Changes to town centre pedestrianisation delayed to find best solution
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
Plans to change a controverisal road closure to allow more town centre parking have been put on hold in a bid to find the best solution for shoppers and businesses.
The proposal, discussed at a Beccles Town Council meeting on Tuesday night, August 4, would have seen planters currently blocking New Market to traffic moved to a diagonal line from outside Wetherspoons to outside Goodwin Cowley solicitors.
Deputy mayor Christine Wheeler said: “The council deferred the decision with regard to moving the planters at this time on New Market due to concerns it would not achieve the desired effect of freeing up enough car parking spaces, which is one of the issues raised by some businesses.
“There was also concern that confusion may arise with making this area two-way traffic.
“The council will actively give consideration as to whether a change is needed to the current closure and what that should be.
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“The survey response regarding the road closure in New Market showed a small majority in favour of the closure. We are also listening to businesses and wish to find a solution that will accommodate all concerns.
“The closure is an experiment and, as such, it is hoped various options will be explored based on the feedback received.
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“Beccles Town Council will consult again on these options as soon as possible, once they have been trialled.”
Councillors agreed not to progress further with a second phase of the plans, which would have included the closure of either Hungate or Blyburgate.
Councillor Wheeler said: “We carried out a survey to obtain feedback on these proposed measures and the majority were against.
“They had been initially considered to provide the hospitality sector with more outside seating space, but the Government decided to allow inside seating to open as well and so it was agreed these measures were no longer required.”
The issue of the pedestrianisation has proved a controversial matter since the road was closed six weeks ago to coincide with the reopening of high street shops, with local businesses fearing shoppers were staying away due to a lack of town centre parking.
At the meeting on Tuesday night, councillor Brian Woodruff said: “Lets remember what Beccles was – a market town. All these restrictions are now turning it into a ghost town and quite frankly I think the idea of trying to keep people apart by putting barriers up is completely wrong anyway.
“There are several towns I have been into in the last few weeks where they haven’t done it and their shops are surviving.
“The only people happy about what we have done so far are the supermarkets because that is where we are driving people.
“These barriers are doing nothing at all to stop people passing coronavirus.
“Let them come into town and park and lets get some of these shops back open again.”
Residents and businesses had been invited to take part in a survey to assess the impact of the closure, with councillors now preparing to examine the responses.
At the meeting, councillor Nathalie Chidley said: “Given that only about 6pc of the Beccles population voted in the survey, maybe we need to do it again when it has been closed a little longer.
“6pc either shows people aren’t really bothered or that we haven’t reached people, and if we are doing something on behalf of the community we need more than 6pc either way.
“We are all here trying to do our best for the town. No one is trying to kill the business or destroy the town.
“I have spoken to business owners in other towns and everyone is saying business is down 60pc, so we cannot blame our businesses being down on the fact we have shut the town square. That is not the reason.”
Speaking at the meeting, councillor Wheeler said the town was still in “extraordinary times.”
She said: “We are still in the middle of a pandemic and our priority has always been and will continue to be the safety of our community and creating an inviting place for tourists to visit so they are able to come into the town, feel safe and shop to spend money in our business and help the town open again.
“The decision has never been to drive customers away.
“None of these decisions have been taken lightly and have been very difficult.
“This is not the end of our deliberations, it is the beginning. The traffic regulation is experimental, which means we can see what works and what doesn’t, and we have up to 18 months to do this.”
A spokesperson for Beccles Town Council denied the closure of New Market would prevent events being held, warning social distancing must still be observed.
They said: “There has been some concern this road closure will prevent events taking place.
“It is only the pandemic that will have an impact as to whether events can go ahead and not the closure.
“For example, the Christmas lights will go up in the town, but if any Christmas event can take place this will be down to Government guidelines and what can be organised at that point in time.
“The council will try to facilitate any community event by being as creative as possible and, as such, the antiques market organisers have decided to hold their event on the Quay in August.”