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Traffic ban for Newbury's Northbrook Street could become permanent

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Consultants HemingwayDesign assessing scheme in town centre masterplan

BANNING traffic from Newbury town centre will be assessed in a masterplan being drawn up for the future of the town’s high street.

Traffic was banned from Northbrook Street and Market Place between June and September last year as a temporary measure to help with social distancing.

Green councillor David Marsh (Wash Common) called for West Berkshire Council to make the ban permanent, urging the Conservative executive to “please do the right thing and give the town centre back to the people”.

He said a permanent traffic-free zone in Newbury would be good for business and popular with shoppers, make social distancing easier and the town centre cleaner, healthier, safer and quieter.

His bid has been knocked back for the time being as the council has said that the measures should not be implemented in the short term.

Instead consultant HemingwayDesign, appointed by the council to look at the future of the town centre, will assess the principle of permanent pedestrianisation.

Discussing the motion at a recent executive meeting, executive member for transport Richard Somner (Con, Tilehurst South and Holybrook) said that while the ban had been popular and supported by some, it had been slated and disliked by others.

He said full consultation would be essential if the move was to be made permanent and there was still great concern that removing traffic from the route would increase it in others.

Leader of the Green group Carolyne Culver (Ridgeway) welcomed the news that a permanent ban would be assessed, saying that it would help towards the climate emergency and with social distancing.

She added: “Bearing in mind the economic crisis that we have got, we also think it could make an important contribution to helping to solve that if people are able to go shopping knowing that they’re not going to have to dodge traffic.

“I think we are very lucky we have got such a lovely town centre.

“There are many others that are probably not as nice as Newbury but actually have full pedestrianisation, so I think it would be a great asset if we could fully pedestrianise that in the future and make the town centre an even nicer place to be.”

Modelling the capacity that the town centre roads take off other routes, costing up to £15,000, will run alongside the study.

The council said that traffic modelling would need to consider the pandemic’s effect on traffic patterns.

Arrangements for access to premises within the restricted area would also need to be considered.

The council said that implementing another temporary ban with immediate effect was not considered reasonable within current legislation.

It said other Covid-19 measures, such as face coverings being required in shops, were in place.

The council said it had received a significant number of complaints from residents and businesses about a detrimental effect on some traders, as well as increasing journey times.

HemingwayDesign will look at the “significant changes in the retail and hospitality industries” and “take into account the impact of Covid-19 in accelerating the review of alternative uses for town centres and public spaces”.

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