A pedestrianisation project that has created “people-focused” spaces in Hitchin High Street and Market Place in Hertfordshire is to be made permanent, following a public consultation.
The council says the trial has “created a friendlier space that is more pleasant for people walking, wheeling and cycling and helps cafés, restaurants and other nearby businesses accommodate customers safely, freeing up outdoor space for events and outdoor dining”.
The High Street Recovery Scheme was introduced in the summer of 2020 to allow more space for social distancing during Covid-19, and to encourage people to return to the town centre after the pandemic.
In the recent consultation, 70% of respondents were in favour of the programme being made permanent. A majority of respondents also felt that walking in the scheme area felt safer, that the air quality had improved, traffic noise had reduced and that the town centre felt more pleasant.
A survey respondent commented: “The town feels much more buzzy and the freedom to walk in the centre without worrying about cars, their noise and exhausts is a wonderful feeling. It makes me love Hitchin even more. I walk across town to do my volunteering and leave the car at home.”
Footfall data, monitoring how many people go to Hitchin, is showing a steady upturn in visitors to the town, and exceeds the 2019 figures in the run-up to Christmas 2022. The data shows that visitors are spending more time in the town centre in comparison with 2020, often matching and exceeding pre-pandemic figures on all days except Sunday, when the area is open to traffic.
Cllr Phil Bibby, Executive Member for Highways and Transport at Hertfordshire County Council said: “Although we originally introduced these road closures to help during the pandemic, the friendlier and safer environment they’ve created in Hitchin town centre has proved popular and it’s no surprise that most people want to keep the project in place.
“We’ve aimed to strike a balance allowing access to the High Street for deliveries and for those who rely on a car to get around before 10am and after 4pm, but also opening up space during the day for everyone to enjoy.
“It is essential that we continue to support local businesses by investing in high quality, people-friendly streets and spaces. By making these measures permanent, we will create a much safer and more attractive environment and enable more people to walk, wheel and cycle in and around the town centre. It is important that we all do our bit to address the climate emergency and improve air quality in Hitchin, as well as supporting our local businesses wherever possible.”
Hertfordshire County Council now intends to make the Experimental Traffic Regulation Order permanent so the area will continue to be closed to motor traffic from 10am to 4pm Monday to Saturday. Some minor changes to loading arrangements will also be made.
The scheme has been implemented by Hertfordshire County Council and North Herts Council, together with Hitchin BID who have supported by managing the gates and liaising with local businesses.
(Picture – Hertfordshire County Council)