Time running out to have your say on city centre road closures

Lorries navigating Verulam Road.

Lorries navigating Verulam Road. - Credit: Submitted

With just weeks left to have your say on road closures in St Albans city centre, retailers on both sides of the plans have made an impassioned plea for the public to consider their concerns.

Residents across the district are being surveyed by Herts county council (HCC) on whether the authority should permanently close George Street, Market Place and High Street - a decision which will impact on everyone who lives, works or spends leisure time within the city.

Waddington Road property owners and surrounding businesses are also calling for their street to be pedestrianised, while retailers in Verulam Road are urging the removal of planters which they say have been impeding deliveries from articulated lorries and creating traffic issues.

Waddington Road.

Waddington Road. - Credit: Matt Adams

The St Albans BID claims two independent studies undertaken by the George Street business community and a poll of residents and businesses in the immediate area has shown that the overwhelming majority of businesses and residents in the city centre are in favour of the closures.

But opponents to the scheme say deliveries are difficult and there are issues with safety, security and increased anti-social behaviour. Motorists are also experiencing longer journey times as the closures have had a knock-on effect on the flow of traffic.

District councillors have agreed to hold a special meeting of the overview and scrutiny committee to discuss the findings of the survey after it closes, and have asked for a report on the feedback and any proposals to remodel the city’s road system from HCC.

The committee has also asked for relevant data to be provided, such as displaced traffic statistics, consequential new route choices and city centre visitor numbers during the temporary pedestrianisation.

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BID director Richard Latham is urging everyone to take part in the survey: “Whatever your viewpoint, the BID encourages all residents and businesses from our local community to have their say and share their views and opinions by taking part in the survey.

"It’s clear that despite differences of opinion, everyone wants the same for St Albans, an attractive, vibrant city centre with thriving businesses and a healthy visitor economy.”

Lorries navigating Verulam Road.

Lorries navigating Verulam Road. - Credit: Submitted

Cllr Annie Brewster agreed: “This is a hugely important issue for both those living within the city and those who visit us.

“Pedestrianising these streets has created a welcome, safe, relaxed atmosphere and may already have prompted new behaviours like more walking and cycling. They have given the opportunity for additional outside dining, potentially better footfall for some shops and businesses, and have enabled more street markets.  More space has been available in the city centre for pedestrians, and social distancing has been made easier. 

“It has also meant some people may have struggled to get to shops and cafés with the removal of a number of disabled parking bays, trade and delivery operations in some businesses may have been made more difficult, and some roads elsewhere may have seen an increase in car movements.

"I have received some feedback to suggest it has discouraged some people from coming into St Albans due to congested traffic, and fire and ambulance services have been impacted. The knock-on effects on environmental pollution are unknown and need assessing.

“Receiving residents’ local intelligence and informed opinion is important so I urge everyone to take part in the survey. Clearly no one wants a repetition of the city’s one-way scheme abandoned some years ago. Any changes should improve our city’s prosperity and environment.”

The consultation period comes to an end on Sunday July 11, and here we present both sides of the argument to give readers the chance to make their own minds up about the proposals.

For the road closures:

Marina De Sclavis, owner of Chaos City Comics and Empire Records in Heritage Close: “Importantly there is less pollution which is great for the health of those in the city centre. People are now more relaxed and the pedestrianisation should definitely be kept in place.”   

Kris Bartos from High Street estate agents Cassidy and Tate: “It is much better with pedestrianisation. No more pollution and a great atmosphere with tables and chairs outside.  Passing footfall has increased.”

Andrew Masi at Waterers Tailors and Menswear said: “I started out against the High Street closure, but I have since changed my mind. My customers say that they really like the pedestrianisation. It is a little more inconvenient for unloading deliveries, but it is really good for the environment, the customers and the city. On balance, the pedestrianisation should certainly remain.”

Steve Foulds, beekeeper for the 'Queen of Herts' apiaries: “As a beekeeper who has the responsibility of looking after three apiaries in and around St Albans, I have noticed a big difference in the health and activity in the bees I keep behind The George Street Canteen in central St Albans since the closure and pedestrianisation of George Street and Verulam Road.

"The bees' foraging activities are up and resemble the hives I have positioned in remoter locations. Reclaiming our city centres back is not just for us, but for our bees and insects.” 

Against the road closures:

Deryane Tadd of The Dressing Room: “The road closures to High Street are having a negative effect on my business.

"I moved to the High Street location 15 years ago as it was a prime retail location with passing traffic and great visibility on a bustling high street.  Removing this traffic and replacing it with tables and chairs that are not being used has reduced visibility for my business and there are no plans to reduce our business rates in line with this.”  

Kevin Fields, sales manager of Beelex electrical: “I can understand the closures on George Street and Market Place but closing High Street - a main arterial road - is madness with the negative impact far outweighing the positives.

"The survey that has been produced is massively flawed as you can fill it in as many times as you wish. The queues on Catherine Street, Folly Lane, St Peter's Street, Hollywell Hill, Victoria Street, London Road, St Stephen's Hill, King Harry Lane, Blue House Hill, Batchwood Drive, Harpenden Road and Beech Road are unbearable. We have had so many people from out of town saying how ridiculous it is and how long it’s taken them that it’s put them off coming to St Albans."

Jane and Dada have also expressed concern about vans parking outside their window and blocking the shop front, Warhammer have delivery and parking concerns, and Head and Sort Podiatrists Ltd have issues with the cost of pedestrianisation and frustrations with deliveries.

Fill in the survey before July 11 at: https://surveys.hertfordshire.gov.uk/s/HighStreetsStAlbans/