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”.