Angry shopkeepers urge County Council to reconsider decision as Witney High Street closure officially takes effect

Councilors have contacted traders angry as traffic restrictions in Witney town center officially become permanent.

Oxfordshire County Council’s statutory traffic control order, which comes into force on January 14, can be found on their website.

Drivers who violate the order are fined.

The measures were introduced as part of Covid regulations to encourage social distancing and were due to expire on January 3, 2022.

Only buses, taxis, blue badge holders and loaded and unloaded vehicles were able to use Witney’s High Street and Market Square for 18 months.

In a county council consultation, 60% of those polled said they opposed or worried about the ordinance’s continued existence.

Oxfordshire County Council approved the move at a meeting in December.

Henry Mo, spokesman for Independent Shops and owner of Witney’s Sandwich, who started a petition against the measures signed by 36 of 37 High Street businesses and more than 1,000 shoppers said he was contacted by the MP for Witney, Robert Courts, and an adviser to Witney.

He said, “Still furious! We can only hope it will be seen again like the Burford case where they realized that in fact closing one main road can cause damage elsewhere.

“Robert Courts emailed me 20 minutes after the Burford news asking if I still wanted to meet and talk about Witney’s issues.”

The OCC’s decision to lift the ban on test trucks at Burford has been called for review.

Cllr Andrew Coles, who represents Labor on County Council and West Oxfordshire District Council, said consultations by the two authorities had shown the issue was ‘deeply divisive’ but ‘we are all united in wanting see a thriving main street with thriving local shops and businesses”.

He said: “This decision gives us the opportunity to recreate that market town feel and buzz that has been drowned out by traffic and to make Witney a much more pleasant and attractive place for residents, shoppers and visitors. ”

But he told BBC businesses they were suffering from a lack of commerce due to issues such as high rents and online shopping before the order was introduced.

Closing the street to parking would be one way to try to bring shoppers back, he added.

Mr Mo said: ‘Cllr Coles also emailed me the day after the decision to say ‘now that the decision has been made can we sit down to discuss the details? But I said the business world is angry right now, so let it go.”

He added: “There will be more empty shops and market stalls if the problem cannot be solved. At the moment the market stalls and we are down 40% in trade with customers who are sneaking into the high street to take orders and we expect trade to continue to drop, we know this because we talk to customers.

“We still don’t understand why they would close a main road and are puzzled as to why the concerns of independent High Street retailers have not been properly discussed.”

Some 66 companies responded to the consultation of the departmental council.

The future of the high street was decided by Tim Bearder, cabinet member of Oxfordshire County Council for the Management of Motorways.

He said: “These measures are in line with our goals to create a transport network that makes active travel – walking and cycling – the first choice for short trips, to encourage public transport and to reduce the use to car journeys.

‘There are a large number of free parking spaces behind High Street so this measure is not expected to have a significant impact on businesses in the area. Indeed, there is growing evidence to suggest that cycle- and pedestrian-friendly streets can boost footfall and retail sales, helping to revive high streets and traditional town centers by creating more pleasant conditions. .

“Cornmarket Street in Oxford and Sheep Street in Bicester were full of vehicles, and I doubt anyone would suggest a return to that now that they are both pedestrians. I’m sure these changes to Witney will be just as popular, although we’ll be monitoring the situation to see if changes are needed in the future.

Witney Councilor Duncan Enright, who represents Labor as a member of the Cabinet for Travel and Development Strategy on County Council and is part of West Oxfordshire District Council, said: “We Now we have to work on a plan for downtown to make it a much nicer and safer place to live, work and shop.”

But Richard Martin, principal of Witney Blanket Hall, one of the city’s oldest institutions, was scathing.

He said: “It is increasingly clear that this decision is a political bargain – a giveaway to the environmental wing to hold the OCC coalition administration together.

“I highly doubt it has the full support of the OCC cabinet, let alone West Oxfordshire District Council, Witney, its shopkeepers, its people and anyone who has looked at this type of scheme in practice elsewhere!

“For where has the closure of the main street of a rural market town really worked? Towns need commotion: shopkeepers know this, indeed anyone who has ever run any kind of attraction, let him whether it’s a shop, a morning coffee or a party… Everyone knows you need a buzz to get things going, and shutting down our High Street won’t do that.”

He added: “It’s perfectly appropriate to consider new ideas, but the right and correct way would have been to see Covid and get Witney back to his best level of activity first. Then talk about the possibilities, refine a plan clear and agreed, and then, and only then, consider shutting down our High Street.

“It’s not too late, and we’re asking the OCC, even at this point, to put the plan on hold: rather than take unilateral action, let Witney get back to normal, and then work with all of us to find the best way forward.”

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