City centre road closures decision 'not a district issue'

The St Albans City Centre Board will decide on whether to maintain road closures in streets like Verulam Road.

The St Albans City Centre Board will decide on whether to maintain road closures in streets like Verulam Road. - Credit: Matt Adams

The district council has washed its hands over any decision on maintaining St Albans city centre road closures.

Leader Cllr Chris White told a full council meeting that SADC was not responsible for whether the closure of High Street, George Street, Market Place and part of Verulam Road would continue.

He insisted it was a matter for county councillors working alongside residents associations, calling it "a local issue for local people", particularly people living in those roads.

County Hall shut the roads last year to enable social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, and some local councillors have since asked to maintain the closures to facilitate markets and al fresco dining.

But there has also been opposition to the scheme, with certain High Street businesses claiming it was having a detrimental effect on trade.

Cllr White's comments came in response to a motion brought by Cllr Annie Brewster calling for both HCC and SADC to work together to prepare detailed, evidenced and funded future schemes that could involve full closure, part-closure, weekend closure or summer closure of all or some of these roads, and to reopen them while this work is carried out.

She said a consultation about the scheme in surrounding streets highlighted concerns about displaced traffic and congestion, and there was a need to examine traffic flow data to determine the wider consequences of the closure. She also called for a survey of all city centre businesses and a “comprehensive” public consultation.

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Cllr Brewster said although automatic traffic counters existed on some surrounding roads very few had been active for various reasons, including an inability to access them during the pandemic.

The final say on whether the closures will carry on for a further 12-18 months requires the 100 per cent agreement of a specific St Albans City Centre Board made up of county councillors Chris White, Sandy Walkington and Helen Campbell, alongside St Albans BID manager Denise Parsons, district councillor Anthony Rowlands, HCC executive member for highways and transport Cllr Phil Bibby and an officer from both SADC and HCC.

But the group only consists of central St Albans councillors, with no local representation from elsewhere in the city or district.

“The decision of the panel has to be unanimous,” Cllr Bibby previously told the Herts Ad. “And there has to be 100 per cent attendance at the relevant board meeting.”

Cllr Brewster said: "The county council has consistently said it is merely an 'enabler' for any road closures and that this has to be a district council decision. Therefore I believe it was right to bring the motion to full council so all councillors had an opportunity to feedback from their own wards.

"The ripples of the closures are affecting all wards in the district, with the impacts being reported in all directions, including preventing visitors from coming to the city.

"It is a project being done backwards using an emergency Covid ruling to enable further closure, and the motion was merely asking for the roads to reopen while the correct research, evidence, design, costing and comprehensive consultation takes place."

Cllr White proposed an amendment to the motion calling for it to be discussed by the public realm committee at its next meeting on November 24. The committee will feed back an official response on its findings to the project board.

Cllr Julian Daly, who seconded the motion, added: "I am disappointed with Cllr White's comments. It is a bigger issue than simply his ward or the one next to it. I have the advantage of cycling around St Albans and cannot help noting the knock-on effects.

"It is contentious and it is not helping the contention if the detailed work is not done."