Shaftesbury Town councillors have voted to support a proposal by the Chamber of Commerce to temporarily pedestrianize Shaftesbury High Street. It’s hoped that suspending most traffic will encourage shoppers back when many shops reopen from the 15th June.
The Chamber felt that people will not be able to safely pass and remain at a safe social distance using Shaftesbury’s narrow pavements. The road closure will offer pedestrians more room because they can walk in the roadway. It will also provide extra space for the return of the street market, which will be reversed so stallholders will have their backs to St Peter’s Church.
Cllr Piers Brown said that a closure between 9am and 4pm, 7-days-a-week, had emerged as the best option following earlier discussions with Dorset Council. Volunteers could be stationed at the road closure points in Angel Square, outside The Grosvenor Arms and on Muston’s Lane to advise shoppers and drivers during the hours of road closure.
Councillors raised a number of concerns over practicalities. Questions were asked about arrangements for bus travel, disabled shoppers and people who park using the blue badge scheme. Some traders are worried that daytime deliveries will be blocked.
Listen to our Alfred Daily report to hear discussion of these issues and some proposed solutions.
Cllr Brown revealed that two-thirds of town centre traders supported the plan. Fifteen businesses had responded to an informal consultation, but Cllrs Peter Yeo and Karen Tippins claimed that too few businesses had been consulted. Some of the larger operations had opposed the project, it was claimed.
Cllr Yeo went further, stating his view that the Chamber of Commerce was not representative of town centre traders. Shaftesbury Town Council business manager Brie Logan explained that canvassing opinion during lockdown had been difficult as some shops offered no facility for leaving a voicemail and some businesses had not responded to email.
Ten of the eleven Shaftesbury Town councillors took part in last night’s meeting, which was held online. Eight councillors supported the plans, backing the principle of the road closure. Cllr Peter Yeo voted against and Councillor Karen Tippins abstained from the vote. After the votes were cast, Cllr Tippins asked to alter her vote to oppose the closure but that was not allowed.
Cllr Brown stressed that the closure would be a temporary COVID-19 response and its effectiveness would be assessed.
Dorset Council officers will now determine how to take the project forward. Cllr Andy Hollingshead, a resident of Bell Street, urged the Highways officers to consider the impact on traffic in Bell Street. He supported the plan.
In a second vote, town councillors agreed to set aside up to £5,000 to fund this project. That money includes Dorset Council’s road closure fee. Eight of the ten councillors supported potentially spending this sum. Cllrs Yeo and Tippins opposed it.
You can listen to our full interview on the Alfred Daily podcast. Click the audio link below to listen and go to 1:10.