Five reasons why we support town centre pedestrianisation

Sidmouth town centre

Pedestrianisation plans would see cyclists being allowed to use Old Fore Street - Credit: Alex Walton

There has been much publicity and comment recently about a pedestrianisation scheme for Sidmouth.
This is Devon County Council's (Highways) Traffic Order Proposal for Sidmouth Town Centre Pedestrian Zone, being the conversion of the temporary scheme that has been in place since last July, covering Old Fore Street, New Street, Market Square, Church Street, to become permanent. 
Included in the proposal is the reinstatement of the taxi bays in New Street, which the Executive Committee of the Chamber supports. We recognise that there are differing opinions on this matter in that some, as expressed at our Chamber Breakfast Meeting held on Wednesday June 9, would prefer no vehicles being able to park in the pedestrian zone. Access will still be available for deliveries, access to business or residential property, taxis picking up or dropping off, emergency or maintenance vehicles.
This explains why the Chamber supports the reinstatement of the taxi bays in New Street.
During the Temporary Pedestrianisation Scheme taxis were relocated to the top of Fore Street, outside of Blinis, where it adjoins the Esplanade, and we do not think this should be the permanent location as we believe it is not suitable for the residents and clients of the taxis for the following reasons:
1 - The taxi bays are on an upward facing slope
2 - The taxis are only accessible on one side
3 - There is a raised pavement on the access side
4 - That the location is open to inclement weather coming off the seafront
Whereas the taxi bays in New Street are on a flat road and can be accessed from either side, and the location is somewhat protected from any inclement weather, and is also closer to the shops and businesses.
Some 50 per cent of Sidmouth residents are 60 and above and even young able bodied customers often find it difficult climbing in or out of the rear seats of a taxi without having to cope with exiting or entering uphill, from a raised pavement, from just one side, or in the strong winds and rain often experienced at that location, possibly loaded down with shopping.
A number of our businesses in the town centre gain considerable support from customers of a more mature age, many with mobility issues and easy access to a taxi is vital for anyone who is unable to walk far, or find it difficult getting in or out of the rear of vehicles. The existing location of the taxis outside Blinis makes this very difficult, whereas it is far better in New Street for the reasons described above. We also believe that taxis are seen as a public service and ease of access shows that we are an accessible town and is a good visual aid for everyone.
It is also recognised that taxi operators use professional drivers who are used to driving slowly and carefully within a pedestrianised area, as demonstrated in many towns that have a pedestrian zone. We also believe there will be less need for them to traverse down Old Fore Street if customers can access or exit from taxis located in New Street, which is a wider road less busy with pedestrians.
5 - Loss of much needed parking spaces. From a purely business perspective there is also the issue of the permanent loss of four more parking spaces in the Town Centre. The pedestrianisation scheme already includes the permanent loss of some much needed parking spaces. The reinstatement of the taxi bays in New Street means that we retain the four spaces outside Blinis. Short term parking spaces in the town centre are rarely empty, meaning that the loss of parking spaces permanently means a loss of custom for many businesses in town. A recent survey in Budleigh Salterton estimated the loss of potential business to their town for every parking space they lost, which was a considerable sum annually.
For the above reasons the Chamber is supporting the DCC proposal on converting the temporary pedestrianisation scheme to permanent, which includes the reinstatement of the taxi bays in New Street. 
Devon County Council, supported by Sidmouth Town Council and the Chamber, have already achieved a lot by pedestrianising part of the town centre. Like any change, it will not completely satisfy everyone but the road infrastructure in the town centre does not lend itself to a perfect solution.