Carried out by Newbury Town Council in partnership with Newbury BID

The Covid-19 crisis resulted in a temporary 24-hour vehicle ban from Newbury town centre from the beginning of June until 7th September. At the Full Council meeting on 20 May, Newbury Town Council resolved to support this temporary ban as well as urging West Berkshire Council to consider extending it beyond early September in parts of the Town Centre, and, in particular, to permanently pedestrianise the Market Place (with traffic from Northbrook Street continuing from Mansion House Street along Wharf Street to Bear Lane). Subsequently, Newbury Town Council resolved to carry out a survey of shoppers to understand their views about the 24-hour vehicle ban and to see what changes they would like to see to make the town centre more attractive.

A team of 9 Town Councillors surveyed 147 shoppers in person in Northbrook Street on Saturday 18th July. In partnership with Newbury BID the survey was also posted online and received a further 321 responses. Cllr Martin Colston, Leader of Newbury Town Council said, “I’m delighted that so many people shared their views on pedestrianisation and the future of the town centre. 468 people is a significant sample and means the results are both robust and credible. Our new Town Centre Working Group will use the results to determine its areas of focus and initial plans.”
Shoppers were asked what changes to the town centre would encourage them to visit more often to shop, and these are some of the highlights:

  • 28% would like more independent outlets, focussed on independent shops, to differentiate us more from nearby big centres
  • 22% would like cheaper parking, with a total of 71% wanting free parking for the first 1 or 2 hours.
  • 16% would like changes to the market, with 50% wanting a wider variety of stalls on Thursdays and Saturdays, 29% more farmers / artisan markets, and 20% a covered market area. Several people suggested moving the market to Northbrook Street to drive footfall.
  • 13% would like more big-name outlets, again focussed on shops with Primark and Iceland getting the most individual call-outs
  • There were many who suggested more activity / entertainment venues to draw people to the town centre, especially given the ever-increasing growth of online shopping
    The response to the temporary 24-hour pedestrianisation were as follows:
  • When asked whether the 24 hour vehicle ban had made any difference to their experience of getting to the town centre and of shopping/eating/drinks, 43% said it had made no difference, 31% said it was better and 26% said it was worse
  • Among those who said it was better, the key reason was that the lack of vehicles meant it was safe and felt more relaxed
  • Among those who said it was worse, the main concern was traffic on the A339 and longer journey times around town.

When asked what they would like to happen when the 24-hour vehicle ban was lifted, the result was very finely balanced:

  • Overall, 45% said they would like to revert to the original 10am to 5pm regime, 38% said they would like to keep it permanent, 13% would like extended the vehicle-free hours vs the original regime. The remaining 4% covered minor points
  • Among those who visit the town centre more regularly, 49% said they would like to make the 24-hour vehicle ban permanent, with 34% wanting to revert to the original regime, 8% would like extended the vehicle-free hours vs the original regime. The remaining 9% covered minor points
  • Among those who wanted to revert to the original scheme, the main reason was concern about traffic flow in the town particularly at rush hour, plus ease of deliveries for shops, access for blue badge holders and the ability to pick up a few things on the way through town
  • Among those who wanted the 24-hour vehicle ban to stay, the main reasons were the more relaxed, safer atmosphere, and the prospect of more outdoor seating for cafes, restaurants and pubs.
  • There were some interesting suggestions such as a different regime with longer hours of pedestrianisation at the weekends when there is no rush hour, and permanent pedestrianisation of the Market Place.

The results also showed a significant opportunity for more active travel: 72% of those surveyed live within 3 miles of the town centre, yet only 46% walked or cycled into town, and only 2% used public transport to get to Newbury.

Cllr Olivia Lewis, Deputy Leader of Newbury Town Council said, “I am disappointed the trial is ending but really pleased we took the opportunity to understand the response of residents and visitors. It shows there’s a big prize to win through a modal shift towards walking and cycling, and that there is significant support for making changes to the traffic in town including our strategic aim of permanent pedestrianisation in the Market Place. Through the new Town Centre Working Group we will work with the BID, West Berkshire Council and other stakeholders to find ideas that can work for everyone and help make Newbury a town we can all be proud of.”

The detailed report with all the results and suggestions can be found on the Newbury Town Council website with a link from the homepage:

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