Herefordshire Council defends decision to close city roads

HEREFORDSHIRE Council has hit back at critics of the temporary road closures in Hereford, telling people to give the new measures time.

Cabinet member councillor John Harrington, who oversees infrastructure and transport, said he had been rethinking the measures, but it was too early to judge if there were any negative effects.

Earlier this week the council closed roads in the city centre, including parts of King Street, Bridge Street and Broad Street to allow more space for walkers and cyclists to socially distance in a bid to prevent coronavirus spreading.

But a backlash from businesses followed, with criticism about the appearance of the active travel measures, as well as claims footfall was down.

READ MORE: Businesses have ‘grave concerns’ over city centre changes

The measures – which could remain in place for 18 months under current legislation – can be changed if there is evidence to justify doing so, Coun Harrington said.

He added there was nothing “set in stone” with the measures. Aspects can also be changed “quickly”, such as if there was a crash or breakdown on the A49 Greyfriars Bridge, the Old Bridge could be reopened within 10 minutes.

Emergency services can also use the Old Bridge at any time, and it was “unfortunate social media has chosen to portray otherwise”, the councillor for the Hampton ward said.

READ MORE: Hereford city centre upheaval ‘looks like a crime scene’

It’s Our County councillor John Harrington said: “In terms of responses, people have been mixed in their views and a lot of people have expressed concern.

“A lot of the concerns were not based on enough time to make a decision, so people making claims footfall and retail takings were down, I’d say it was a little bit early to say that and a little bit unfair to make those assumptions.

“And also I think we’ve got to remember that this is something the Government has asked us to do, and it’s been done for two reasons.

“One of the most important reasons, as highlighted by the return of spikes throughout the country, is to make sure people realise we’re still living with an active, live virus and we have to try and provide space on the streets as we get busier and busier.

“It might look a bit empty now as some of the space which we’ve taken looks a bit redundant, but if we get busy we need to be maintaining those distances.

“We’ve also got a responsibility to try to provide people the opportunity to continue travelling by cycling or walking if they want to, that’s one of the requirements of the funding awarding.”

Some parking spaces could also be reintroduced if it’s decided not all spaces need to be blocked off.

While the streets near the river Wye in Hereford are currently littered with orange traffic cones and barriers, there are plans to replace these with trees and to make the area look less “utilitarian”, Coun Harrington said.

“I think unfortunately the visual look was really not very good, it looked like we’d sort of dug Hereford up,” he added.

“That’s been replicated in a lot of authorities which have had to use utility barriers and things like that.

“As we start to change over to nice sort of planters and trees, I think it will look visually better.

“I think the visual aspect was not very good at all, and perhaps the communication wasn’t very good.

“Even though we’d done the consultation as best we could, and we actually consulted much more than neighbouring authorities have, there was always going to be some who said they didn’t know anything about it.”

He added: “Let’s give this some time, let’s be logical about this and let us remember why we’re doing.

“The most significant reason why we’re doing this is to provide safety for people, let’s see how it goes and keep that in mind.”

Hereford Times