Residents vote to investigate legal action over Thornbury High Street changes

October 21 2021
Residents vote to investigate legal action over Thornbury High Street changes

THORNBURY residents have voted to investigate taking legal action against South Gloucestershire Council over its decision to close the town's High Street to through traffic.

The vote was taken at the second of two public town meetings called to debate the changes to the High Street, which was attended by around 200 people.

Those who attended heard that moves to set up a residents' association for the town, which would spearhead the legal challenge, had started.

Details of people interested in joining the group were collected at the meeting, which was held at Thornbury Leisure Centre on October 6.

It was called after more than 100 residents were turned away from the earlier town meeting in September, when the room booked for it exceeded its safe capacity limit.

Once again, people waited in turn to protest the changes to the High Street, with all but one of the speakers opposing them.

Objections ranged from people with mobility issues being unable to access the street by bus or car to increased pollution in surrounding roads and problems for firefighters reaching the town's fire station through congested traffic.

The meeting also heard a pledge from West of England Metro Mayor Dan Norris, who has a role in shaping regional transport policy and spending.

He said: "I'm probably going to be asked to fund High Street work. I will not be agreeing to that unless I'm absolutely sure that there has been a full, thorough and respectful public consultation that truly reflects the opinion of local people."

The meeting heard accusations that South Gloucestershire Council had ignored the will of residents in its official consultation.

Jill Cyphus, who is helping set up the residents association, said: "The people who should be representing us haven't, and are still not listening, despite an overwhelming percentage being against the closure – over 65% of those completing the survey.

"We have been forced into this position by South Gloucestershire Council and they need to feel the weight of opinion against the closure.

"There will be no way back unless we act now."

John Riddiford (above), who runs the High Street's grocery shop, said some customers had arrived at the shop "in tears" because of problems getting to there.

Mr Riddiford is also watch manager for Thornbury's retained firefighters, volunteers who drop everything to respond to emergency calls.

He said later that many of his colleagues were taking longer to reach the fire station to respond to calls because of jams in Rock Street, with some even using electric scooters to beat the queues.

Adrian Savery, whose locksmith business is on The Plain, said the High Street had been "empty" since the changes, adding: "My customers say 'we don't come to Thornbury any more – you can't park, it's too much hassle'."

Willie Grey told the meeting he had resigned his lifelong membership of the Conservative Party because of the changes introduced by the Tory-run council, adding: "It's a disgrace what's being done to our town."

Jill Davis told the meeting she was a stroke survivor who used to visit the High Street all the time but said: "Now it's so difficult for me to get disabled places, and it's too far for me to walk."

Midland Way resident Frank Brady said pollution outside his home had increased so badly, "we can't open our front windows and we've had to get an air purifier".

Liam Williams (below) spoke in favour of the changes, saying many supporters "don't feel able to speak out" in a "polarised community".

He said something had to be done to reduce carbon emissions in the town and that the High Street couldn't go back to how it was before the pandemic, which "wasn't that great".

Mr Williams said pedestrianised towns "do work" and called on people to work together to resolve issues.

A motion to form a residents association was put to the meeting and carried unanimously, followed by a vote to investigate legal action.

Clive Washbourne, who led the process of calling the town meetings and ran a petition against the changes last year, received a standing ovation at the end of the meeting.

He told residents that taking on solicitors to investigate legal action would cost £2,400 but a full legal challenge could cost up to £70,000.

He also said he would contact the Local Government Ombudsman, who can investigate complaints of maladministration by councils.

A spokesperson for the council's ruling cabinet said no members had been invited to attend the second public meeting and they had declined to attend the previous one because official council "engagement sessions" on the plans were being held on the same week.

The spokesperson said council leader Toby Savage and officers had met with Mr Washbourne and a "small delegation" after the September meeting.

Lib Dems 'angry' at changes

THORNBURY'S Liberal Democrats have issued a statement on the changes to the High Street.

The party holds all the seats on the town council, which has been criticised at two public meetings for not opposing South Gloucestershire Council's decision to close the street to through traffic and part-pedestrianise it.

Thornbury & Severnvale Liberal Democrats say they were "taken completely by surprise by the decision by South Gloucestershire Council to close our High Street, and angry that they hadn’t asked us in advance".

They added: "We were told that this was a temporary experiment to provide better social distancing for shoppers because of covid, and that the people of Thornbury would then be invited to have their say. 

"Most of us were prepared to accept it on that basis – we could see some benefits of a traffic-free area, but were concerned about the impact it would have on the businesses in the town centre.

"We could also see the impact this was having on traffic flows around the town, particularly in Rock Street, and wrote to South Gloucestershire Council, strongly recommending that these be investigated before any final decisions were made.

"However, SGC chose to ignore this suggestion, and in June the 5-person Conservative cabinet, none of whom represent Thornbury, declared that the High Street will remain pedestrianised.

"Since then, they have made it clear that whilst this decision is final and irrevocable, they are prepared to discuss the details of how the scheme might work.  We have therefore been working with South Gloucestershire officers to make the make the best of it."

The councillors say they have asked South Gloucestershire to "look at allowing some buses" but have not yet had a response to this request.

Excavation works were taking place on the High Street between October 18 and 22 to "investigate the full structure under the pavements".