Council caves in after outrage
After 4,000 people signed a petition against the closure of Barnstaple Longbridge and councillors were inundated with emails and social media messages, plans to close the bridge have been abandoned.
Earlier this month Devon County Council announced that it would be shutting one of the main routes through the North Devon town with no consultation. It's done the same in other parts of the county, notably in Devon, saying that 'active travel' - meaning walking and cycling is a better option for some areas. Closing roads to vehicles enables better social distancing.
Cllr Stuart Hughes, cabinet member for highways management said: “It’s important to remember that these temporary changes are about making it safer for people to move around more as the lockdown restriction ease, businesses reopen, people return to their workplaces and more children go back to school.
“It’s vital that we continue to follow government guidance to help stop the spread of coronavirus, and this includes social distancing and we need to do everything we can to make that easy for people."
On Thursday, the council decided it no longer wanted to do that. The bridge is staying open after huge numbers of people took exception to the enforced closure. Traders in particular were worried about the economic health of the town. On Thursday, both the county council and district council withdrew their backing for Longbridge's closure.
North Devon’s MP Selaine Saxby wants it shut for traffic, at least temporarily. She had earlier said: “All the measures introduced will be temporary. We need to ensure those that have no other means of transport to Barnstaple can use the buses without them becoming overcrowded. And for that to happen we need people to use active travel where they are able, rather than cars.
“I do appreciate that some car traffic will be diverted to other parts of Barnstaple but we are currently only running at 60 per cent the normal traffic and it will be some time before we reach what we would normally see.
“However, I am gravely concerned at the lack of safe walking and cycling into Barnstaple, at a time when more people want to travel this way and I have urged the council to expedite the repairs on the Iron Bridge in Rock Park.
“Despite having called a climate emergency there are many councillors who do not seem willing to take on this opportunity even now, while traffic volumes are down. It is the only chance we will ever get to trial an ambitious scheme like this.”
A petition set up by Gemma Greening against the closure of the Longbridge has seen nearly 4,000 signatures within its first 24 hours. It said: “So Devon County Council have come up with this stupid idea to close the Barnstaple longbridge to help with social distancing and to encourage people to walk or ride bikes.
“By doing this they will close a vital link to the town centre, impacting businesses. It will also increase travel time for people getting to work, carers getting to those who need support and help. They believe it will help reduce pollution. But this will only increase pollution with more vehicles sitting in traffic for longer times. We need to stop this.”
Liberal Democrat spokesperson for North Devon, Alex White, added: “This is North Devon, not London. Local people have loud voices and they rightly want to be listened to – they deserve to be listened to. I’m still very much committed to a long term plan for improved infrastructure and greener living, but that sort of plan needs input from local people.”