I WOULD like to comment on the future of East Street in Taunton, and whether this street should be reopened to traffic.

I retired in 2018 after 35 years as a town and transport planner, which included involvement in developing bus routes serving the centre of a major regional city.

Taunton is a sub-regional centre of 70,000 people; it is not a small market town.

A centre of that size requires a reliable bus service.

Before the pandemic, congestion arising from the use of East Street by general traffic could result in delays to buses of 15-20 minutes over the short distance from Castle Way to the top of East Reach.

In no way could this be considered acceptable, either for bus operators or their passengers.

Fifteen years ago, the then-manager of First Bus in Somerset said to me that he couldn’t think of another town as big as Taunton in which unrestricted traffic was still allowed in its main commercial streets.

This was still the case right up to the closure of East Street last year for social distancing.

I do not know what First South West may have said to the two councils, but if I were the bus operator, I would regard permanent exclusion of buses from East Street, forcing them on to the congested A38, plus the loss of the well-used bus stops by Primark, as essentially unreasonable.

Once social distancing is no longer an issue, the buses should be readmitted to East Street.

There are examples elsewhere showing how buses, cyclists and pedestrians can share town centre streets, one being High Street in Exeter.

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What would be unacceptable would be a return to the kind of traffic free-for-all that existed in East Street up until last year.

The councils should instead be following the policies in the statutory development plan covering the town centre, which propose bus priority in the main town centre streets.

This plan was approved in 2008 (yes, 13 years ago) after a six-week public consultation period and an Examination chaired by the Planning Inspectorate.

Preparing a plan, consulting on it, and then delivering on it, seems a more democratic way to proceed than responding to the online petition with most signatures, and given the complexity of the issues, is also likely to prove more successful.