FURIOUS shop owners in Stratford have banded together to demand an end to the town centre traffic scheme before it kills the high street.
Spearheading the campaign, Courtney Gilbert – owner of the Cosy Chic Pet Boutique in Sheep Street – launched a petition which was delivered on Tuesday evening to the county, town and district councils and MP Nadhim Zahawi. It had been signed by 157 town centre businesses.
Warning of the dire consequences of the continuation of the scheme – which widens pedestrian areas, prevents parking and enforces a one-way system in the town – Courtney said: “It is hastening along the death of the high street and every day that the scheme is in place is a day that our takings are much less than they should be.”
Businesses have complained since the scheme was suddenly implemented without consultation on 15th June that it is keeping shoppers away.
“We’re suffering,” added Courtney. “A lot of big businesses will leave and then a lot of the small businesses will fail because the town won’t be enough of an attraction.
“The lack of parking pushes locals away. The council are not listening to businesses or locals – I can’t understand the logic. Why can’t they say, ‘We tried it, it failed, we’ re willing to admit that – we’ ll take it away’ ? No, they would rather kill the businesses.”
Many retailers were frustrated after a meeting with the county council last month at which they felt their concerns were ignored.
Howard Clegg, of the Stratford Gallery, said: “The scheme is not working by any measure. It is not safe or promoting safety, it is not working for distancing, it is not helping businesses recover. Our appeals for change to the local authorities have been met with insults, contempt and a five-week period of inactivity when we all needed swift action.”
Defending the current traffic system, the county council’s portfolio holder for transport and planning Cllr Jeff Clarke said: “The scheme was introduced to deliver on our twin priorities of protecting public health during the pandemic and supporting economic recovery.
“The aim of the scheme was to provide additional space for social distancing so that pedestrians could circulate safely whilst also providing space for customers to queue outside businesses and to enable the hospitality sector to utilise outdoor space.
“We are continuing to monitor the situation closely, spending time observing the scheme and maintaining an open dialogue. We will be meeting with partners shortly to review the scheme and will of course include any feed- back from businesses as part of the evidence base on which we make decisions about the future of the scheme.”
Joe Baconnet, of business body Stratforward BID, added: “The next review meeting for the scheme will take place on 23rd July. I have asked WCC to consider a number of changes to the scheme that are aimed at addressing the concerns of businesses, but this would not go far enough for many of our businesses.
“However, some of our businesses are asking for more space, whilst others are asking for the total removal of the scheme based on its impact on them.”
See this Thursday’s Herald for reaction to the petition and other developments.