ONE year ago Taunton residents saw a big change to their town centre with the pedestrianisation trial of St James Street beginning.

Now, in the midst of a public health crisis, the town has been left wondering where the trial stands amid the coronavirus pandemic.

As restrictions are being eased and non-essential shops being allowed to open, East Street, the main road through town, was also pedestrianised to enable socially distanced queues to form outside of the stores.

The St James Street trial had six months to go before decisions were set to be made over its permanence, but now, Somerset West and Taunton Council has to go back to the drawing board to figure out what to do, as the all-important monitoring data will have been disrupted over the last four months.

Cllr Mike Rigby, executive member for planning and transport for SWT, said: “A package of monitoring measures was put in place so the effects of the scheme including traffic flows, footfall and parking, could be reviewed with regular reports and meetings.

"However, reports for second and third periods have been delayed as several projects were implemented that would impact on the monitoring process including the Coal Orchard development starting on site, and the introduction of initiatives such as the Park and Ride Saturday and Xmas late opening service, the and Park and Ride perks scheme.

"Feedback had been sought from the traders in the vicinity regarding the closure and these other initiatives. Their impact was being assessed as the Covid-19 pandemic led to restrictions and the temporary closure of many shops and businesses.

"SWT will now be re-assessing the trial when the effects of Covid-19 and restrictions begin to ease. This includes work on the wider proposals for Hammet Street and East Street with any changes still subject to public consultation prior to any implementation."

East Street has been temporarily closed to vehicles in a decision taken by SWT and Somerset County Council.

The councils will continue to monitor its effectiveness as the restrictions change throughout the pandemic response.

Cllr Rigby added: “While not related to the Public Space Improvement Project directly, the previous consultation and design work that SWT had funded in the early stages of the project enabled the changes to be implemented swiftly in partnership with SCC.

“The temporary closure will provide the opportunity to assess the impact for both retailers and shoppers alike, within the context of the Reopening High Street work, but also on traffic patterns around the town centre and for public transport users.

“As part of the Active Travel work, the intervention in East Street will be monitored for effectiveness as the evolving regulations around the economy are relaxed. Additional funding from the Active Travel programme is expected to be announced soon, presenting further opportunities to encourage cycling and walking within the district.”

Some residents are pleased to see the changes in East Street, with some groups hoping to see it stay.

Taunton Area Cycling Campaign members believe the measure enables queuing shoppers to social distance while allowing bikes to still use the street.

They met in front of the Market House at the weekend to show their support for the initiative.

The group’s Pip Sheard said: “Taunton has witnessed a big increase in cycling into the town centre during lockdown.

“It shows how attractive and pleasant East Street can be without having to contend with cars.

“As cafes re-open, hopefully some will be able to put out socially distanced tables and chairs.

“We hope this will be a shift to ‘quality streets’ in Taunton as the town centre continues to redefine its function.”