We are in lockdown again as cases soar across the county. But Shropshire Council last week decided to remove social distancing measures in Shrewsbury and the market towns including Ludlow. That means closures on King Street are no longer in place on Fridays and Saturdays. I don’t agree with this. Even with reduced footfall we need the full width of social distancing to maintain social distance and to promote it as an attractive street.
However, Ludlow Town Council was in favour of opening King Street fully again and lifting restrictions. It is not known whether Shropshire Council or Ludlow Town Council wishes to reimpose the restrictions when lockdown ends.
I missed the email about lifting the King Street closure due to problems accessing the council’s email server. By the time I regained access to my emails, the decision had been made. It is an unfortunate decision that flies in the face of the government’s health policy which urges social distancing.
I understand why a car-centred local authority like Shropshire Council wanted all roads open here and across the county. The council has repeatedly supported car friendly actions while lagging in investing in active travel and public transport. The decision is consistent with its previous actions and decisions. The closures across the county has also cost the council a lot of money employing contractors to put the barriers in place and remove them. Cost is undoubtedly a factor in council decision making on this. But it is notable that the council press release didn’t include a statement from the Director of Public Health given that social distancing is a public health measure. This decision seems more about promoting road traffic and reducing pressure on the highways budget.
I really don’t understand why Ludlow Town Council overturned its decision that King Street should be closed middle of the day on Fridays and Saturdays. The decision is inconsistent with its previous actions and decisions. It’s over to town councillors to explain how their council works and why they have reduced pedestrian space to give priority to vehicles.
There have been critics of the Thursday and Friday closure of King Street. My observations showed it worked. It allowed pedestrians space to walk, to talk and pause to gaze into shop windows. It made King Street an enjoyable space, not an ordeal.
I have heard arguments that not everyone had socially distanced when walking along King Street during the recent closure. My observations were that most people had observed a one metre distancing. When individuals, household groups and bubbles have not been able to maintains the minimum distance, they have passed each other quickly.
More generally, I find that people expressing concern about the close distancing of younger people in the town centre don’t take enough account of year bubbling students experience in an educational setting. There are people who ignore the rules. But as a community, residents of Ludlow are now so familiar with social distancing they can see these problems ahead and steer around them.
The width of The Narrows in King Street, shop front to shop front, is 5 metres, reducing to 4.7 metres. Pavements are slightly raised and as narrow as 0.9m in places That creates pinch points, including, outside Costa Coffee where people queue face to face and face to back before squeezing past each with no social distancing whatsoever.
The Department for Transport’s Manual for Streets sates: “In lightly used streets, the minimum unobstructed width for pedestrians should generally be 2 m.” King Street is heavily used by pedestrians, not lightly used, but the pavement widths and minimal and people must walk in the road.
It goes without saying the lack of pavement width results from the historic nature of our townscape. But why should the car be king on King Street? Trucks are a problem but so are SUVs. Cars have got wider in recent years.
I am not asking for a permanent closure of King Street. We have seen the problems that has caused for Linney and Dinham during the closure when the Buttercross was damaged by a truck. But our town could give pedestrians some respite from traffic on King Street at the busiest times of the week.
Eight hours a week with pedestrian priority is not a lot to ask but Ludlow Town Council and Shropshire Council obviously think it is too much.
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, will today announce £175m in funding for walking and cycling infrastructure as part of the Active Travel Fund. It’s a drop in the ocean but it is a signal that councils should begin to take active travel seriously.