Should St Albans city centre road closures be permanent?
- Credit: Matt Adams
A campaign has been launched to prevent road closures in St Albans city centre from becoming a permanent fixture.
Market Place, High Street, George Street and part of Verulam Road were closed to traffic when the first lockdown restrictions were eased in May 2020, implemented by Herts county council to prevent crowded pavements in the vicinity.
HCC is now looking at extending the closures while sourcing feedback from the public about it becoming permanent, as well as mooting the removal of parking and loading space in Waddington Road as well.
But many businesses have expressed their concerns about the closures, with an online petition launched to oppose the scheme.
Thomas James, of LA James family antiques dealership in George Street, said: "Is it not time to finally reopen our roads to normal life? Monday to Friday the road is empty, Saturday is a minor increase and then back to empty Sunday.
"I understand that this was all meant to be done based upon government social distancing guidelines but George Street and the High Street are hardly the central business area of the town.
"Instead, we now see the pedestrianised sections abused by constant food markets who don’t allow for social distancing and often block the gates preventing emergency access."
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Deryane Tadd of The Dressing Room said: "The road closures on High Street and George Street are incredibly damaging to business. We pay our rates based on being situated in a prime high street location, yet closing the roads diverts traffic and passing trade.
"It's ridiculous and damaging for retailers at a time we need our local councils to be supporting us.
"A move to extend these restrictions beyond 21st June is simply not right. The restrictions were put in place purely due to Covid and for social distancing, to use this pandemic as a way to push this through is unfair for retailers that have built their business in a busy, thriving high street."
Catherine Morris, manager of Christopher Place Shopping Centre, said: "From Verulam Road through to the Peahen pub we have many businesses who take great care to showcase their windows aimed at drivers sitting in traffic or passing by, and this no longer happens.
"I am in full support of the smaller roads such as George Street closing as it creates a fun hub and allows businesses to spill on to the street but not main roads stopping the flow of traffic."
District councillor Annie Brewster said: "This is the cart before the horse. Whilst I am the greatest advocate for reducing car use, safe and efficient alternatives need to be in place first, be they segregated cycle lanes, public transport that goes to where we need it to go, getting there in reasonable time, or similar.
"We are not Milton Keynes with a multiple grid-system road layout. Effectively, we only have two roads that traverse the city centre east-west so to permanently close the old A5 will displace traffic to multiple other routes creating chaos and increased idling resultant pollution, causing greater environmental harm.
"Residents have suffered the impacts of these temporary closures for many months now and, alarmingly for our visitor economy, feedback already indicates many would rather travel to alternative towns or shopping centres to avoid sitting in traffic that will only increase post 21st June."
SADC council leader Cllr Chris White, portfolio holder for climate, environment and transport, said: “My concern with this consultation is that it is not sufficiently embracing or detailed enough to properly gauge the views of those who could be affected.
“For example, there could be major traffic implications for people living across a wide area should the High Street and George Street continue to be pedestrianised as life returns to normal. This consultation exercise does not, however, attempt to engage these residents directly.
“Unfortunately, its terms were not discussed with us at the district council nor was St Albans BID, the voice of city centre business, approached.
“Much more collaborative and consultative work needs to be done before any proposals can be brought forward.”
To take part in the survey, visit http://www.hertfordshire.gov.uk/highstreetrecovery
To sign the petition opposing the closures visit https://bit.ly/3fJDict