New Thornbury High Street meeting booked after residents queue to express anger

September 23 2021
New Thornbury High Street meeting booked after residents queue to express anger

A SECOND town meeting to discuss changes to Thornbury High Street has been arranged for early next month.

As many as 200 people were unable to get in to the first meeting - called by members of the public under the town council's constitution to debate the closure of the street to through traffic and a series of other changes - because the room booked for it in Thornbury Leisure Centre quickly exceeded its capacity of 100.

The next meeting - on Wednesday October 6 at 7.30pm - will be held in the centre's Conference Room One, which has a capacity of 850 people.

Anger at the changes to Thornbury High Street erupted as residents had their first opportunity to discuss them in public at the town meeting.

A vote expressing no confidence in South Gloucestershire Council, which has introduced the changes, and Thornbury Town Council, which was accused of failing to oppose them, was carried unanimously.

Also agreed with no dissent were resolutions to ask for bus services to be routed back along the High Street and to form a residents' committee, with a view to launching a legal challenge to South Gloucestershire Council's traffic orders to make the changes permanent.

Council consultations on orders – to make traffic access-only and one-way between Castle Court and The Close, to introduce a 20mph speed limit, provide designated disabled parking places and loading bays, remove a zebra crossing and restrict parking in the surrounding area – were due to close on September 25.

The public meeting on September 9 was called under the town council's constitution by group of residents led by Clive Washbourne, who previously organised a petition against the changes.

Mr Washbourne opened the debate (pictured above) by condemning the decision to ban through traffic from the street as undemocratic, which was met with shouts of "hear, hear" from the audience.

He said South Gloucestershire Council had decided it could "do as it pleased" to the High Street, but one businesses had moved out, while others had reported income falling by up to 40% and "won't be here next year".

Mr Washbourne said Thornbury & Yate MP Luke Hall and Prime Minister Boris Johnson were among the people he had written to and added: "It needs the rest of you to do something as well."

He said launching a legal challenge would cost a minimum of £2,400 and could go up to £150,000 if it went to court.

Mr Washbourne said founding a residents' committee would help to give people of the town a chance to organise and have their opinions heard.

Jane Mitchell, founder of disability support group Accessibility Thornbury, said people with disabled children who relied on the bus could not get to the High Street, and neither could the two thirds of her members who did not qualify for a blue badge.

She said: "If they've done it to make the High Street disabled-friendly, they've failed."

Liz Slocombe said it was getting "more and more difficult" for blue badge holders to park and said: "The whole thing has been an absolute fiasco."

Sue Blick said she was no longer able to drive and could not now make regular visits to a place which was "an important part of my life".

She said: "It's the social side I'm missing dreadfully. Some days I'm so angry, other days I could weep. Covid has nothing in comparison to what South Gloucestershire have done."

She said that, at a time when High Street traders were facing increased competition from online sales and out of town stores, people were angry because they felt they were being forced to shop elsewhere.

Thornbury Town Council took the names of more than 120 people who were unable to get in - some estimates put the number in the queue as high as 200 

Many speakers felt South Gloucestershire had ignored the will of residents in bringing forward the closure, criticising officers and council leader Toby Savage.

Resident Lindsay Hall said: "After the Brexit vote the government didn't want it but they didn't go against the majority. We had a consultation, and two thirds of the people said they didn't want the High Street shut."

Alexandra Britton said the authority had been "completely undemocratic".

Former town mayor Charles Eardley-Wilmot said: "This is the first time in my experience that a council has invented a problem.

"Pre-covid the High Street functioned very well. I've known it for 75 years.

"I can't believe South Gloucestershire are actually contemplating bringing this before English Heritage, which you have to do to alter a conservation area."

Mr Washbourne had invited Luke Hall and Toby Savage to the meeting, but both had sent their apologies and there was no representative of the local authority present.

One politician who did attend was West of England Metro Mayor Dan Norris, who told residents he had come to listen to their views.

Afterwards he said: "The strength of feeling was driven home to me when I spoke with Thornbury High Street shop owners and staff on a recent visit.

"I attended the public meeting to hear residents’ opinions first hand. Many people were really angry and upset about what they feel South Gloucestershire Council is doing to the town they are rightly very proud of. 

"Many were relieved to finally be able to talk about how they feel. It’s clear that as far as people at the meeting were concerned, South Gloucestershire Council has engineered an awful mess. 

"Many local people said they felt ignored, not properly consulted, disrespected and angry, and they are clear who they blame. 

"Local politicians now need to brave up and face the public, and to some extent the music, to resolve this significant disquiet. 

"Based on the meeting this may no longer be possible. Future public consultations will need to be more sensitively and thoroughly carried out so that this kind of anger can be avoided. 

"As Metro Mayor I will be looking to see this when South Gloucestershire Council seeks funding from the West of England Combined Authority."

Thornbury Town Council staff took the names of more than 120 people who were unable to get in to the public meeting.

They will now be invited to the second meeting on October 6.

Council hails 'interest and constructive engagement' at drop-in sessions

SOUTH Gloucestershire council says almost 70 people attended the 'drop-in' sessions to view and talk about its plans to change Thornbury High Street.

The first day of sessions at the Turnberries Community Centre on September 6 was fully booked and a second day of sessions, which had to be booked in advance online, was held a week later.

Cabinet member for communities and local place, Rachael Hunt, said: “It has been great to hear about the interest and constructive engagement from local people in this process so far.

"I attended one of the sessions to hear first-hand the views being expressed. 

"Through the measures we want to put in place, Thornbury’s High Street will be centre for people, with access for those who need it, for deliveries to businesses, more disabled parking, public transport links and parking available close by.”

Consultations on the traffic regulation orders to restrict vehicle access, introduce disabled parking bays, loading and drop-off points were announced after September's Voice had been published.

They were due to close on September 25, with people encouraged to view the orders and comment online.

The council says the plans are part of its long-term vision to "help Thornbury High Street thrive".