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'Remembrance' protest over Newton Abbot plans

Saturday, 17 February 2024 08:13

By Guy Henderson, local democracy reporter

Plan for Queen Street, Newton Abbot (courtesy: Teignbridge District Council)

"At the going down of the sun..."

Campaigners trying to stop a controversial Newton Abbot traffic scheme stood in a council meeting ‘in memory’ of businesses they claim are doomed.

Members of the South Devon Alliance rose to their feet while Cllr Liam Mullone (SD Alliance, College) read the names of 47 local and national businesses he said hadn’t been properly consulted over the plans for Queen Street. People in the public gallery also got up.

“At the going down of the sun, we will remember them,” said Cllr Mullone, quoting the Laurence Binyon poem often read on Remembrance Day.

“These businesses are feeling pushed aside and deceived,” he said.

Feelings ran high during the debate on Queen Street at a meeting of the Teignbridge Highways and Traffic Orders Committee (HATOC). Shouts from a packed public gallery at Forde House in Newton Abbot often drowned out the speakers, and committee chairman Cllr Martin Wrigley (Lib Dem, Dawlish) had to warn several times that he would have the gallery cleared if the interruptions went on.

Councillors were there to vote on a minor amendment to the proposals which dealt with articulated lorries, but the debate also highlighted wider concerns about the Queen Street plans.

Newton Abbot has been awarded more than £9million in government money to tackle its town centre. The current plan – agreed last summer – is to bring in ‘public realm enhancements’ including widened footways, improved crossings, more seating and extra provision for buses and bicycles.

Traffic orders have already been signed off to enable the scheme to go ahead, with the changes including a 20mph speed limit, new waiting, parking and loading restrictions and closing off several roads to anything other than through traffic.

Supporters say it will make the town’s main shopping street more attractive, safer and cleaner, but opponents say it will ‘kill the town’. Work is due to begin in the spring.

Devon County Council, which is in charge of the scheme, says the town is in favour of the proposals, but the campaigners say its consultations were flawed.

“If this scheme goes ahead, it is not with the support of the residents or businesses of Newton Abbot,” said Cllr Jane Taylor (SD Alliance, Kerswell-with-Coombe), and fellow SD Alliance councillor Andrew MacGregor (Bishopsteignton) said there was a risk Queen Street would lose its ‘unique flavour’ and become a ‘bland desert’.

“This project has been a dog’s dinner from day one,” he said.

Cllr Phil Bullivant (Con, Newton Abbot North) said the decision on Queen Street was based on declining footfall in the town centre and a desire to improve the environment.

Cllr Jackie Hook (Lib Dem, Bushell) said it is important to make the town centre more about people than cars. Both struggled to make themselves heard at times over jeers from the public gallery.

Cllr Janet Bradford (Independent, Newton Abbot South) said more than 70 per cent of businesses in Queen Street opposed the plans.

“I have no idea what’s wrong with you,” she told fellow HATOC members. “I don’t understand why you would go against the residents and traders, knowing full well that this scheme will put some of them out of business, if not all of them.

“The people have been sidelined and ignored. This is an appalling and disgraceful abuse of process.

“I haven’t spoken to anyone who thinks it is a good idea.”

Cllr Bradford proposed a pause for more consultation, but she could not find a seconder on the committee. Members voted by six votes to one to press on with the scheme and approve the ‘tweak’ for delivery lorries.

Cllr Alistair Dewhirst (Lib Dem, Ipplepen and The Kerswells) told them: “This is a minor amendment to a decision which has already been made. We are not in a position to change it. It’s going through.”

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