Burnham-On-Sea High Street’s temporary pedestrianisation scheme is set to be eased in a bid to boost the trade of shops while enabling shoppers to still use the town centre safely, it was decided last night (Monday).
During a ‘virtual’ meeting of the Town Council, councillors debated whether to extend the High Street scheme or remove it following the feedback of hundreds of local people during the council’s consultation during the past week.
The temporary pedestrianisation scheme was introduced in Burnham-On-Sea High Street on June 18th – and also in other Somerset towns – to enable shoppers to stay safely socially-distanced during the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.
Monday’s meeting heard that while a majority of shoppers support the pedestrianisation, many shop owners say their trade has been hit by the scheme.
After considering the feedback, town councillors voted in favour of several changes to the layout in order to allow more vehicles into the High Street. The planned changes have not yet been approved by Somerset County Council’s Highways team, who will decide whether they go ahead later this month.
Planned changes to Burnham pedestrianisation:
- Keep Burnham High Street closed to traffic between College Street and the old NatWest bank building
- Open Burnham High Street between College Street to Cross Street for on-street parking
- Keep the Burnham High Street section between Cross Street and Adam Street closed to traffic
- Open Burnham High Street from the junction of Adam Street along to the S&D pub for on-street parking
- Restore Abingdon Street to two-way traffic again
During the meeting, councillors debated whether to make any changes. Cllr Peter Clayton said: “We had slightly more members of the public voting in favour of the temporary pedestrianisation measures but a strong majority against from the traders. So it’s a tough call to make – it is really difficult to know where we go from here. I think we are between a rock and a hard place, but we must remember that we’ve got to keep the public safe.”
“If the shops go out of business then what is the point of pedestrianising the High Street. I think the consultation went well with every shop receiving a questionnaire and also a personal shopper survey being carried out from 9:30am to 2:00pm on a busy Saturday which we felt were the peak hours for that particular day. We had some very mixed responses.”
“Can we come up with a compromise? I believe we can. Keep the section between College Street and the NatWest bank closed to traffic – which is probably a must given that the queue for the Nationwide is now outside the old job centre across the road.”
“Also I suggest keeping the section between Cross Street and Adam Street closed to traffic as well which will free up some parking from College Street to Cross Street and also from Adam Street down to the S&D pub. The pavements in the south section of the High Street are around four metres wide in places so the 1-metre+ social distancing can be applied. It also resolves the problem for the residents as they all live within that section and they could freely access their properties. There won’t need to be barriers on that one section. A good number of complaints were down in that area that didn’t want pedestrianisation in the South section.”
“A good number of the people that did want the pedestrianisation were in the North so this compromise, I think, will work. I also think it’s needs to be monitored and I don’t think all the barriers should be taken away now – I think we should monitor it and if the tourist numbers do rise dramatically then we must put the barriers back there again and go back to ‘Plan A’.”
This set-up will be the same as currently, 9am -5pm. It will also remove the need for Abingdon Street to be one way as well – we have had complaints regarding boy racers whizzing up along that stretch because it’s one-way.”
He added that the compromise should start as soon as possible, once consultation with County Highways has been completed. The existing traffic order continues until August 18th.
A representative from Burnham Chamber of Trade was invited to speak and added: “A majority of traders would like to see the pedestrianisation removed – many say their trade has been hurt by the closure, however we are aware that we need to ensure that shoppers are safe. The proposals are a step in the right direction to address some of the concerns while keeping a safe shopping environment. Another key factor for traders is better signs. It’s felt the big red ‘closed’ signs everywhere are sending out the wrong message that the whole town centre is closed – we need more welcoming signage in place explaining that shops and businesses are open.”
Cllr Chris Allen added: “I have listened to numerous views on this subject and I know many have strong views about the pedestrianisation and the traffic directions. Nationally, the restrictions are being lifted and we are being encouraged to resume our lives as before, but with care. The traders I see mostly want the High Street re-opened which is understandable as their livelihood has in most cases been severely impacted. Our residents and visitors should be encouraged to support our local businesses to help them survive an increasingly challenging situation.”
“We are told that the main danger of infection is from crowded, unventilated enclosed spaces. But the High Street is open and there is an abundance of fresh air circulating. It is up to the businesses in Burnham and Highbridge to ensure the safety and wellbeing of themselves and their customers, both in their own interests. The local shops I have visited have all been doing this, so I think I felt quite reassured. There have also been suggestions that pedestrians could follow a one-way system but I doubt that would be adhered to. For those who are still hesitant about shopping for the timebeing, why not try coming into Burnham and Highbridge earlier or later in the day which should might make finding convenient parking space much easier – the town is less crowded and you will be spreading the load for businesses. I think that we should move forward by bringing the barriers down as soon as possible.”
Cllr Andy Hodge added: “I joined the other councillors in the town centre on Saturday and I want to go back to why we’ve done this. We have done this as a temporary cessation of the High Street for health and wellbeing purposes during the Covid-19 outbreak. I spoke to a lot of people who were supportive of the decision you made as a council in putting the health and wellbeing forward as a priority. There were a lot of people who had misinterpreted that, thinking it is part of a longer term pedestrianisation and we need to make it very clear that this is a temporary one.”
“Looking at the data, it is a very mixed bag of data – so people look like, some people don’t. So I think listening to perhaps the qualitative data that came out of the people I spoke to was that people actually feel that we’ve done something that’s made the town feel safer and that some people wouldn’t have come into the town if the social distancing hadn’t been in place.”
“If we look at what’s happened recently in the national media, the pubs played a blinder. They turned it around and made it a very successful PR story. They should all be congratulated on the way they handled it. They showed you can turn a bad situation into a good thing.”
“We debated the pedestrianisation and went into it wholeheartedly, putting the wellbeing of the town first, so I don’t think we can just walk away from it. I now welcome the opportunity to back a hybrid opportunity that can balance out the health and wellbeing to keep us all safe during the next period that we are going into which is the busy period – the time we really need to be protected. Footfall could rise in Burnham by 10-30% over the next six weeks, so if there is a safe route forward I welcome that.”
Cllr Mike Murphy added: “I spent some time at the weekend talking to traders and noticing what they were doing and I have to say that I salute the traders because they are making an effort. They are definitely encouraging distancing – they have signs and screens in almost every shop.”
“My inclination is to think that there is a definite fall in footfall going into the shops. I support making the High Street an attractive destination in the future with things happening in the middle of the street with people singing and shows going on, but today we are in a very hard place – in a rock and a hard place – and we’re seeing some Burnham shops saying footfall has more than halved. Their livelihood is at stake, their whole being in the High Street is at stake. I agree with Chris Allen, I think that we are in a situation here where we are talking about the livelihood of shops as well as the health. I think the shops are handling the health side extremely well. People are respecting distances. They are still nervous about coming into the High Street but I think that will gradually dissipate.”
“We can’t wait until the mid of August to ‘switch on’ any part of the High Street, which will be a death knell to the shops. I honestly think we should cancel it now. We’ve done enough. We’ve made the point.”
Cllr Phil Harvey said: “I think we’re in a position where literally whatever we do half the people will say it’s wrong and the other half will say it’s right. We could do the exact opposite and get exactly the same result. The survey shows that whatever question there’s never more than a 40-60% split one way or another. I think that whatever we do we’re in trouble. So we have to come back to what is the best thing to do. When we started this, I said at the time that one of the criteria we ought to be looking at is the Government’s national Covid risk level and that was at 4 and is still at 4. So we are still in an ‘amber’ situation rather than a ‘green’ or a ‘red’.
“I also look at the footfall figures and last week we had over 7,000 more people in the High Street that we had the week before. Of course last week the High Street was completely pedestrianised, so I don’t think that pedestrianisation is necessarily a factor in whether or not people are visiting the High Street – some people are visiting more because they enjoy it they like. They like to walk through. I certainly do. Other people say they can’t park their cars. There are pluses and minuses.”
“I think that frankly that people who are not visiting the High Street are not doing so because they do not feel unsafe going out, whether that’s going out into a shop or just going out generally.”
“Burnham is doing comparatively well. This last week, according to the footfall figures, we had 58% of the previous year’s footfall. In central London it’s 20% – so comparatively we’re doing quite well. I’m not sure that the pedestrianisation is making a difference.”
“I think the traders are over-estimating the effect of pedestrianisation on their trade. I think the effect is simply that Covid-19 means people do not want to go out as much. I have only been into two shops since February. I’m probably representative of some number of our residents.”
“What Cllr Clayton has suggested has some merits because it actually will leave part of the High Street pedestrianised and part of the High Street which isn’t. Therefore, we have the opportunity to see whether that simply confuses people or whether it does help traders. So I think I would be inclined to go along with what Cllr Clayton has said as being the best of the lots of different alternatives there are thinking about you.”
Cllr Dawn Carey added: “I’ve been very vocal about closing the High Street for safety. I was in the town on Wednesday speaking to traders and then again in the town on Saturday speaking to the public and there are very, very mixed views. We can’t ignore what the traders are saying but I absolutely support what Cllr Clayton is saying. Speaking to many residents on Saturday, they like knowing the town centre is a safe place to go where they can maintain social distancing. Interestingly, a lot of people were saying they were hanging around the town a little bit longer because they were enjoying being out and about. We can’t ignore the traders though, so my vote goes to what Peter says and opening up some of that as soon as possible while constantly reviewing it and keeping an eye on what’s going on.”
Cllr Sue Barber added: “I wholeheartedly agree with what Cllr Phil Harvey has said. I don’t think necessarily that people are put off entirely by the pedestrianisation – I think a lot of it is just people’s fear of venturing out into the public domain with the Covid virus still present. Unfortunately, with Burnham being in the national news over the last week with various public houses and businesses closed, I think people are just very wary. Maybe the slightly reduced pedestrianisation scheme will increase the flow of traffic to certain areas. We have to keep reviewing it and just continue to support our residents and our retailers.”
Mayor Cllr Mike Facey thanked councillors for a “very good discussion” and he added that he would support Cllr Clayton’s proposal. “I like the idea – I realise there will be a lot of work for our officers. I completely support the proposal for extra signage on the roads coming into Burnham to say that we have partial street closures due to the pandemic but we are open.”
Cllr Clayton’s proposal to change the pedestrianisation scheme was seconded by Cllr Facey. It was also noted that existing street wardens will continue to be used to enforce the scheme.
The proposal – which will need to be approved by the County Council Highways team – attracted seven votes in favour while two councillors – Cllr Murphy and Cllr Allen – voted against.