(22nd June 2021 St Albans, Herts) As St Albans businesses look to the future, the question of traffic routes through the city has divided opinion. With road closures in the centre implemented last year by central Government to improve social distancing, the big question now is should the roads remain closed?
Has COVID-19 given us an opportunity to improve the city centre for good or would permanent road closures be detrimental?
Waddington Road property owners and surrounding businesses have been lobbying local authorities to pedestrianise the street for over a year, expressing concerns for public safety issues as well as the need for regeneration. A petition launched early this year by a local business owner, which called for Herts County Council (HCC) to undertake a full study of the potential pedestrianisation of the city centre, was accepted by HCC. Meanwhile, businesses on Verulam Road were calling for the removal of planters which were impeding deliveries from articulated lorries and creating traffic issues.
In April 2020, a working group was established by Cllr McNeil, lead Cllr for Business for St Albans District Council (SADC) and the St Albans BID (BID), to understand the key issues on both sides of the debate and to build consensus on a possible way forward.
In May 2020, members of the group – comprised of businesses and residents from impacted streets including High Street, Heritage Close, Verulam Rd, Christopher Place, Waddington Rd, George Street, Upper Dagnall St and Spencer Street – presented a strategy to HCC involving pavement widening, one-way traffic on Verulam Rd and High Street and weekend pedestrianisation.
Since then, businesses and residents from outside of the group are speaking out, with the majority of city centre businesses and residents in favour of retaining pedestrianisation for a further 18-month trial while formal studies, including traffic studies, are undertaken by HCC.
With St Albans recently being voted the least polluted UK city amongst 50 contenders in a recent study by hotel chain Novotel, re-opening through routes would inevitably increase pollution. This concern has long been voiced by residents and business owners who have suffered high levels of pollution from idling cars, buses, and lorries.
A survey undertaken by the Heritage Close Residents association that polled High Street residents and businesses in Heritage Close, High Street and proximate locations also showed that the vast majority support the continued pedestrianisation of High Street.
With the survey closing soon, Richard Latham, Director of St Albans Bid, urges everyone to take part:
“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.”
It’s been an extremely hard year for retailers, and many agree that the closures have resulted in a better consumer experience and street vibe. Attracting staycationers is a must for St Albans and Place Dashboard data shows that footfall in St Albans has increased by more than 50% since April, versus the national average increase of 33%, with footfall during May being over 125,000 per week.
An informal poll undertaken by the George Street Businesses community showed that the majority of businesses on the street want the pedestrianisation to remain.
Marina De Sclavis, the owner of Chaos City Comics, Heritage Close is supportive of pedestrianisation:
“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 real estate agents Cassidy and Tate agrees:
“It is much better with pedestrianisation. No more pollution and a great atmosphere with tables and chairs outside. Passing footfall has increased.”
However, not all businesses agree that the pedestrianisation should continue with some businesses and residents opposing the permanent closures. Deliveries are difficult and other reservations include safety, security and increased anti-social behaviour. Residents living across the district are experiencing longer journey times as the closures have had a knock-on effect on the flow of traffic.
Deryane Tadd of The Dressing Room said:
“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, says they are having to assist lorries and delivery vans as they struggle to turn at the barriers which is dangerous and damaging to their business. He said:
“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”
Views have changed for some retailers as post lockdown measures have become the norm. 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.”
From an environmental perspective, Steve Foulds, the Beekeeper for the ‘Queen of Herts’ apiaries who says that our bees are at risk, says we should take the opportunity of pedestrianisation:
“As a beekeeper who has the responsibility of looking after 3 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.”
Information: Read comments from local businesses online at www.StAlbansBid.Com
Have your say. Click the link below and take part in the survey online: