Plans to close a shopping street on weekdays have received a mixed reception, with campaigners saying that it would “have a direct and detrimental impact on disabled residents”.
In the first coronavirus lockdown, café and restaurant businesses in Gardner Street, Brighton, expanded into the road – as they do at the weekend.
There were problems with disabled access and the latest road closure plan has resulted in fresh concerns from campaigners.
Brighton and Hove City Council has published a traffic regulation order (TRO) on which would restrict “motor vehicles” from travelling along Gardner Street from 11am to 7pm from seven days a week.
A second traffic regulation order would authorise moving the disabled bays in Gardner Street to nearby Regent Street, with a limited three-hour stay as well as one personalised bay.
If the traffic order is ratified, Gardner Street will still be open to emergency vehicles, specialist vehicles for the disabled, cyclists and undertakers.
Paul Loman, director of the Real Junk Food Project, which has a pay-as-you-feel café in Gardner Street, is enthusiastic about the proposals.
He said: “If you wander down the street now on a weekday, you’ll see that the public act as if the road is already traffic-free and cars and vans have to negotiate round pedestrians.
“During the covid lockdown, the street was traffic free and it worked well. Gardner Street has a fair proportion of food businesses and so the TRO will benefit the local economy.
“I see there has been some push-back with respect to disability access and parking but the second part of the proposal to move disability parking to Regent Street appears to address this issue.”
A post on the Real Junk Food Project’s Facebook page urges people to show their support for part-time pedestrianisation.
Brighton Access for Disabled Groups Everywhere (BADGE) campaigner Pippa Hodge responded by saying that extended pavement licensing had created “no go” areas for people with wheelchairs, mobility aids and those with impaired sight.
Last year BADGE and Possability People met the council’s consultant, Mott McDonald, to raise concerns about safe access for disabled people and to protect the disabled bays from the “sprawl” of café furniture and clothing rails.
Ms Hodge said: “It is pertinent to emphasise that since November 2021, no further invitations were extended to either disability stakeholder group to discuss the proposals.
“So prior to the TRO being published, we were unaware that the council proposes to fully close Gardner Street between the hours of 11am and 7pm during the week.
“The consultant report advised that consultation should take place prior to further decisions being made.
“This proposal will have a direct and detrimental impact on disabled residents – despite the report recognising that at least one of the bays is essential for a disabled resident.
“The TRO rides roughshod over the residents’ identified needs and their rights to be able to live their lives and come and go – never mind be able to be collected by taxi to attend vital medical appointments.
“Imagine waking up one morning to find that the council has erected a barricade across your front door and you are only permitted to leave your home before 11am or after 7pm. In effect, this is the result of removing the disabled bays.”
During the pandemic, Gardner Street was one of the areas in the North Laine subject to an experimental traffic order, closing the road for the same hours proposed now.
In November 2021, the council’s Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee members agreed to return to the pre-pandemic weekend and bank holiday road closures as the weekday closures proved so difficult for blue badge holders.
The report before councillors in November said: “Allowing access to blue badge holders to Gardner Street has created a difficult mix of demands on the street.
“The traders have not been able to expand to the same extent as those in Sydney Street so have not benefited from the reduction of vehicles.
“Although blue badge holders are allowed to access the street, they have found doing so difficult with traders’ items restricting access to blue badge bays or the street looking like it was closed.
“Removing the disabled bays would severely impact local residents. As Gardner Street is not closed to all traffic, the space is not as welcoming, and pedestrians can be caught unawares by approaching vehicles.”
The council said: “We are meeting with BADGE and Possability People in the coming weeks. We will ensure their feedback is an intrinsic part of the report being considered by councillors next month where the decision on Gardner Street will be taken.
“The original partial closure of Gardner Street in 2020 was a temporary measure. It was introduced as part of a package of initiatives to support local businesses during the covid pandemic.
“The temporary measure expired in late 2021. Our view at the time was that the partial closure created problems with disabled access for residents and those blue Badge holders wishing to access the shops and therefore it was advised not to make it permanent.
“Since then, we’ve had a large number of local residents and businesses contact us asking for the daytime closure to be reinstated.”
The traffic regulation orders are open for comment on the council’s website until Friday (12 August) by searching for TRO-22a-2022 and TRO-22b-2022.
The Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee is due to meet at Hove Town Hall at 4pm on Tuesday 20 September. The meeting is scheduled to be webcast on the council’s website.