Changes to town’s pedestrianisation plan approved
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
A controversial road closure aimed at keeping shoppers socially distanced is set to be relaxed as part of a “compromise”.
At an extraordinary meeting of Beccles Town Council on Thursday night, watched by more than 50 people on Zoom, councillors approved plans to amend an experimental Traffic Regulation Order (TRO), which will see New Market reopen to traffic and release 23 parking spaces four days a week.
Plant boxes, installed at the junction of New Market outside Co-Op, will be moved to around 5ft from the pavement to block parking spaces from outside Greggs to Barclays Bank, at the junction with Ballygate.
The road will then reopen between Mondays to Thursdays to traffic, before closing for the Friday market and remaining blocked off until 6pm on Sundays, until the end of the year.
Proposing the ammendment to the order, councillor Graham Catchpole said: “We have come a long way since early June when we learned the Covid-19 situation had eased slightly and shops and cafes could reopen.
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“We were under pressure from the government to create safe areas by widening pavements and creating space for queues to form.
“Since then the guidelines have changed and eased further.
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“All of us have learned the new ways of going about our business and respecting each other’s space.
“We created the TRO to enable us to deal with the changing Covid situation, there was no other motive.
“The current situation in New Market has been running since June 14 and has split our town almost down the middle, with passions running higher than I have ever seen in my 12 years as a councillor.
“We, as a town council, have to take back control to show leadership and demonstrate we are prepared to experiment with no hidden agendas.
“Prior to Covid, Beccles was a highly successful market town and the envy of towns around us and much further away.
“We now need to change New Market again to compromise between businesses and the two strong opinions coming from people in our town.
“I hope this proposal will bring our town back together again and contribute to making it even more successful.”
Councillor Jennie Robinson raised concerns the proposals would prevent vulnerable people from visiting the town on certain days.
She said: “My focus is on supporting businesses and the community of Beccles during Covid.
“This is not about permanent pedestrianisation.
“Closing New Market on Friday, Saturday and Sundays would restrict vulnerable people coming in on those days and according to our survey, Saturdays are when the majority of people come into town, so we would be pushing them out.”
Mayor Ashley Lever suggested the road closure could offer an opportunity to boost businesses in the winter months.
He said: “I owned a business in the town for 14 years and Christmas was always a strange time.
“My experience was over the years Christmas seemed to be later and later. The last post would go and everyone would come into the shop because they couldn’t order it online anymore, or Norwich would get too busy.
“If we are to have the road closed, I don’t see any harm in having some events in the winter months and it could really be a draw to get people into town sooner.”
Councillor Gillian Birrell said: “We are between a rock and a hard place.
“If we don’t let the businesses see if the free 30 minute parking is the sole issue impacting their footfall then we will continue to be blamed for their reduction.”
Councillor Stephanie Bubb said the compromise should help prevent anti-social behaviour in the town centre.
She said: “I am still not totally happy with the proposal, but I agree with it because I feel it is a compromise and should appease all - having a vacant square allowing skateboarders, barbeques and vandalism is far from ideal.
“Lets support our businesses and get back to some sort of normality, getting on with each other and making Beccles a much happier place.”
With a vote of 8-1, councillors approved the proposal, which is expected to be introduced in around five weeks.
The decision is dependent on the cost of moving the barriers every Friday and Sunday, as well as the design of the barriers.
Warning after ‘bullying and intimidation’
The meeting came days after the resignation of councillor Caroline Topping, who claimed she had been subjected to “threats, abuse and harassment” in recent weeks.
Speaking at the start of the meeting, mayor Ashley Lever said: “I appreciate there are passionate opinions on this subject and with such polarised views, no decision made will please everyone.
“No matter what the outcome, the bullying, intimidation, name calling and other ugly scenes of the past few weeks must stop.
“These incidents have seen people who have given up so much time to do such wonderful things for this town, particularly during the Covid lockdown, be put in a position where they no longer feel safe in the town they love.
“We welcome reasoned debate and comments from the public and we encourage it, we are here to represent you.
“However, we will not tolerate the continued activities of a minority of individuals which have soured the past few weeks.”
Loss of free parking ‘irritating’
Councillor Nathalie Chidley said the loss of free parking spaces would be “irritating” for drivers.
She said: “For a lot of the people against the closure, at the root, is the parking issue, and free parking.
“It can be very annoying when there is nowhere to park for free. If you are just picking something up from the dry cleaners, you don’t want to spend 70p in the car park, so I fully appreciate it is not simply about parking, but free parking.
“To me, it highly irritating that we don’t have control over our own car parks to say lets make half an hour free to make up for those spaces we have had to lose to make it safer for people coming into town.
“I find it incredible East Suffolk continues to enforce the parking in the car park at a time when everyone is struggling.
“When our residents in Worlingham come into town, it must be really irritating to pay for parking if they can’t find a free space.”