West Berkshire Council have 'missed an opportunity' by not extending Newbury town centre traffic ban
Hopes that measure may be made permanent have been dashed
WEST Berkshire Council has “missed a brilliant opportunity” to make Newbury a better place after announcing that the current temporary 24-hour town centre traffic ban would not be made permanent, critics have said.
The traffic order, which has been in place since June 1 to make it easier for pedestrians to follow social distancing guidelines, prohibits vehicles from using Northbrook Street and Market Place at any time.
There have been calls by many, including Newbury Town Council, to make it a permanent feature, with supporters saying it would improve air quality, reduce emissions and make the town a nicer place to be.
However, those hopes appear to have been dashed after the Conservative-run council announced last week that the two roads would reopen to traffic when the schools go back from September 7.
The council argued that it was only ever supposed to be a temporary measure.
Traffic will still be banned from the town centre between 10am and 5pm from September 7, as was the case before the 24-hour ban came in.
Council leader Lynne Doherty said that the general consensus among businesses she had spoken to was that they wanted people to be able to drive past their shops and restaurants again.
In a poll published on our website www.newburytoday.co.uk 58 per cent of participants (290 people) wanted traffic to return to the town centre, with 42 per cent (209) preferring a permanent traffic ban.
However, Green Party district councillor David Marsh slammed the council, saying it had “no imagination” and showed that it was “not really serious about tackling the climate emergency”.
He added that allowing traffic to travel through the town centre “went completely against” the council’s own environment strategy, which recognises the need to reduce carbon emissions in the district.
Earlier this year, Newbury town councillors voted unanimously in favour of a motion put forward by its deputy leader Olivia Lewis (Lib Dem), which called on the district council to make the ban permanent.
Councillors agreed it was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change Newbury.”
Mr Marsh said: “I’m really disappointed and actually very angry about it, especially as we as councillors have had no chance to debate or vote on this decision.
“I just think it is such a missed opportunity,
“It shows that the ruling group have no imagination and are not serious about tackling climate change and not serious about improving the environment for people who shop and work in the town centre.
“So basically the council is reintroducing a rat-run through the town centre that will do nothing to help businesses – in fact the opposite, because a survey showed that the traffic-free zone is popular with shoppers.
“This decision is all the more baffling given that shoppers still need to socially distance and there is the real danger of a spike in Covid-19 cases, so why the rush to go back to ‘business as usual’?”
Speaking to the Newbury Weekly News on Monday, Mrs Lewis said: “Following on from my motion regarding pedestrianisation, I am of course very disappointed that the trial is ending.
“Traffic in rush hour has remained quieter than before lockdown as many people are still working from home, and are potentially able to in the long-term.
“It is a shame not to at the very least keep the pedestrianisation in place while we see what actually happens to traffic on the A339 in the longer-term.
“Our survey of shoppers showed that, of those people who visit Newbury town centre regularly, it has proven popular.
“This feels like a wasted opportunity to increase modal shift towards walking and cycling as well as improving air quality for shoppers.
“Newbury Town Council will continue to push for a permanent pedestrianisation of the Market Place as in our strategy.
“We will also look in detail at the results of our survey of shoppers and assess the ideas suggested, including pedestrianisation.”
The council said the September 7 date had been chosen to coincide with children’s return to school.
Mrs Doherty said that the pedestrianisation had “given residents the confidence to come back into the high street” and that social distancing would “be here for a long time and to tie it to that would be difficult”.
Council spokesman Martin Dunscombe said that facemasks now had to be worn in shops, which wasn’t in place when the traffic ban was introduced.
He said: “The reason was to support the local economy.
“It’s allowed shops to come back to the high street with confidence and space to queue outside shops, and businesses to get tables and chairs out.
“It was a temporary measure."
West Berkshire Council's executive member for highways and transport Richard Somner said: “Round-the-clock pedestrianisation was a really helpful measure to enable Newbury town centre to re-open safely.
“However, as we move further forward with the recovery and as schools return, we can return the pedestrianisation to the normal time of 10am to 5pm to ease pressure on local roads.”