Council defends ending Shrewsbury pedestrianisation trial early

Shropshire Council has defended prematurely calling off a trial pedestrianisation in Shrewsbury town centre following criticism from opposition councillors.

Shoplatch in Shrewsbury has been pedestrianised during lockdown
Shoplatch in Shrewsbury has been pedestrianised during lockdown

The authority’s Liberal Democrat group says the decision to end the experimental restrictions two months earlier than planned demonstrates a lack of commitment to reducing traffic in the town centre and prioritising pedestrians and cyclists.

It was announced last week that High Street, Wyle Cop (uphill) and Shoplatch would be fully reopened to motor traffic from September 1, rather than October 31 as originally planned.

Councillor Nat Green, who represents Quarry and Coton Hill, which includes the town centre, said: “The abandonment of town centre pedestrianisation will be a huge setback for the town centre.

“Not only will it make the town centre less attractive during the day for the increasing numbers that have been visiting since the end of the lockdowns, but it will also badly affect many businesses in town who have benefited from the café culture that pedestrianisation has generated.”

Councillor Green said the U-turn threw into doubt whether other promised interventions – including a trial low traffic zone in Town Walls – would materialise.

Councillor Rob Wilson, who represents Copthorne, said Government funding to Shropshire could be “at risk” as a result of the council’s unwillingness to implement active travel initiatives.

The Department for Transport warned earlier this month that councils’ performance in this area would be taken into account in determining future funding allocations.

Councillor Wilson added: “It is also a kick-in-the-teeth for the town council, the Business Improvement District (BID) and all of us who have been campaigning to reduce traffic in the town centre and promote active travel.

“Given that reducing traffic in the town centre is a key element in the Big Town Plan, one has to question whether Shropshire is fully committed to the plan.”

Councillor Andy Boddington, who represents Ludlow North, said ending the trial early also called into question whether other towns across the county would get to see similar traffic-reducing measures brought in.

He said: “We are always told that schemes for traffic and transport improvement will be tested and implemented in Shrewsbury first and rolled out to the market towns afterwards.

“But this Shrewsbury trial has fallen before it was even complete.

“Many market towns, including Ludlow, have been looking at reducing traffic, increasing active travel, and identifying areas that could be pedestrianised.

“This sudden U-turn by the council will put the whole county back by years and ensure we are last in the queue for government grants.”

Group leader Councillor David Vasmer said ending the trial early evidenced “divisions” within the council’s Conservative leadership over the importance of active travel.

Deputy group leader Councillor Heather Kidd added: “All this because a few Shirehall Tories don’t like pedestrianisation and are unwilling to let a trial scheme run its full course as demanded by a Tory government.”

This was refuted by Councillor Steve Charmley, deputy leader and portfolio holder for highways, who said the council was fully committed to making the town more pedestrian friendly – but wanted to get it right.

“Reducing through-traffic and making Shrewsbury more pedestrian-friendly is a key aspiration for the council, and of the Shrewsbury Big Town Plan – of which the council is a key partner,” said Councillor Charmley.

“To help achieve this we’re taking a proactive approach and trialling measures to create the best possible environment for the town centre and its businesses to thrive.

“We’ve now carried out one trial and will take time to consider all feedback received, with a view to carrying out further trials in the near future.

“The aim of these trials is to look at a potential future reshaping of the physical public realm and traffic management arrangements within the town centre.

“This would allow us to open up additional public space and promote pedestrian safety, active travel alternatives and movement around the town.

“We’re keen to develop a network of walking and cycling corridors in the town, and introduce low-traffic schemes.”

Councillor Charmley added that the proposed North West Relief Road was a “key factor” in enabling the council to bring in many of these measures.

A public consultation into the measures is open until January 2022.

Under the trial, Wyle Cop (uphill), High Street and Shoplatch are off-limits to motorists between 11am and 4pm on weekends and are closed to all vehicles except buses and taxis on weekdays.

Milk Street and The Square (southeast side) are closed to traffic from 11am to 4pm every day, and the bus lane has been suspended in Castle Street.

Changes to parking, waiting and loading restrictions are also in place.

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