Businesses demand end to Thornbury High Street closure after 'drastic' drop in trade
BUSINESSES are calling on South Gloucestershire Council to reverse the pedestrianisation of Thornbury High Street.
The council has banned through traffic between the junctions with The Close and Castle Court, to “allow people to shop safely by staying two metres apart”.
It said the changes would “help protect our residents against coronavirus and save lives as lockdown restrictions are eased and the local economy continues to recover”.
But businesses based on the High Street say they are already experiencing a “drastic” drop in trade – and a petition calling on the council to reconsider the closure had gained more than 600 supporters as the Voice went to press, with paper versions being circulated on the High Street itself.
Some people have expressed support for the move, welcoming the extra space for pedestrians.
The council has imposed a temporary road closure, to be followed by an experimental traffic order, which can run for up to 18 months before being made permanent if the move is deemed to have been a success.
Through traffic is being diverted via Midland Way, Rock Street, Quaker Lane and on to The Plain.
New bus stops have been set up in Rock Street for services such as the T2 linking Thornbury to Bristol.
Thornbury Chamber of Commerce secretary Zoe Gilbraith said the organisation had sent South Gloucestershire Council a list of concerns within four days of the closure on June 8.
She said: “We have had very many comments from local residents who are not happy about the closure.”
Zoe said traders had a video meeting with council leader Toby Savage and council colleagues, where questions were asked over what risk assessments had been done to justify the closure.
She said there had been no consultation with either the chamber or any local businesses before the closure was put in place.
Traders have estimated that they are collectively losing hundreds of pounds each day from the loss of passing trade from customers who stopped in spaces in the High Street.
Zoe said Riddifords and Hawkins, businesses which had remained open throughout the lockdown, had already seen a “drastic” drop in trade following the closure.
She said: “While we realise there has to be some things put in place to ensure the safety of everyone in the area, there should still have been some consultation as to what measures were needed.
“One of the major concerns that has come from the public is that, rather than giving them better access, the High Street has become a no-go area for many, as there is no disabled parking other than threebays which have been put into the bus bay right at the bottom of the High Street, meaning access is uphill to anyone in a wheelchair.
“There has been no thought given for access for the less mobile members of our community.”
Concerns have also been raised about increased traffic on Rock Street and the roundabout junction with Midland Way.
Zoe said: “Our High Street is what makes us a historic market town – without through traffic of some sort, this will disappear from view to anyone passing through our town.
“We have formally asked the council to remove the closure immediately and put in place a consultation process so local businesses and residents can put forward suggestions on what, if any, changes need to be made.”
People walking on the pedestrianised section of Thornbury High Street
The council has said the closure would enable social distancing, allowing some shops to trade from outside their premises and more people to queue outside shops.
It said in a statement: “We all need to abide by the guidelines to protect each other and help to control the virus and save lives.
“We are also preparing for when cafes, pubs and restaurants may be allowed to reopen.”
The authority said it would closely monitor how the change works, talking with councillors and business representatives.
It says access for High Street residents, deliveries and waste collection will be allowed, although time restrictions are likely to be brought in later if the scheme becomes permanent.
The council said: “This measure has been agreed with local councillors and discussed with traders in the town on a trial basis to provide support for businesses to reopen with COVID-19 social distancing measures in place.”
Council cabinet member for transport Steve Reade said: “This closure is part of our emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic in order to help stop the spread of the virus and save lives in our local communities as lockdown eases.
“Thornbury High Street is a very popular destination and we hope through this action, supporting the community as we navigate the recovery post-COVID outbreak, the local economy will remain strong and people will be able to sustain their businesses and keep their jobs.”
Funding for the work has come from central Government, through the West of England Combined Authority.
What traders say about the closure
“Many customers I have spoken to have said where they would normally have just ‘popped up the road’ to get small items...because you are no longer able to just park up the High Street, customers are unable or unwilling to walk that far, so they will not make that journey.”
Jean Owen, T&J Owen florist
"If the High Street closure becomes more permanent, with norear access on our side of the High Street...we really worry about the long term future of our family business, which has been at these premises for nearly 120 years. I cannot see that a pedestrian area is a viable location for a print and copy shop.”
Mike Horder, Horders – Thornbury Press
“The majority of my customers this week do not like this at all, they feel the High Street has lost its atmosphere.
“Also I've noticed a lot of a certain generation which were regularly using the High street all through lockdown are no longer around”.
Tracey Gardiner, Rosie & Rex gifts and crafts shop
“Not a single customer in the shop has been in favour of the closure.”
Tina Stephens, LoobyLou Yarns
“As a business we have spent significant money and time ensuring that we have step-free access from the front of the shop right through to our garden decking and that those with disabilities and low mobility can easily access and use both our gift and coffee shop. It is heartbreaking that access to the High Street for those with limited mobility has not been properly considered.”
Tabi Marsh, Papilio at Heritage
Support for the closure
“Brilliant news. The majority of the parking is in rock street in any case and there are still plenty of options for disabled parking. Often thought the high street would be a lot nicer without traffic!”
“Excellent idea and much more user-friendly.”
“Should have been done years ago – people are just too lazy to walk from the car parks.”
(Comments from Thornbury Voice Facebook page)
The petition cn be found here.