Northgate Closure Proposal

Wakefield Council recently announced a proposal to close Northgate to traffic from the Bull Ring to the junction with Providence Street and Cross Street for a period of six months. On-road parking spaces along Northgate from Cross Street to Rishworth Street will also be suspended during this period.

This is an experimental closure intended to help with the re-opening of the city centre and to allow restaurants and cafés in the vicinity to serve food to their customers at tables set up outside. The Council will take comments during the trial and consider making changes as considered necessary.

The Society’s view on the proposal

In broad terms, the Society supports the Council’s proposal.

Kevin Trickett, president of the Society said:

“The Society has been calling for increased pedestrianisation of the city centre, particularly around the Bull Ring area, for some time so the current proposal is a step in that direction.

“Many of the vehicles travelling via the Bull Ring are just passing through – they bring nothing to the city centre except congestion and pollution and much of the through traffic could find other routes around the city – for example via Marsh Way, Mulberry Way and Drury Lane.

“We appreciate that the Northgate proposal is a temporary measure, introduced as a direct response to help open up the city centre as lockdown eases, and it is far from a perfect arrangement, but we understand that there was an opportunity here for the Council to secure funding from central government and it had to move quickly to do so.

“In theory, this proposal should allow those cafés and restaurants along Northgate that wish to do so to serve customers outdoors; it just wouldn’t be possible to do that without reducing traffic flow and removing some of the parking spaces as the pavements aren’t wide enough to allow it, particularly when there is an ongoing requirement to maintain social distancing.

“Inevitably, this will take some getting used to and we can understand that some businesses might have concerns. Indeed, the Council may need to modify the proposals over time once they see how they work in practice, but it will serve as a useful experiment to test whether people prefer more space being given over to pedestrians.

“Many towns and cities are making similar arrangements right now, both on a temporary basis as here in Wakefield and also as part of more permanent solutions to reduce traffic and to improve the quality of the environment and public realm. We hope that, in due course, the Wakefield Council will go further.

“Unlike some larger cities, Wakefield has a relatively compact city centre which should lend itself well to further pedestrianised areas but we need a complete package with traffic calming measures, changes to bus routes, provision for delivery and emergency vehicles and disabled access being included in the overall design.

“Some people may recall that traffic used to be allowed to travel in both directions along upper Kirkgate until the area was first pedestrianised in the mid-1970s. I recall some people expressing misgivings about that scheme when it was first mooted but I doubt anyone would want to see traffic being allowed back into the ‘Cathedral precinct’ which is one of the most attractive parts of the city centre today complete with landscaping and mature trees where once there used to be cars”.

Wakefield’s Cathedral Precinct on a sunny Sunday evening in late spring.

Safety first – Civic Society President gives cautious welcome to the re-opening of city centre businesses

Speaking about the news that the government was to allow some businesses to re-open following an easement to the lockdown measures, Wakefield Civic Society President Kevin Trickett MBE said:

“Wakefield Civic Society welcomes the gradual easing of the lockdown conditions. We need to see Wakefield opening for business once again – but it must be done in such a way that ensures people can go about that business in a way that is safe and low risk. Yes, it will be good for people to be able to get out and about again, but we must not jeopardise people’s health and safety, otherwise the last two months will have been for nothing. Too many people have suffered, and died, because of this awful virus. Let’s not forget that as we slowly start to ease back into something approaching normal.

“Of course, opening shops is only part of the story. Many of the businesses in the catering and hospitality trade, such as hotels, bars and restaurants, will remain closed for now; similarly our cultural venues such as galleries, cinemas and theatres are some way off returning to ‘business as usual’. We have great sympathy for those businesses that can for now only look at the calendar and wonder when they too will be able to resume operation, but we have to adopt a safety-first approach and we urge the government to continue offering financial support wherever it is needed. These businesses and cultural organisations have helped to make our town and city centres great places in which to relax and to enjoy life with our families and friends. In the fulness of time, we need them to bounce back, to resume where they left off, and to bring back joyfulness and richness to our lives.

“Until that time comes, we congratulate those business and cultural organisations that have found innovative ways to keep going in one way or another, whether it be offering goods and services on-line, delivery and takeaway services, or providing entertainment through their websites and social media outlets.”