U-turn over High St 'disaster'
The traffic scheme has led traders to push harder for support to improve the High Street and Broad Street. The Staple Hill Chamber of Trade and Commerce is being revived. George Georgiou of the Butcher's Hook, centre, is the acting chair of the group, while Mike Sheen of Sheen Studios, second left, is the acting assistant chair, Paul Hooper of Tshirts4You, left, is the acting treasurer and Tina Lewis from The Beauty Spot is the secretary. George said: "I hope the council learns from their mistakes on the traffic scheme; "They told us they didn't have anyone to tell – they know we're here now."
A SCHEME to increase space for social distancing by making part of Staple Hill High Street a single-lane road was an "absolute disaster", traders say.
Introduced by South Gloucestershire Council to create more space for pedestrians, the barriers and traffic lights forced traffic to travel in one direction at a time on the street by the Page Road junction.
Extra traffic lights between the light-controlled junctions with Pendennis Road/Acacia Road and Victoria Street/Soundwell Road caused jams. A pelican crossing was closed, making it more difficult to cross the road. And the closure of the High Street's junction with Page Road made it harder for shoppers to access free car parks.
Halfway through the trial, which residents described as "ridiculous" – the council removed the barriers, saying it was "adjusting" the scheme
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to "install more appropriate measures to protect people in the areas where social distancing is most needed".
George Georgiou, who runs butcher's shop The Butcher's Hook, said the single-lane system had been an "absolute disaster" for traders.
He said his own takings had been down by 25 to 30% during the time the scheme was in place, while other shops lost up to 70% of their trade.
He said: "The Monday morning after the barriers were up, there was already a traffic jam outside when I came in.
"We had a massive drop in trade. They might as well have dropped a bomb in the middle of the street – it was the same disruption.
"We're trying to build up the High Street – it's taken years to build people's trust and respect. I've lost a lot of those customers back to supermarkets."
George said traders first heard of the scheme days before it happened.
The Voice had contacted the council in May to ask whether any schemes were under consideration in the area, following a short-lived lane removal on the A4174 in Filton. However, details of the Staple Hill scheme were not announced until two days after our July edition had gone to press.
George said: "There was no communication, no study was done before to see if it was needed or not.
"It's bizarre how a council can just go ahead, throw money at something that's not been surveyed.
How can you justify that?
"I understand the need for social distancing but the scheme made no sense at all. Where they put it wasn't a heavy footfall area."
Staple Hill and Mangotsfield ward councillor Michael Bell said he and colleagues Ian Boulton and Katie Cooper "received hundreds of comments" after asking traders, customers and residents for their feedback on the impact of the changes.
He said: "Everyone understands the need for social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as encouraging more cyclists and pedestrians, however the lack of parking on our High Street was deterring visitors and the viability of our local shops was put in doubt.
"In addition, the additional set of traffic lights created a bottleneck which slowed the flow of traffic and created tailbacks, which meant idling engines and increased air pollution."
As pressure increased the council agreed to meet traders and councillors and revised the scheme.
The barriers were removed on July 12 and replaced with an alternative scheme widening the pavement nearer to the Soundwell Road/Victoria Street junction, moving the bus stop outside the Butcher's Hook and introducing a temporary 20mph zone from the Hill House Road junction with Broad Street to the Pendennis Road junction with the High Street.
The authority said it had made the changes after "feedback from residents and businesses which has given us a better understanding of how the High Street is being used and identified clear ‘pinch points’ for social distancing".
Funding for the work came from central government through the West of England Combined Authority.
A South Gloucestershire Council spokesperson said: "The Government has issued statutory guidance which expects local authorities to make significant changes to their road layouts to give more space to cyclists and pedestrians.
"The guidance also states that ‘measures should be taken as swiftly as possible, and in any event within weeks, given the urgent need to change travel habits before the restart takes full effect’.
"We all need to abide by the Covid-19 guidelines to protect each other, help to control the virus and save lives.
"Given these timescales, we have not been able to carry out a full consultation as we normally would expect to for a scheme of this scale before its implementation but we are providing as much information as possible and answering queries as quickly as we can.
"We discussed the proposals with local residents and business representatives where possible before implementing the changes."
The spokesperson said the council had received a petition "in favour of keeping some elements of the scheme".
You can provide feedback about the Staple Hill High Street scheme at www.southglos.gov.uk/streetchanges