St Albans city centre road closures trial to go ahead in June

Road closure trials will go ahead in St Albans city centre this summer.

Road closure trials will go ahead in St Albans city centre this summer. - Credit: Matt Adams

Controversial trials for the pedestrianisation of St Albans city centre will still go ahead this summer, despite opposition councillors claiming it would negatively impact emergency services.

The road closures will begin in June and last for around a year, according to a timetable for the schemes.

Initially, the trials were set to begin in April but the first of these will now begin later in the summer and will also assess any impact on traffic, air quality and the city’s businesses.

The update comes after the chief executive of the ambulance service this week said that queuing times at hospitals and staff absence were more pressing issues, rather than pedestrianisation, and he was unaware the service had taken a stance in the debate.

Last week, the overview and scrutiny committee of St Albans district council (SADC) concluded that emergency services would be negatively impacted by the closures after hearing from a member of the service and receiving a letter from the fire service, but the council leader and Herts county council (HCC) said this evidence would only be known after trials had taken place.

During a meeting of SADC's City Neighbourhoods Committee on March 16, Rupert Thacker, HCC head of highways strategy and implementation, updated residents associations on the stages and timeline of the trials.

In a question about why the trials had not been abandoned following the district council’s meeting last week, Mr Thacker said the project group is engaging with the emergency services and said the trials would be an opportunity to gather the necessary evidence, including timed runs.

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Council leader Cllr Chris White (Liberal Democrat, Clarence) added he had put the question directly to the chief executive of East of England Ambulance Service at a county council meeting this week.

On Monday, the CEO of the East of England Ambulance Service Tom Abell told a meeting of the county council’s health scrutiny committee he was not aware the service had commented on pedestrianisation in the city, and in general any issues with road closures are “solvable” as long as the service is consulted.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Cllr White also claimed the fire service did not attend the overview and scrutiny committee last week after “they felt they were misled” and understood they would be addressing the project board at the county council, rather than a district council meeting. The police force also did not attend last week’s meeting, although no reason for their absence was given.

Cllr White said: “To suggest that even the ambulance trust is saying positively there is a problem with response times is simply not the case. There are downsides to the scheme, we know that, and I’m acutely conscious as a county councillor that some of my residents think it’s brilliant, some of them think it’s terrible and there’s another third pile in the middle.

“The one thing that isn’t relevant, as far as we know yet, is response times. We will find out when those blue light services give evidence and take questions from those who actually have a relevance to this particular project, not councillors from outside the city who are clearly no friends of this city.”

What will the trials involve and when will they be introduced?

Market Place has remained closed even as all other restrictions were lifted over the winter, and will stay shut for the duration of the trials.

The first trial will include the closure of George Street seven days a week, alongside a weekend closure of High Street. Both roads will only be open to vehicles during 7am-11am for access to properties and businesses. A loading bay will also be used along Verulam Road.

This trial would run for approximately six months, before High Street is then closed seven days a week, as it was during the Covid pandemic. This is expected to begin in December 2022, and run into summer 2023.

According to an indicative timeline set out by the county council, a decision on whether to retain any of the measures or to re-open the roads permanently will be made in June 2023.

The council will be using Vivacity sensors in the High Street to anonymously track how people are using the space.

Automatic traffic counts will monitor vehicles along Folly Lane and Catherine Street, as well as speed and volume counts along King Harry Lane, Old London Road, Holywell Hill, Verulam Road, Carlisle Avenue and Waverley Road.

Mr Thacker said these are spaced out across the city so more specific analysis can be undertaken throughout the trial if necessary.

The county council will also monitor car park usage, surveying businesses, along with using Google data to track traffic issues across a wider area. The county council will also introduce sensors to assess the air quality in the city.

No specific date for the trials to begin has been set, and district councillors on the public realm committee will need to rubber-stamp the proposals before closures come into place, with the next meeting scheduled for June 16.