Shaftesbury Town councillors have voted to back the principle of permanent High Street pedestrianisation.
Cllr Piers Brown’s proposal was passed by eight votes to three last night. Cllrs Peter Yeo, Karen Tippins and Jeanne Loader did not support the move.
As you’ll hear in our report, there are new measures designed to meet the needs of disabled residents, in particular blue badge holders who have been unable to park in the town centre with the current 9am to 4pm restrictions. The town council will also ask Dorset Council to consider starting the traffic restriction one hour later, at 10am. Cllr Philip Proctor said that meant ‘25% of the working day is open to traffic’. He also proposed a radical idea to make an electric vehicle available to disabled shoppers to navigate the town centre if this new traffic restriction came into force.
Mayor, Cllr Andy Hollingshead, wanted a traffic management plan developed following concerns about additional vehicles using Bell Street and town centre roads because of the High Street closure.
Some councillors claimed that the existing pedestrianisation had harmed businesses. Cllr Yeo said it was ‘disastrous for business’. Cllr Karen Tippins also opposes pedestrianisation. She said that she had seen people walking in town with dogs, but they were not actually shopping. But Piers Brown revealed the latest survey data, which indicated support for pedestrianisation remains high, with over 82% of businesses backing these plans to investigate a permanent restriction. Piers said that over 85% of shoppers backed the car-free experience too.
New town councillor Virginia Edwyn Jones said the pedestrianisation had been ‘phenomenal’ for tourism-related businesses. “I have literally walked behind tourists last summer as they went from shop to shop to shop,” she said. But Cllr Peter Yeo said, “Shaftesbury is not for the visitors.” He said the town centre should be for local people to drive to, park up, buy what they need and get out again.
Earlier in the meeting, Cllr Tim Cook said a Donhead St Mary resident was now shopping in Gillingham rather than Shaftesbury because it was easier. Tim supports pedestrianisation, which he says has helped the town centre ‘flourish’, added that he wants all voices heard.
A proposed amendment by Cllr Tippins, calling for the £10,000 set aside for the roads traffic order process to be spent on a survey examining the potential for a one-way circuit, was not supported. Cllr John Lewer said that previous work on one way schemes had convinced him that it was not viable.
The was also concern at the loss of parking spaces brought by the pedestrianisation. One resident, Adrian Thompson, had requested that the council should be notified of his estimate that pedestrianisation would cost up to £2million annually. He estimated that each car stopping in the available High Street curbside spaces would stop for 20 minutes and would bring £20 worth of transactions.
Dorset Council will now be asked to undertake a full consultation exercise and Mayor Andy Hollingshead said he believed that everybody would have a chance to have their say. He estimated that the process will take at least 12 months and that means there will be a return to two-way traffic when the High Street reopens. The current traffic restrictions were put in place as a COVID-19 safety measure to allow people to pass safely in the narrow part of the street and will go when social distancing is officially ended.