Witney High Street has been left ‘in limbo’ after being closed motorists, a councillor has claimed, saying fresh public consultation is needed on lifting the ban.
Only buses, taxis, blue badge holders and vehicles loading and unloading have been able to use High Street and Market Place for more than two years since the introduction of measures to enable social distancing in the aftermath of the Covid-19 lockdowns.
Last April, Oxfordshire County Council announced £2 million funding to transform the area, with a chamber of commerce workshop taking place last July. But Witney Town Council’s offer to use the Corn Exchange for a public meeting to discuss ideas was never taken up.
Liam Walker, the county council’s shadow cabinet member for highway management, said: “I’m not aware of any progress other than one meeting with the Witney Chamber of Commerce, which was some months ago.
“I understand the council has nearly £2 million to spend on improvements but as yet there is no clear plan or direction as to how this money is going to be spent. Witney High Street is still left in limbo some years after the initial restriction was put in place.The local councils need to be working together to decide what they plan to spend the nearly £2 million the county council has for improvements to the town centre on.”
The closure was introduced in December 2020 and made permanent in December 2021, following a consultation by Oxfordshire County Council.
Some 50 per cent of respondents opposed the closure and a 10 per cent expressed concerns.
He said: “I think there needs to another consultation on the restriction as residents were very split, with over 50 per cent not in favour or having concerns along with 36 out of 37 of the High Street businesses being against.”
He accused the county council of bringing inappropriate traffic measures to Witney like the traffic filters and LTNs intended to reduce traffic levels in Oxford.
He said: “Witney is not like Oxford so the idea of having more anti-motorist restrictions in place is not helpful for both the local economy or the pockets of residents who could get fined.”
Traders around Market Place – some of whom reported an initial catastrophic drop in trade –said they were pleased. Henry Mo, of Sandwich de Witney, said: “Councillors keep saying they want to help town centre businesses. The best help would be to restore the high street back to how it was before.”
Witney Gazette Article: 15th March 2023