There has been a U-turn over plans to close Barnstaple Longbridge to traffic in the face of a wave of objections from the public.

Devon County Council, with the support of North Devon Council and North Devon MP Selaine Saxby, had intended to temporarily close the bridge to all motor vehicles except buses and emergency vehicles.

The aim was to make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists by allowing greater social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.

But in a joint statement from the county and district council issued this afternoon (Thursday, June 18), they said: “We’ve listened to public feedback and following discussions with North Devon MP Selaine Saxby we have decided not to proceed with the scheme to restrict traffic on the A3125 Longbridge.

“We still intend to introduce social distancing plans to extend Barnstaple town centre‘s pedestrianised area, and pop-up cycling parking facilities have already been introduced.”

The proposals had unleashed fury from local people, who feared the town would be swamped with congestion and return to being ‘the home of the traffic jam’ if the proposals went ahead.

There were fears for high street and town centre businesses if one of the main routes into the centre were closed to traffic.

The temporary trial period was scheduled for three months but many feared the move would become permanent.

The controversial plans came about following £338,000 emergency funding from the government to make provisions for walkers and cyclists during the pandemic.

Trial schemes are set to take place in Exeter, Newton Abbot, Barnstaple and Bideford.

A petition set up by Gemma Greening had gathered more than 4,200 signatures opposing the move, while an online poll conducted by the Gazette had more than 1,300 voters with more than 1,000 (80 per cent) also opposing the scheme.

Barnstaple North county councillor Brian Greenslade said: “This sensible decision to drop closing the Barnstaple Longbridge is most welcome. My county councillor colleague John Mathews and I are delighted and pleased that our campaigning against it has paid off.

“We salute other councillor colleagues in Barnstaple and the general public for the tremendous support they have given to bring about this victory for common sense.”

Liberal Democrat spokesman for North Devon, Alex White, said: “I am thrilled to hear that Barnstaple Longbridge will remain OPEN! This is a victory for common sense and for local people.

“Thank you to everyone who supported Gemma’s petition. This is what happens when local voices are listened to. This was an ill-thought-out idea from the start that would be bad for business, bad for emissions and bad for infrastructure - it’s something the MP couldn’t see coming as she doesn’t know the area. Thank you also to NDC and DCC for listening to me, councillors and these thousands of local voices.”