An experimental pedestrianisation scheme on Thornbury High Street that was brought in because of the pandemic has been locked in permanently despite passionate opposition from the community.
The local authority’s ruling group voted unanimously to adopt the controversial scheme on Monday (June 7), after dozens of residents made a final attempt to dissuade them from rubber-stamping the unpopular proposals for the future of the town’s high street.
Through-traffic is banned from the High Street and a one-way system allows access for delivery drivers and residents.
New changes to the scheme mean drop-off and pick-up points will be added for shoppers, and more on-street parking for Blue Badge holders will be provided.
South Gloucestershire Council’s cabinet members defended their decision to approve the “vision”, which they said takes public feedback into account and “supports the local economy, the community and our climate emergency goals”.
The Conservative administration also received the public backing of Thornbury councillor Maggie Tyrrell, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition group, who called the proposals a “compromise” that provided an opportunity to address “long standing problems”.
But dozens of members of the public wrote to the council expressing in the strongest terms their objections to the decision to make permanent changes that were originally introduced under an emergency order last summer to help people comply with social distancing.
Of the 60-odd submissions, many begged the council to “listen to the community” and return the High Street to the way it was before June 2020. Many others called for the council to make the High Street one-way instead. Very few wrote in support of the plans.
One person wrote: “Before making decisions this afternoon, bear in mind that the majority of Thornbury are against these proposals.”
Of nearly 2,900 people who responded to a public consultation about the changes to the High Street, 65 per cent disagreed with making the pedestrian and cycle zone permanent, and 49 per cent disagreed with the one-way system completely.
Cllr Tyrrell told the meeting it was no surprise that the “very divisive” experiment had triggered a “well organised campaign” of opposition, especially as the changes were introduced quickly and without consultation and that “some mistakes” were made in the design and implementation.
But she said there were problems with traffic on the High Street before the pandemic and two previous consultations had found residents wanted it to be “more pedestrian friendly”.
“So although this has been a very painful experience for Thornbury in many ways, it appears we are now going to get that investment into a long-term plan that up until now hasn’t been available,” Cllr Tyrrell said.
Steve Read, cabinet member for regeneration, environment and strategic infrastructure, said the High Street needed to change, noting that half the people who disagreed with the proposals visited the street less than once a month.
“I don’t see how not changing anything will coax more people to visit local businesses if they don’t already,” he said.
It was “not the case” that the cabinet decision was predetermined, he added.
A council press release from June last year said the experimental traffic order allowing the scheme would “potentially run for 18 months before being made permanent”.
Council leader Toby Savage said: “The proposals that are before us today as part of this vision don’t simply seek to make permanent what is already in place as part of that temporary scheme.
“I’m comfortable and encouraged that the feedback that’s been received has shaped the vision in front of us.”
The council will consult further with the public as it develops more detail around the vision for the High Street.
After 164 people signed a petition from Thornbury and Yate MP Luke Hall calling more disabled parking spaces, cabinet adopted an amendment to include more on-street parking for Blue Badge holders within the High Street as part of a wider review of parking and accessibility in the town centre.
We want to hear your thoughts on this story, so please log in and leave your comment below.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service had intended to listen to a live webcast of the cabinet meeting, but a technical problem prevented the broadcast. The council sent an audio recording of the item instead but it did not include speeches made by three members of the public.