Plans to temporarily close Barnstaple’s Longbridge to traffic to allow social distancing for walkers and cyclists have been met with a huge public outcry.

Traffic on Barnstaple Longbridge. Picture: Tony GussinTraffic on Barnstaple Longbridge. Picture: Tony Gussin

Hundreds have taken to social media to post their disbelief and objections to Devon County Council’s plans to close the bridge to all traffic except buses, cycles and emergency vehicles.

It is understood this could be for a three month trial period.

It follows emergency Department of Transport funding of £338,000 for Devon, with ‘pop up’ temporary schemes also proposed for Bideford - with a temporary one way system for pedestrians - Exeter and Newton Abbot.

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Posting on Facebook over the weekend, while there were some supporters, many locals were shock at the idea, describing it as ‘crazy’, ‘ridiculous’ and saying it would lead to traffic chaos.

Barnstaple Town Council is meeting tonight (Monday, June 15) and is proposing to support the partial or full closure of the bridge to traffic.

North Devon MP Selaine Saxby took to Facebook on Friday to welcome the proposals, saying: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to encourage people out of their cars for a temporary period and see if a scheme like this could work in Barnstaple, whilst so many continue to work from home.

“Cyclists and pedestrians need space and protecting to ensure social distancing, and while an alternative solution may be to make pedestrians go one way on each side of the bridge, I do not think that this will go far enough.”

Ms Saxby is co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Cycling and Walking and described the plans as ‘progressive’.

But Alex White, Liberal Democrat spokesman for North Devon, said it was ‘not practical, sensible or helpful’.

He said: “I think people have made it perfectly clear what they think of this decision in the comments section of the MP’s post. Business owners who are worried about reduced footfall, concerns over increased traffic, frustrations around increased journey times and a general feeling of being let down by a woman who just doesn’t know the area.

“We as locals have all seen the traffic when there’s a slight blip in the system, let alone an active choice like this. There has to be some actual investigation into a long term solution.”

In a joint statement, Barnstaple county councillors Brian Greenslade and John Mathews said they had grave concerns and have pledged to fight the ‘unrealistic idea’.

They asked what effect it would have on the 19,000 vehicles flowing over the Longbridge each day and the knock on effect on traffic congestion, pushing it on to the Taw Bridge, Rolle Street, Fairview, Braunton Road and Newport.

They said: “It will also discourage people from coming in to town to visit shops as they reopen, thereby harming the prospects for economic recovery. The district council will also suffer from not recovering car parking income they desperately need.

“They are concerned that the public and town centre traders and local councillors for Barnstaple have not been properly consulted about this proposal by Devon County Council. This should happen before any final decision is taken by the county council.”

District and town councillor Ian Roome added: “It’s fair to say everyone wants less pollution, safer travel for cyclists and pedestrians, and adequate social distancing during a pandemic.

“For me, this isn’t political, it’s about common sense. I would absolutely support a proper study in what could be done but, in a location like ours where so many rely on cars, I have to speak up about the practicalities as things are today.”

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