Plans For Pedestrianisation Announced
May 29th 2021
This chimes broadly with what I was hearing from residents about the plans. A lot of people were in favour, but of those who were against, they were sometimes quite vehemently against.
The original proposalsThe consultation document made the following proposals for the scheme in Louth. I have bolded the items that will remain in the final scheme:
All closures and provision will be implemented by using high quality temporary infrastructure such as traffic planters.
The scheme will initially be temporary for between a year and 18 months. After this time a decision will be made after further engagement with local residents and organisations whether to maintain it, or elements of it.
The revised proposalsLincolnshire County Council have opted to take forward Louth's pedestrianisation scheme, but with some significant alterations. It will go forward with the following changes:
Will it work?Time will tell whether pedestrianisation will work for Louth, or whether the scheme will end up being modified further or scrapped after the trial period. There are a few considerations.
1. Is it reversible?The scheme doesn't appear to involve many things that can't be fairly easily removed. There will be some signage and markings, but for the most part it will involve planters rather than fixed bollards to mark out which areas are pedestrianised.
2. Does it have regard to equalities?Disability access is catered to somewhat better, with an expansion of disabled parking on non-Market days in the Market Place. This will make up for the loss of four bays in the Cornmarket. However, it does mean that on market days those with disability access needs will be disadvantaged by not being able to park on Mercer Row within easy reach of many shops. This means those with access issues will have to park further away if they want to use the market. That's an issue because disability isn't just a matter of physically being able to move from one place to another. It can also be about whether someone has the energy that day to make a longer journey, or whether their anxiety will allow them to navigate crowds of people in the centre of town, rather than parking their car directly next to a shop and diving straight in.
So whilst the final scheme has improved on the original plans, I have some reservations about how this will work in practice, and it will need to be monitored.
3. Does it meet the needs of residents?Pedestrians and cyclists will benefit from the 20mph limit on Mercer Row. In many ways this doesn't go far enough. The 20mph zone could have been extended to more streets in the town centre, including Queen Street, Eastgate, Northgate, and parts of Church Street, to reduce the noise and disruption of drivers who race around the centre of town.
However, the introduction of planters on the cycle route will help this to be used for its intended purpose, and should be an improvement.
4. Does it meet the needs of business owners in the town centre?Pedestrianisation will certainly benefit a number of cafes in the centre of town.
However, for those businesses that sell heavy goods and/or rely on people parking on Mercer Row for passing trade, it won't be good news. I suspect some businesses will end up having to relocate as a result, or to move more towards providing deliveries direct to people's homes. This could affect the mix of shops that are available in Louth. In effect, it may have the long-term effect of turning the town centre into an area that's more focused on certain services, and it could push retailers and food businesses that rely on deliveries onto less central streets.
One of the important lessons from retail studies (which I looked into as part of the Markets Scrutiny report I did at ELDC in 2018) is how interconnected every town centre business is. So you have certain key businesses that attract trade, and every other shop is also likely to benefit from their presence, whether or not they may be considered competitors. This is why, when a keystone retailer such as a Marks and Spencers leaves a town, it has a negative effect on all of the high street as a whole and can lead to quite serious losses for the businesses that remain.
For that reason, it's important that those businesses that see a direct benefit from pedestrianisation, such as cafés, don't ignore the effect it's having on other businesses. People come to town for Louth's whole offer, and they often stop for a drink and a sandwich after browsing the shops. With fewer shops to browse, there will be fewer people coming to the cafés, starting a vicious cycle of decline.
So with that in mind, I think it's important that the council monitors the effect of this scheme carefully, and surveys town centre businesses and residents about it after three months. 18 months will be too long to wait to see whether changes need to be made.
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