Why Thornbury High Street changes won’t be reversed

CONTROVERSIAL changes to Thornbury High Street will not be reversed because it would cost millions more pounds of taxpayers’ money, South Gloucestershire Council’s leader says.

Claire Young says to undo everything, not only would extra funding the authority does not have need to be found, it is likely that the money spent so far would have to be paid back to the Government.

Work is set to be completed in the spring on the £4.6 million scheme to partly pedestrianise the High Street, which has sparked anger and divided opinions among residents and traders, with some reporting the ban on through traffic has driven some customers away.

The council unveiled the upgrades – including making the road one-way and for access only; parking bays for waiting, loading and disabled motorists; new cycle stands, planters, benches, wider pavements and a bus shelter – will secure the High Street’s long-term economic future and improve air quality.

The ban on through traffic has been in force for more than three years, after it was brought in during the summer of 2020 to encourage social distancing during the pandemic.

The changes, introduced by the previous Conservative administration, are being made permanent despite 72% of residents voting against them in a non-binding parish poll in May 2022, which had a turnout of 24%.

The Liberal Democrat/Labour coalition, which took control of South Gloucestershire Council at May’s local elections, has pledged to continue with the scheme.

Cllr Young told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the actual cost of the improvements had risen beyond the original figure to nearly £5m and that it would cost even more to abandon the revamp.

South Gloucestershire Council leader Claire Young

She said: “We have been open with people that we do not have the money to reverse it.

“We would have to not only find the millions to undo it but also potentially pay back the money we have spent on it because it was government funding for a particular purpose, so that is not realistic.

“Thornbury has seen a lot of disruption while the work has been going on and what residents and businesses need is a chance for things to settle down.

“If you reverse it, you would have to go through many more months of disruption.

“We try to speed things up as much as we can so we reduce the time people have been disrupted for and we want to see how things are and then see if there are smaller changes that can be made.”

Cllr Young, who represents Frampton Cotterell ward as a Lib Dem, said Thornbury was open for business but there had been confusion about what was happening, which she blamed on the way the Tories had ignored local sentiment and ploughed ahead with the project when they ran the authority.

She said: “One of the biggest problems has been the myths that have spread for people out in the villages.

“People have been saying you can’t go because the car parks are closed – the car parks have been open a long time – or you can’t cross the High Street – no, the barriers have come down.

“It’s important that people know Thornbury is open.

“All these myths have built up because of the understandable outrage at the way the council approached the scheme in the first place.

“That has made people understandably angry and has led to confusion and it’s really important that people understand what it is like now – they can go and park, they can go down the High Street to pick something up or drop something off, there are bays where you can stop for a short period of time.

“It’s very much open for business. We need to look at ways we can support businesses with that message.”

By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service

Main picture: Thornbury High Street works underway in July 2023