SOME of the covid-19 ‘safe zone’ changes made to Ceredigion towns will be kept as part of new plans to “regenerate” them.
A special thriving communities overview and scrutiny committee on Friday (October 1) focused on the safe zones established in Aberystwyth, Aberaeron, Cardigan, and New Quay as the nation opened up after covid-19 lockdown in 2020.
Aspects of the schemes caused a backlash from communities and criticism from local members about a lack of consultation, with changes made to the safe zones in 2021.
On Friday councillors heard that a planned “experimental traffic order” will incorporate parts of the schemes which have worked well with discussions with each local member planned for the later this month.
Corporate lead officer Russell Hughes-Pickering said street closures were unlikely but “if things have worked and have helped the vitality of the town” the plan could move to the medium and longer term improvement of town centres.
“I think we recognise that there are things that have worked and there are things that haven’t,” he added.
The committee welcomed the “opportunity to improve layouts of the town” but highlighted that members had to be consulted and there were concerns raised about traffic, access for disabled people and the less-able as well as residents living in town centres.
Llanbadarn Fawr Padarn member Cllr Gareth Davies said the zones have had an impact on a number of towns and although people understood the safety reasons for them initially there had been many objections.
Aberystwyth central member Cllr Ceredig Davies also reiterated traffic concerns in the town saying the road changes had sent vehicles to the “narrowest streets you can think of.”
He said that residents were overlooked and that town centres were not just “a collection of business” with some people telling him they felt they were in “lockdown zones” with restricted vehicle access to their homes.
He reiterated his frustration at the lack of consultation with local members initially and questioned if there was evidence that the zones had been effective in preventing infection.
Allowing hospitality business to trade outside had been gratefully received said Aberaeron councillor Elizabeth Evans but she also raised concerns about “convenience shoppers” unable to pop to their nearest shops as widen pavements meant fewer on road parking and the financial impact on businesses.
“I have got more disabled parking spaces than we ever had in Aberaeron and that’s to be welcomed,” she said, adding that not everyone had a blude badge and the elderly population must be considered more.
“I certainly don’t want disabled spaces taken away but we need to be conscious of the less able shopper who can’t walk that distance from our car parks,” added Cllr Evans.
Cllr John Roberts called the plan “an exercise to change town centres by the back door” and the only traders benefiting were in hospitality while Cllr John Adams-Lewis added despite not being in favour initially things had improved and he looked forward to further discussions.
The use of digital surveys to seek public views was highlighted by Cllr Lyndon Lloyd, who said “30 per cent of Ceredigion people are not online” adding he knew of people who no longer shopped in Cardigan since the changes.
A framework for each town, including details of all safe zone elements and proposals for what will be “revoked, kept or amend” will be discussed with a local member before the experimental traffic order is brought back to scrutiny for further discussion.
If implemented, following a cabinet decision, the first six months is considered a consultation period the committee heard, with changes possible without the need for new orders.