Earlier this month the Communities Secretary, Robert Jenrick MP, confirmed he will extend the Covid-19 provisions for temporary pavement licences for a further 12 months, supporting the recovery of Britain’s hospitality industry and high streets. This prompts the thought of whether pedestrianisation in our towns and cities can support local economies in their bounce back to normality?
Whilst we continue to learn to live alongside the virus in the short term, creating more space to walk safely and maintain a social distance is a clear benefit of pedestrianisation. However, as we are all craving a return to the buzz of shops, bars, restaurants, theatres, and generally having greater social interaction, changing the way we prioritise space over vehicles can enhance cities as a destination, leisure-based experience in the long term.
From macro-scale European style boulevards and large city parks, to micro spaces for independent markets, pocket parks and café culture, pedestrianised spaces are lauded by built environment professionals as a solution to some of our cities’ most persistent problems. Improving air quality, encouraging the use of sustainable transport, and attracting families into the public realm are all significant benefits we should be striving to create.
However, these schemes have not been without criticism, with objectors questioning how buildings will be adequately serviced, and whether streets will feel safe without the natural surveillance from traffic. There have also been concerns surrounding disruption to bus routes, with a pedestrianised route at Deansgate in Manchester recently having to partly re-open following a legal challenge from an aggrieved bus operator.
Despite some opposition, Local Authorities are continuing to promote more walkable city centres. Last week in Manchester, the City Council approved a 2040 Transport Strategy endorsing the expansion of pedestrian-priority zones throughout the city. Included within such zones are Stevenson Square and Thomas Street in Manchester’s Northern Quarter; streets which were temporarily pedestrianised last summer, allowing bars and restaurants to create outdoor terraces. The initiative proved popular among visitors and residents, offering the chance for an alfresco tipple in an area usually dominated by vehicles rather than people. This may appear somewhat at odds with the recent 440 space temporary car park scheme that Manchester have been pursuing as part of the Central Park Masterplan. Having just lost a legal battle over their decision, they have already confirmed that they will appeal.
Pedestrianisation schemes are also being implemented in other cities across the UK, with Iceni Transport currently involved with similar London based proposals. Whilst there has been a long term aim to develop greener communities, healthier streets, and safer environments, Covid has accelerated this somewhat, whereby there has been the potential to actively introduce strategies for encouraging walking as a viable mode of travel as well as create opportunities for more attractive places which are not overly dominated by vehicles.
So, how will this prioritisation of the pedestrian realm impact future development? Certainly, in terms of site finding and business expansion, it will be critical for leisure and retail operators to understand where pedestrianisation may occur. Iceni are well placed to assist developers to keep abreast of draft pedestrianised locations and provide advice on city centre schemes going forward.