This is an article sent to ThornburyVoice hopefully for inclusion in the February edition
There is now very little time before the West of England Combined Authority meeting, at which Dan Norris the Metro Mayor of WECA, must make a decision on whether to release to South Gloucestershire Council the £4.6 million requested in their Outline Business Plan for making permanent the changes to the centre of Thornbury. A look at where we stand right now may be appropriate, as well as listing some of the unresolved problems.
Despite the clearly voiced groundswell of majority opinion amongst Thornbury residents, South Glos Council has forged ahead with an unwanted and unworkable “Vision”. This vision has little or no relevance to the way in which trading was carried out prior to the Covid pandemic or which could sustain trading again now, given the chance. As one member of our Residents’ Association remarked recently, “Why are they doing this to Thornbury? Why not to Chipping Sodbury?”
The answer to this may be that this is a so-called “vanity project”, designed to make the originators of the programme look good. This would point the finger at Toby Savage, Leader of South Glos Council, and the Conservative-dominated Cabinet of the Council, in which not one Councillor lives in or represents Thornbury, yet they all voted as one for the changes. On the other hand, one could expect to have been granted some level of protection from an unsympathetic South Glos Council by our own Town Council, three of whose Councillors are also members of South Glos Council. However, appearing to have no empathy for businesses or users of the Town Centre, they sat on their hands and missed a signal opportunity to have the entire programme fully scrutinised.
What then was the answer to the question, “Why are they doing this to Thornbury?” Is it just Conservative v Lib Dem local politics? Or was there some horse-trading behind the scenes? That we shall probably never know.
So now, back to the 2022 Thornbury High Street, which may be thought of as a pedestrian zone with none of the expected features.
• Blue parking badge holders have been “granted” nine dedicated parking spaces in the grand scheme of things, which may seem generous, given that there are also dedicated blue badge parking spaces in the Town’s three free car parks. However, six spaces are outside the portion of the High Street which is subject to all the traffic restrictions, leaving only three inside the zone. Turning to the permitted waiting time in these spaces, three hours seems adequate for most purposes, but what of the former blue badge holders permitted to park on double yellow lines for up to three hours? Thornbury High Street is not going to have yellow lines, because the street surface will be designed to be at one level from side to side, with ridged pavers to alert partially sighted or unsighted persons to the edge of the pedestrian areas. Disabled parking in other areas would obstruct the one traffic lane and be penalised.
• The Council intends to create a through Northbound cycle lane, adjacent to the Southbound traffic lane down the High Street, which it sees as resolving the outcome of cyclists sharing a single carriageway. We believe this to be dangerous for all users. This might work in theory, except where allocation of space for pavement seating diverts pedestrians and narrows the available traffic space to one lane. How will this be resolved? South Glos Council says that it has answers to this, but none of them so far is specific.
• The much-trumpeted and possibly grudging U-turn by South Glos Council over the return of buses to the High Street is, again, not what it seems. Despite the release of the information pre-Christmas 2021, the change may just be in time to save whatever is left of trading in Thornbury High Street by Christmas 2022. Although it was easy for South Glos Council to ban buses from the High Street with little or no notice, and clearly little thought for the consequences, it seems that negotiating their return is a complex matter, needing input from WECA and a proper design for a bus shelter, the location of which has yet to be determined. How long will our public authorities be able to delay making any decision, whilst the established traders in our High Street suffer?
• Whilst we are talking about the established businesses in the High Street, let’s be clear about one thing. Prior to the pandemic, and immediately after making the emergency changes, did South Glos Council engage with the businesses over the layout and vehicle access to the street? Were there detailed investigations into the types of businesses operating? Was there at that time any consultation or research into how prohibiting through traffic would affect footfall and income? Was there any attempt to elicit information about how introducing a fortnightly travelling market from South Wales would impact takings from the shops? The answer to all these questions is a resounding “No” and, despite the fact that some limited “consultation” has now occurred, it is possibly far too late to have any meaningful effect on the Council’s intentions.
• The travelling market has been an apparent success for its stallholders, because an open-air market is not subject to the most obvious Covid restrictions, whilst the stalls obscure the shops behind them and divert spending cash away from Thornbury’s traders. Afterwards, the cash all moves back to South Wales, and Thornbury has not benefitted. How can this be said to be supportive of Thornbury’s businesses? And where will the stalls be located when the buses return? Silence from the Council so far.
• The latest piece of graphic art from South Glos shows the siting of various categories of parking spaces on the High Street, but how can this be in any way certain, when the location of the bus stop is not yet determined? Where are the much-vaunted pick-up and drop-off parking spaces, or are these now called “shared spaces”? Shared with whom? Will we retain the zebra crossing? What of the seating and tables currently outside the public houses? How will short term parking be resolved at the Northern end of the High Street and around The Plain?
A final word now on how much information South Glos Council has shared with the Residents’ Association, and how much is still missing. We have submitted two major Freedom of Information requests to the Council, and the Council responded initially by advising that they needed double the normal 20 days in which to reply. When the first answers finally arrived on Christmas Eve, they said essentially that the information would not be ready until after May 2022! This was clearly an indicator that even now they had still not done the required groundwork for their Business Plan; otherwise, this information would have been readily available. The second FOI request, again delayed by an additional 20 days, will not be answered until late in January 2022.
Is South Glos Council prevaricating, in the hope that the information will not see the light of day until it is too late to challenge them over it, or are they still floundering in half-formed ideas about their original vision, based on an urban street in London, and have no definitive answers at all?
If information in the Council’s Business Plan is outdated, missing or inaccurate, as we believe it is, then this should have a significant bearing on the success of the Council’s application to Dan Norris for the funding for permanent changes to the centre of Thornbury.
As your Residents’ Association, we will keep up the pressure on South Glos to provide clear and substantiated data on which they are basing their expectations for £4.6 million.