HIGH streets across Wales are changing as the dominance of the private car is challenged.

Concerns over air pollution and traffic congestion have seen councils bring forward plans for more pedestrianised areas but either the power of the motor vehicle, or the public’s reliance or refusal to give up the convenience of private transport, means plans are often falling short of the promise of car-free streets.

Last week supporters of plans to close Castle Street, the main artery through the centre of Cardiff, to private vehicles were disappointed when city councillors agreed to reopen it.

A protest against the decision saw a number of people, including some with bicycles, gather outside the castle and make the short walk to City Hall to demonstrate their opposition.

The street had been converted to an outdoor dining area when Covid restrictions eased in July 2020 to create extra seating capacity for hospitality businesses. A permanent road closure was considered but in the autumn it was agreed to allow access to buses and taxis before this week’s decision to once again allow all traffic to use the road.

When the road was first closed the council cited a drop in traffic levels, due to lockdown and the increase in people working from home, as factors behind its proposal.

It also proposed changes for local shopping districts across the city with a programme to widen pavements and narrow traffic lanes currently ongoing.

Elsewhere in Wales councils have been making similar changes and citing the same motivations.

Last week Cardiff saw protests over the re-opening of Castle Street. Photo: TwitterProtesters in Castle Street, Cardiff

But they have also found traders, shoppers and residents are split on plans that increase areas for pedestrians, and often cyclists as well, at the expense of drivers.

In Swansea, the city centre’s Wind Street has been revamped, with footway and carriageway improvements, intended to give greater prominence to the paved area to make the area more attractive for shoppers and businesses wanting to offer hospitality services outside.

Traffic is restricted to a limited number of hours every day for loading only, and is one-way. Similar changes are also being made in rural market towns and

Powys council has introduced temporary road closures to allow social distancing so shoppers can walk in the often narrow but, for now at least, traffic-free streets.

The temporary removal of traffic has helped some imagine town and city centres free of traffic and led to calls for temporary closures to be made permanent.

In Llandeilo nearly 300 people signed a petition asking Carmarthenshire council to make a temporary pedestrianisation of a town centre street, originally closed due to delayed building work, permanent.

But while there is support for reducing the amount of traffic in town centres there is also opposition.

Traders will often complain about a lack of parking, or parking charges, that they fear deter potential customers and if local shopping centres

are closed to traffic, many worry their businesses will no longer be an option for customers reliant on their cars.

In Hay-on-Wye some 50 businesses have objected to bollards, installed by Powys council to stop cars driving through parts of the town centre, with a one-way system put in place.

At present the town centre is a pedestrian-only area from noon to 4pm on Thursdays and Saturdays but the road closures will be for seven days a week from July 16.

Becka Jones, who helps run her family’s RM Jones Pharmacy in Hay, said: “We proposed that the roads should be closed on Thursday and Saturday only during the summer holidays as we believe it will negatively impact businesses in the areas within the road closures.

“The big problem we have with these measures is that they are prohibiting access to essential goods and services to elderly and disabled people who are unable to walk from the main car park into town. We are also concerned that people who shop in Hay from the surrounding areas will be put off coming to Hay if they are unable to park in the town centre to pick up their shopping.”

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Powys council has said the measures were adapted following concerns raised by business and are supported by the town council and chamber of commerce.

A council spokesman said the measures were introduced in response to Covid, and the need for social distancing, which Becka says has been used as a “trump card” by the council, but it said if there was a demand for permanent changes they would be subject to a full consultation.

In Cardiff, while more traffic will be moving through the city centre, traders on Wellfield Road, in Roath, which last year was the first neighbourhood shopping area adapted for the ‘new normal’, have complained at the compromise reached between greater space for pedestrians and maintained access for vehicles.

Temporary changes introduced last year to widen pavements, narrow the roadway, remove on-street parking and add cycle lanes, have been made permanent and the street is now one-way only rather than having traffic moving in both directions.

Last week Cardiff saw protests over the re-opening of Castle Street. Photo: TwitterClothes shop owner Kaivan Farouzan with a dossier of correspondence between him and the council over changes to the road

There is a split between traders on the street, which has traditionally been a predominantly retail area, with greater support for the changes from hospitality businesses than goods retailers.

Agit Cevis, who owns two restaurants on Wellfield Road, campaigned for a full road closure but not from a business point of view: “Cardiff is such a small city everybody should be able to travel by bike. I supported closing the road not for business but to reduce pollution.”

He also thinks the move to home working has boosted local shopping areas as more people are shopping and socialising closer to home.

But with slow-moving traffic often queuing in the roadway he thinks pollution on the street has increased.

Clothes shop owner Kaivan Farouzan is also frustrated by the fumes from queueing traffic and has videos of emergency service vehicles, with blue lights flashing, trapped in the gridlock.

“The majority of my customers are mature ladies but I don’t see many of them now as they can’t find a parking space and avoid the street,” said Kaivan.

A generational split also appears apparent in attitudes to Castle Street. The council says of the more than 6,000 responses it received, respondents aged over 55 were heavily in favour of reopening to private cars with those aged under 35 generally in favour of keeping it closed.

Lockdown may have presented a pause for thought but car dependency appears to be the greatest challenge to how we get around our urban spaces.

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Last week Cardiff saw protests over the re-opening of Castle Street. Photo: Twitter