivers persistently ignore that restriction. There signs at the King Street-Regent Street corner and the Howard Street crossroads is now confusing or absent. Perhaps over the years the rules have quietly changed without my noticing, I mused.

You can excuse holidaymakers, trying to manoeuvre around our devious traffic system, innocently making a mistake, although had that sensor ever been introduced into buses and the like, there would have been a huge tailback if a car without one was first in the queue. Locals ought to know better.

But, are all the vehicles going past the Town Hall and filtering by lights on to the quay risking a penalty, or is it all now perfectly legal and I am having this recurring nightmare in vain? Since the system was introduced, occasionally I have seen police ignore this manoeuvre and I assumed they were probably unaware of the rules applying there.

Similarly, at the end of that well-used little road outside the banks and Star Hotel, signs tell drivers not to U-turn right to get into that lane controlled by lights to move on to Hall Quay, but many disobey it to save time and a circular detour.

It is the same in King Street at the Victoria Arcade entrance where signs and white stripes on the road tell north-bound traffic to turn right into Regent Road, not to proceed to the Regent Street corner. More deaf ears... Once they are in Regent Street, that Town Hall set of lights guarding the quay access is next.

Of course, I may be totally out of date and step, unaware that it is all now perfectly legal. The reason for my continuing caution, and reluctance to take a chance and invoke the nightmare scenario of the bobby emerging from the bus shelter, is a report I read in the Mercury exactly a year ago.

Below the headline “Take this short cut to quay at your peril” was an account of police warning drivers not to use Regent Street as a short cut to Hall Quay. Those stopped were threatened with fixed-penalty fines if they transgressed again. Five of the vehicles stopped were seized for other offences. “Police say the area will continue to be monitored,” ended that report.

Since then, despite often waiting at that Town Hall bus stop, or being on a Gorleston-bound bus, I have yet to see any police presence. And as it appears that these rogue drivers are indeed committing offences, they are either not Mercury readers and aware of the risk, or are not prepared to change their bad habits.

Me? As a law-abiding “cowardy custard”, I have no intention of taking a risk there. That's the truth, officer.

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