THE PEDESTRIANISATION of Leamington’s Parade – should it stay or should it go?
That is the online debate raging among townspeople after Warwickshire County Council announced the Covid-enforced closure would remain in place until at least June 21.
Since last summer the road and intersecting side streets have been closed to most vehicles to enable social distancing.
A resident on Dale Street, which runs parallel to the Parade and has taken a lot of the diverted traffic, was firmly of the opinion it should not be made permanent.
They said: “Some years ago pedestrianisation of the Parade was proposed. Following an enormous effort from local traders, residents, businesses the plan was dropped.
“This time pedestrianisation via the back door needs to be stopped. Properties that take the increased traffic are being subjected to pollution, noise, and damage.
“Traffic needs to be shared around this lovely town. Slow traffic down with wider pavements and ‘chicanes’ but don’t pedestrianise Parade, it will become a ghost town.”
Others agreed citing the convenience of buses stopping on the Parade for those with mobility issues, while concerns were also raised at the possible further impact on business for already hard-pressed traders.
But there were plenty of voices in favour of permanently pedestrianising the Parade.
One pro-pedestrianising resident said: “Traffic going up and down the Parade is nothing to do with the lack of shops and shoppers. Times have changed, shopping habits are different now. High street shopping is almost obsolete, people are using online services to shop more and more.
“I love it pedestrianised, it’s safer, the air is cleaner. The town will never be a thriving shopping hub again so let it evolve into a social hub – cafes, tables and seating in the street, entertainment etc.”
Another resident said it would give a boost to the town: “This will rejuvenate the town centre, support small independent businesses, especially in hospitality which has been hit so hard by the pandemic.”
Others argued maybe there could be a solution in-between which could also help tackle pollution in the town centre.
“I personally like the pedestrianised Parade,” said another resident, “however I think it should be open for buses and taxis only and, we should aim to join the electric scooter trials so we could reduce pollution.”
Another said: “I think making the Parade pedestrianised would make it a much nicer environment to shop in and socialise in too. Even a compromise of having it as a one way system would be better than how it was pre-pandemic, but it needs to be discussed with all residents and businesses and planned carefully.”
Others also called for a full re-think on the Parade’s future.
“I think, like shopping high streets up and down the country, the Parade has been slowly dying for a long while. Traffic returning is not going to halt it but an ambitious, imaginative reinventing of the space with pedestrianisation at least offers a chance of a revival.”
BID Leamington executive director Stephanie Kerr said: “BID Leamington has received extensive feedback from businesses, residents and customers, regarding the temporary Parade closure, all of which has been relayed to Warwickshire County Council and local councillors.
“While the changes to facilitate Covid social distancing are wholly welcomed by some and there has been valuable learning and inspiration, there remains unresolved challenges particularly around bus stops, disabled access, amenities, waste and deliveries, and the impact on businesses in side streets and beyond the closure.
“Our iconic town centre supports an ecosystem of different uses at ground level and above, along with associated support services and diverse users from different locations. This mix is critical to our long term resilience and as we embrace change, means we must consider a range of values, perspectives and needs, as we welcome everyone back and research future opportunities.
“Reflecting this, Warwickshire County Council recently confirmed that the temporary measures will be in place until June 21 at the earliest, at which point they will be removed. They have also confirmed that options for any future changes will be developed with stakeholder input and will be widely consulted on.
“We support this consultative approach and hope to see future changes holistically considered as part of a forward looking, sustainable town-wide vision and strategy, that includes improved mobility and logistics solutions, professionally designed and costed alongside other critical town centre investment needs.
“In the meantime, our focus is on supporting local businesses to safely open and we are grateful for the continued community support in this extremely challenging time. This includes supporting hospitality businesses located both inside and outside of the Parade closure to safely make use of public realm areas, as they trade outdoors until at least May 17.”