THE debate over the future of Taunton town centre rages on.

Pedestrianisation - or not - a new hotel, closing high street stores, a struggling park-and-ride, the issues are numerous.

Here, town centre trader and Taunton Chamber of Commerce member COLIN BARRELL gives his viewpoint...

IT is now time to get the subject of pedestrianisation into perspective.

What the council is proposing is not pedestrianisation. It is lacking in strategy and benefits.

The editor said in last week’s ‘comment’ column that there are sides who are steadfast in their beliefs and not keen to budge.

Unfortunately, that is just adding fuel to the fire.

The 420-plus signatories (business managers, owners and customers) to the petition handed in opposing the immediate closure of St James Street came about from complete frustration at the council’s lack of consultation with businesses in the town.

It was seen as the thin end of the wedge.

There is, in fact, a great deal of common ground in the views of the businesses and such groups as “Quality Streets for Taunton”.

What has not been brought to everyone’s attention is that proposals from the business community included provision for wider pavements, wider and safer designated cycle lanes rather than the dangerous narrow ones that currently exist, and restricting the needless bus journeys through the main shopping areas by introducing a one-way system in North Street and East Street, thereby reducing traffic by 50 per cent and the worst polluting vehicles - i.e. diesel buses - not emitting their fumes for the shoppers to inhale.

At the same time, the proposals allowed for better landscaping, more parking spaces closer to the shops for blue badge holders and short-stay shopping.

Taunton Chamber of Commerce listened to its members and all the other businesses in the town centre who are extremely worried that if the council puts forward a half-hearted plan, which does not improve the access and safety for cyclists and pedestrians while providing easier access for motorists who have to rely on their own vehicles as they have very little in the way of public transport to get in from outlying areas, then we will only succeed in pushing more business to Exeter, Cribbs Causeway and Clarks Village, thus accelerating the demise of an already under pressure town centre.

We welcome the long overdue decision by TDBC to set up a ‘working group’ to include all interested parties to produce an attractive shopping and socialising centre, where businesses can thrive for many years to come and we can attract more new enterprises to join a thriving centre.

It will probably be beneficial for those who live and work in Taunton to come up with ideas rather than ‘expert’ town planners to plough on with a temporary trial which does not produce any benefits for cyclists or shoppers and does not take out the big polluters.

Surely, we should be future-proofing the centre to allow for low-polluting hybrid and electric cars, which will be the transport of tomorrow?

Businesses have already seen the negative effect of closing a busy shoppers car park which is now Castle Green (now used for a handful of days and events each year) and are about to lose another 80 spaces at Coal Orchard.

It seems TDBC has a plan to keep motorists out (while depriving themselves of very important revenue) and somehow believe that will encourage more people into the town.

Follow that logic if you can.

Collaboration is the key.

The businesses want to engage but, up to this point, have not been seen as important.

The Chamber and retailers campaigned for at least five years to get pay-on-exit car parks and directional signage, which have just about come to fruition.

It just seems that everything takes so long to happen.

There will be compromises required from all parties and a recognition that everyone’s point of view is relevant.

So, perhaps now, we can have a well thought-through plan with a little common sense, which addresses all concerns - before it is too late.


Taunton Chamber of Commerce

Town Centre liaison Exec member