MP criticises councils after U-turn on Barnstaple Longbridge closure plan

North Devon MP Selaine Saxby. Picture: Nikki Powell

North Devon MP Selaine Saxby. Picture: Nikki Powell - Credit: Nikki Powell

North Devon’s MP has hit back at a ‘lack of joined up thought and ambition’ after a U-turn by district and county councils saw a reversal of plans to close Barnstaple Longbridge to traffic.

In a joint statement this afternoon (Thursday, June 18), North Devon Council and Devon County Council said following public feedback they would not proceed with plans to temporarily close it to motor vehicles as part of a scheme to ensure social distancing for pedestrians and cyclists.

But Selaine Saxby MP said the news of North Devon Council’s withdrawal of support was disappointing.

She said: “Lending my support originally was due to the assurances that the scheme could be withdrawn swiftly if traffic levels increased significantly, and that the initial trial would be a short one.

“I had made my support of the temporary Longbridge closure contingent that North Devon Council was also in support.

“If they no longer wish to move forward, then I am afraid that I can no longer support it.

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“This U-turn unfortunately highlights the difficulty we have in North Devon of several layers of bureaucracy which can be detrimental to ambitious planning trials and schemes such as this, which could improve our local area.”

She blamed too many levels of local government and said the chance to trail the pedestrianisation scheme was ‘a missed opportunity’.

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She said: “The coronavirus pandemic has shown over the past few months, the excellent work of our local officials who have gone above, and beyond to help protect our community.

“However, we often have discord between councillors and council officers, often within the same party or across different tiers, we have in contrast seen the unity and clarity of thought and vision in local governments elsewhere.

“What we have seen here is not good enough. Many have welcomed the idea, but I can see that a considerable number of people were very much against any temporary closure.

“Whilst there have been serious misunderstandings about what it would have achieved, what effect it would have had or what it was even for, I am sure that many people will be relieved that it is not going ahead.”

The proposals for the bridge were part of a package of trial pedestrianisation measures for the town centre, as well as ‘pop up’ cycle facilities, to ensure safety and social distancing while the coronavirus pandemic continues.

They came off the back of £338,000 in funding from government given to Devon County Council for trial schemes in Barnstaple, Bideford, Exeter and Newton Abbot.

Ms Saxby said climate change is something that must still be tackled and while this scheme was only temporary, it ‘woudl have shown how serious we are’.

She added: “We need to be bold and brave and look to the future of Barnstaple town centre.

“For some time, there has been talk of regenerating Barnstaple, making it more river facing, pedestrian and cycling friendly, and a place where people can socially gather and live.

“This temporary scheme would not have achieved that, but it would have shown a willingness that this is what we want and that we need funding to make it happen.

“As we look to the future, we must look at ways we can work together to regenerate our towns, to level up, and ensure they are fit and safe for future generations.”

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