Colchester: Criticism over u-turn on High Street car ban

Death of a Town protestors carry a coffin to Colchester Town Hall to protest over the traffic restri

Death of a Town protestors carry a coffin to Colchester Town Hall to protest over the traffic restrictions in Colchester High Street before the u-turn. - Credit: Andrew Partridge

MORE than 120 people have so far signed a petition criticising a controversial decision to suspend a town centre traffic scheme.

The online petition has been set up to urge Essex County Council (ECC) to reinstate the trial that bans private vehicles from using Colchester’s High Street between 11am and 6pm.

The council launched the scheme with Colchester Borough Council on March 17 with the intention of running it for 18 months but on Thursday announced it was being suspended – only three weeks into the trial. The ECC’s highway chief Derrick Louis said he had made the decision after being lobbied by traders and disabled groups who oppose the traffic ban.

But, according to William Bramhill, who started the petition on the website, the council had not given the traffic scheme a chance.

He said: “The whole idea was the trial would be monitored and tweaked to improve it as it went along.

“So much has been spent on consultations over the years that to cut the trial after such a short time is ridiculous. The money would have been better spent on nurses and teachers.”

Mr Bramhill, who is chairman of Colchester Cycling Campaign, added: “The scheme had a rocky start caused by inevitable resistance to change, weighted press coverage and the cold weather. There were snags but that is what the test period was for: to sort out problems.”

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Mr Bramhill’s comments have been supported by Hugo Fenwick, group trading director at Williams and Griffin, a leading department store on Colchester High Street, which is currently undergoing major redevelopment.

He said: “Our customers have remarked on the ease of walking around and the improved shopping experience since the introduction of the new scheme to limit traffic on the High Street.

“The pedestrianisation of the High Street during shopping hours is a vital ingredient if Colchester is to retain its reputation as the pre-eminent retail and leisure destination of the region. It would be a retrograde step to abandon the policy as the future prosperity of the town centre is at stake.”

But Michelle Reynolds, chairman of Colchester Retail and Business Association (CoRBA), which represents two-thirds of the town’s retailers, said ECC’s decision should be “applauded”.

She said: “We lobbied for the scheme to be suspended because our members say their turnover has declined between 20% and 70% since it was introduced. Some traders haven’t had their rubbish collected in three weeks because trucks haven’t been able to access the High Street – that’s not acceptable.

“Mr Louis had a hard decision to make but he has listened to us and he has made it. What we need now is a proper consultation that takes in the views of all stakeholders.”

An ECC spokesman said it would not be commenting on the issue for the time being, while Mr Louis was not available for comment last night.

However, the leader of Colchester Borough Council, Anne Turrell, said she has spoken with Mr Louis and told that representatives from both councils will meet to discuss the issue shortly after the local council elections on May 2.

Ms Turrell added that the issue was generating a lot of discussion in Colchester.

She said: “I’ve had between 10 and 20 e-mails from different people every day since it was announced the scheme is to be suspended. It is clear people are agitated about this.

“In my five years as leader of the council I’ve never had as many people get in touch about one issue in such a short time.”