TRADERS around St James Street are torn - some say they are ‘struggling’ with the pedestrianisation trial and some are enjoying it.

Three months in to the trial, which is being carried out by Somerset West and Taunton council, and some traders are reporting 30-50 per cent losses, while others are excited by the plans.

A group of traders against the trial have come together to voice their concerns, but do not wish to be named individually.

They claim the trial was ‘rushed’, and there are fears some businesses may not survive the remaining nine months.

One trader on St James Street, who wished to comment anonymously, said the trial felt ‘rushed’ for the Cricket World Cup, and there needed to be more organisation instead of work being carried out on too many projects at once.

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He said: “I’m not against pedestrianisation but, with the Coal Orchard development going on at the same time, it’s too much.

“It would be better to wait until that is done, and then do the pedestrianisation.

“It felt like it was rushed through for the Cricket World Cup which, unless you sold food and drink, we didn’t really benefit from.

“Now it’s just been left.

“Once it’s done, it will be a nice area.”

Another trader on the street, who also wanted to be anonymous, said the public’s reliance on convenience was the problem for them.

She said: “We are trying to be positive but we live in a convenience society.

“We are losing people, mostly men, who for them shopping has to be right in front of them.

“Finish Coal Orchard, and then close the road, everything is against us.

“We don’t want to be negative, but we want to be heard.

They say they have noticed a drop in footfall, and have seen patterns of loss in their trading.

Another anonymous trader from St James Street said they’d seen little ‘action’ from Somerset West and Taunton council to support them, and meetings to discuss feedback are scheduled at inconvenient times for indepedent shops.

She added they were ‘promised’ fresh signage which would inform people how they can still access St James Street.

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Christine Marsh, chairman of the Residents’ Association of Pegasus Court, says the group is also against the pedestrianisation, as it has increased traffic on the surrounding roads.

She has urged the council t‘abandon’ the trial and to devise a new plan which would make St James Street a ‘special place to shop’.

However, others are enjoying the trial and hope it can continue, and some haven’t yet made up their minds.

Owners of new business Rocket and Bird in The Courtyard are pleased the trial is going forward, and the potential permanent pedestrianisation of St James Street is what made the location appealing for their business.

“It’s about the greater good,” one of the owners said.

“We wholeheartedly support it.

“When the development is finished it’s going to be a real jewel.”

They added there are 53 businesses around the St James Street area, and many are in favour of the pedestrianisation.

Cedric Chirossel and Richard Guest, of Augustus Restaurant, also say they have seen a drop in lunchtime visitors, but they feel it’s difficult to tell if it’s because of the road.

They have noted the lack of parking around the restaurant has made lunch time slower than normal.

Jane Armour, from Jane Armour Trading, says it is ‘too soon to tell’ how the pedestrianisation has impacted on trade, but also noted the issues with Coal Orchard parking.  She said: “You used to struggle to find a space after 10am in there, and now it’s never full.”

She also noted the increase in accidents involving cyclists and pedestrians.

While Somerset West and Taunton council says it sympathises with the traders who say they are struggling, delaying the trial until after Coal Orchard would set back the plans by more than two years. 

A spokesman said: “The Coal Orchard project and the closure of the car park have been subject to delays while the build contract was negotiated and completed. If the decision to begin the trial was linked to the Coal Orchard car park then it would have been delayed until Spring 2021, when the car park would still have been reduced to significantly fewer spaces. 

“The centre of Taunton is serviced by multiple other car parks, Canon Street, Wood Street, Whirligig, Firepool, Tangier, Castle Street and Enfield, all of which are within a ten-minute walk, or less, of St James Street, in addition to the 21 remaining spaces in the Coal Orchard car park.”

The spokesman added the traders are being supported through the Public Space Improvement Project working group. 

Traders have been offered: social media support, seagull proof bags to aid with litter issues, surveys regarding the impact of the closures, and footfall counters. 

New signage is being produced and will soon be manufactured and a business directory board is also being finalised. 

The spokesman added: “We have been collating feedback from the traders which will be reviewed as part of the first quarterly review in early September, the results of which will be published. 

“Not all of the businesses on St James Street are reporting losses, and many have been in support of the trial. 

“We are taking these reported losses with the gravity they deserve and they have been forwarded to the council executive for information.”