George Street traders call for permanent pedestrianisation as street closure debate continues
- Credit: Matt Adams
The debate over permanent pedestrianisation in St Albans city centre continues to polarise businesses, with many retailers in George Street now speaking out in favour of the move.
In contrast to their peers in and around High Street, where there is noted opposition to the pandemic-led road closures becoming permanent, a large proportion of traders in George Street have apparently taken the opposite stance.
Highways authority Herts county council is currently surveying residents on whether to permanently close George Street and Market Place as well as the High Street that runs past the Clock Tower, usually one of the main thoroughfares through the city.
The consultation period has been extended by HCC so every household in the district will have an opportunity to give their views on the plans, which impact everyone who lives, works, shops or spends leisure time in the city.
Many George Street traders have spoken out in favour of maintaining the closure, claiming it has increased footfall and reduced pollution, but it has come at the cost of disabled parking spaces and the promised café culture has yet to materialise.
Dylans owner Sean Hughes said: "We are pleased to see people able to browse shop windows on George Street without forcing people off the very narrow footpaths and I hope that moving forward we can get a positive closure or part closure that works for businesses and residents alike.
"The reduction in pollution is significant especially because we are on a hill we had a big issue with brake dust and fumes from clutches. The road is so much safer without these vehicles using it and I hope that it creates a more positive place for people who live around here as well as visitors to the street."
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Sarah Gillow of Galio jewellers said: "The street vibe is great - there is a vibrancy we haven’t see for years on the street and we are excited to see pedestrianisation become a permanent feature, with neat access and beautiful paving at a later date! Who knows this may even be the first step to establish a beautiful heritage Medieval Cathedral Quarter in the not too distant future?"
Mike Nuttal from Must Wine said: "It's been a leap forward in creating a very different business vibe but most importantly the customers love it from far and wide."
Annalisa Atelier from Ferrari Monte agreed: "The street closure is great, people seem to enjoy walk around much more than before and we can think of something that will encourage it even more. The only complaint I had is about disability parking that can maybe be integrated at the top or bottom of the street?"
Sam Campagna of the Alternative Barbering Company of St Albans added: "In my opinion we really should push to have the closure as a permanent fixture if we are utilising the outside space for all retail/catering units and venue area for a cultural benefit to the city."
But there are still those people unsure about the scheme.
County council vice-chairman Cllr Annie Brewster said: “I know the leader of the council shares my concern that all views, throughout the entire district, are sought on any potential permanent road closures. This is the only way to assess if such a major change is likely to be beneficial to the greatest number of people.
"Environmental and financial implications need to be weighed up. Less traffic in the city centre is a ‘nice to have’ but if numerous other roads are snarled up with idling traffic, this brings little benefit, or worse.
"Some businesses, such as in George Street, report benefits of a greater vibe and a desire to introduce outdoor dining there but others in Verulam Road and High Street are suffering badly with many customers turning their cars around or not even venturing into the city. I urge everyone to engage with the survey, dropping comments onto the relevant areas of the city centre map on the consultation website.”
Thomas James of LA James antique dealership said: "Maintaining this closure will result in our business having limited access which when dealing with furniture is unacceptable.
"People are very keen to point out the usage of trolleys to move heavy pieces of furniture – we argue that rolling a heavy piece of furniture up or down the street is a) not safe and b) damaging to expensive pieces when the weather is anything less than clement.
"During the 60-plus years we have been open, vehicles have been able to access the property allowing us to offer our customers a personal touch that other stores don’t offer.
"We have had multiple residents from roads all around the area, commentating on their upset over the reduction in parking, disabled parking and increased heavy goods."
The survey closes on Sunday July 11 and can be found here: https://surveys.hertfordshire.gov.uk/s/HighStreetsStAlbans/