Local shopkeepers and businesses in Hereford have expressed their serious concern about the Council’s decision to impose traffic and pedestrian controls in the city centre. They are right to feel that way. But there is a way forward which I believe can improve the city for everyone.
Before the new measures were instituted, I expressed my view in this newspaper that they should not be put in place without proper local consultation. It is true that the Government has been and remains focussed on protecting people’s health and preventing a resurgence of the virus, and that it asked local authorities to do their part to ensure proper social distancing.
But of course it is for councils to decide how best to implement the general rules in specific local contexts. It is especially hard to see, for example, the case for such drastic measures in King Street and Bridge Street, which suffer a clear lack of footfall at present. At the same time, other towns and cities have seemed able to strike an effective balance between protecting health and supporting businesses.
In the short term, the solution is surely monitoring, consultation and mitigation. Monitoring should reveal where and how quickly the current measures can be withdrawn without risk, consultation will allow businesses and residents to express their views on alternative approaches, and mitigations can improve access and the street scene to make the city an even more attractive place to visit and to shop. More trees, less street furniture and better litter collection would be a great start.
But the real opportunities lie ahead. NMITE, our New Model Institute for Technology and Engineering, continues to make progress. The Hereford Stronger Towns Board is now up and running and looking at putting together a consolidated plan for the city over the next few months, in bidding for up to £25 million in new investment.
I have a bid alongside the Council in to Highways England for money to support better cycling and walking infrastructure around the A49 in the city, without damaging accessibility or car parking. And the Government has recently given the council £750,000 in order to support shovel ready local infrastructure.
What we need to do now is to bring the talents, ideas and energy of people across Herefordshire together in order to develop shared plans and a common agenda—not just for the city but for county towns as well.