November 2023: Letters

No representation without consultation

I read with interest, the news section of your October edition, headed “Permanent ban on traffic moves  a step closer.”  

The original decision to pedestrianise part of Princess Victoria Street was not based on widespread consultation with traders or residents. It was introduced in July 2021 under an experimental traffic regulation order. The nature of the ETRO was that it would be a trial, and the outcomes would be carefully monitored. The issue  was  the subject of controversy as a substantial number of residents, did not receive the consultation leaflet and as a result were omitted from the process. The  project was the subject of significant public protest from traders and residents at the time. However it was implemented. It was meant to be monitored and assessed . To my knowledge there has been no published results or any direct communications to residents or traders of the evidence to support the decision to make the pedestrianisation permanent. 

It was never clear to me, as a resident of Clifton, whether the scheme was intended as a traffic calming/reduction scheme or to improve footfall for traders. It was not clear what criteria would inform an eventual decision. There was a meeting in June called, at very short notice, by Clifton ward councillors to discuss with BID traders their views on the scheme. However by that time the decision to make the scheme permanent was  a ‘fait accompli’. As Councillor Paula  O’Rourke is quoted “that decision was made last February and the councillors are delighted to announce that the West of England Combined Authority. WECA has committed up to £600,000 to improve the infrastructure”. 

The “consultation” in June with a relatively small cross section of businesses in Clifton was critical of the state of the pedestrianised precinct in terms of rubbish, a mishmash of seating and the poor maintenance of the planters. Almost universally, the traders present pointed out that their footfall had fallen, that the majority of visitors use the coffee shops but were making less use of the retail shops and indeed, some long term valued customers were now shopping elsewhere. 

There was a recognition of the historic value of the village and the need to make it as attractive as possible, including the current pedestrianised area. However the area exists for residents and traders as well as visitors and any discussion of the permanent pedestrian structure should involve  full consultation. However your article again quotes Councillor O’Rourke saying that “traders are being consulted and a design will then be worked up and will be shared with nearby residents within the next few months”,  not consulted. 

As Councillor O’Rourke pointed out in the article “A full business case would have to be submitted to WECA in May 2024, before the funds are finally cleared. This means that the work won’t actually be done until January 2025.”  One has to question whether the expenditure of over half a million pounds represents good value for tax payers who have already paid out a not insubstantial sum for the current pedestrianisation.

Whatever the original purpose of the pedestrianisation scheme you have  to wonder whether the law of unintended consequences is applicable; namely by closing the eastern end of Princess Victoria Street, traffic either enters via Sion Hill, Caledonia Place or Princess Victoria Street (and when the Suspension Bridge Road is crowded the cars queue along Bridge Road for some minutes) or takes the route in from Regent Street along Royal York Crescent, which  is often congested. So does the evidence support a decision that the scheme reduces traffic and pollution? Is traffic calmer? Not noticeably in Caledonia Place and the Mall. Has it improved the footfall in the village of customers for traders? Traders present in June were not convinced. A number of retailers have indicated a drop in revenue and the community has lost at least one retailer and seen another charity shop about to rise in its place. 

In the late 18th century the clarion call in the American colonies was “no taxation without representation”.  Perhaps in Clifton Bristol it might be redrafted as “No representation without consultation”.

Richard Whitburn