North Devon councillors have expressed their fury about not being consulted over plans to pedestrianise parts of Barnstaple town centre.
Devon County Council had initially put forward three proposals for temporary traffic restrictions in the town as part of social distancing measures, although two of them have since been dropped.
But the North Devon Highways and Traffic Orders Committee (HATOC) criticised council officers for the way ‘democracy was bypassed’ in announcing the changes without consulting any of the local members when it met on Friday (July 17).
They unanimously agreed to write a ‘suitable note’ to be sent to the officers that expressed their anger that they were just ignored and not kept in the loop with the proposals.
The proposal for temporary restrictions to remove traffic except for buses, cycles and emergency vehicles on the A3125 Longbridge was scrapped following a massive backlash from councillors, traders, and residents, while a scheme to restrict traffic in Queen Street and Boutport Street is also no longer going ahead.
Temporary traffic restrictions preventing vehicle access to Cross Street and Butchers Row between 10am to 4pm are in place, although councillors said they had no idea how long the trial period would last for.
Cllr John Mathews said: “We need to get across to officers that we must be first informed and not learn about this from third parties. We should be told first and in the initial stage, we didn’t know what was going on.”
Cllr Frank Biederman added: “The impact would have been felt by all of us across North Devon and it felt like democracy was being bypassed, and it was a shame we didn’t have a sensible debate about it. I sent emails calling for an emergency informal HATOC to discuss this and those emails were ignored.
“We have declared a climate emergency so any way to encourage people to use public transport once the pandemic is over and cycle is good, but when you start closing all the little roads like Boutport Street, as businesses receive and have to do deliveries, to cut their legs off is hard, so we have to consult with the businesses as well, and some were really concerned that they couldn’t get deliveries out.”
Cllr Brian Greenslade added: “There was a complete lack of respect for councillors emanating from County Hall on the proposals. They should have talked to us and taken our input. The county council should be aware of importance of local members and they just ignored it.
“We need to draw on the terrible experiences of this and if they had bothered to talk to us, we may have saved them some egg on their face. This should never happen again.”
Highways officer James Bench said that he was not involved in the decision and could only apologise for the lack of consultation, but said the decisions had to be taken as quickly as possible. He added that is any permanent changes were to be made, they would be subject to extensive consultation.