'Closing town centres is not in the plan' – Shropshire leader asserts at public meeting
Leaders were keen to accentuate the positive at a robust online meeting over controversial plans to improve conditions for walkers and cyclists.
Time and again officials and a Shropshire Council cabinet member responded to criticisms that a consultation exercise on plans to improve walking and cycling would kill off trade.
Anger has centred on Ludlow where one of the local councillors alone has seen more than 1,000 responses to Shropshire’s draft Cycling and Walking Plan.
At an online meeting held on Facebook on Thursday officials rejected that they were trying to introduce the concept of a 15 minute city or low traffic neighbourhoods where cars are forced out of residential areas.
Such plans have lead to ferocious protests by libertarians in Oxford who want to have the right to drive where and when they choose.
Nathan Franklin said: "We do not want to see LTN and 15 minute city plans in the town. Can you commit to to the town not seeing these restrictions as they damage local business."
He was told that the plan was separate to that of the concept of 15 minute cities, where areas are developed to have services within 15 a minute walk or cycle.
"We are not extending the scope to include them," he was told.
Councillor Ian Nellins, the portfolio holder for climate change, environment and transport, said several times that closing Ludlow town centre is not in the plan. Access will be required for businesses in all towns.
Also at the meeting were Rose Dovey, Shropshire Council’s active travel manager and Aoife Dudley, of consultants City Science, who pointed out that they are car users too.
They said that the consultation is "not to ban traffic but to help walking and cycling to be positive" and that it was about being "pro-walking and cycling rather than anti car."
The plan includes scores of ideas for Shrewsbury, Oswestry, Bridgnorth, Market Drayton, Church Stretton, Ludlow and Whitchurch.
Debate centred on Ludlow where the plan documents include reference to considering "closure of historic centre to general traffic"
Also proposed are the closure of King Street and High Street to traffic (except for market access) by signalising Bell Lane or by using Silk Mill Lane and Bell Lane for resident access.
There is also a plan to convert the Ludlow Castle Street car park to an open community space and parking for market traders.
Ludlow town councillor Darren Childs said: "Some of the plans sound great and some could really help in Ludlow how ever closing the high street will destroy the market, shops and restaurants area access especially for the elderly and disabled."
He and other participants were told that all responses will be taken into account.
Councillor Nellins said the government is making money available to support walking and cycling schemes. But they are having to see which schemes would work and whether they have public support before drawing up a plan and applying for money.
He said there would be other opportunities to comment in future.
Mar Darcy said: "I have spoken to a number of market customers,they all say that if the roads into Ludlow town centre are closed to traffic then those customers will go somewhere else. What will the council do to save businesses that will go to the wall?
"Why cater to a minority of road users when a majority wants and needs cars and buses to visit our town."
And Mar Darcy added: "We have pavements for pedestrians and roads for vehicles, it has worked well for many many years. We don't need special cycle routes in the town centre.
"We have roads, the only time closing roads is necessary is during the busy festivals and the may fair."
And Hazel Adams said: "Have you looked at how these schemes have affected other towns. When Wolverhampton went carless and the buses were kept out of the town centre the whole town died. Everyone just shopped out of town so they could park and shop nearby."
But cycling supporter Steve Chapman said: "There is a lot of support for improving cycling infrastructure in Ludlow. Unfortunately there seems to be a core group who have got a bee under their car bonnet and can’t see past their brum brum."
And Bex Millington said: "Great idea to increase walking and cycling, better for the planet."
Pouring scorn on the whole process Chris Dawson said: "No point in having a consultation if questions are going to be ignored yet again. If you're not going to listen to everyone's point of view then it all looks very bias."
And Wendy Kirby added: "Well that’s great then. We will have plenty cycles in town but no visitors. Great work."
To find out more about the plan, and the consultation, visit newsroom.shropshire.gov.uk/2023/05/consultation-starts-into-shropshires-new-cycling-and-walking-plan/