At last month’s budget setting meeting, Rugby Borough Council decided (due to a Tory majority) to spend about £500,000 on getting designs for pedestrianising more of the town centre (basically along North Street where the bus stops and taxi rank currently sit) and consulting local people and businesses on them.
While town centre pedestrianisation schemes may not be the most controversial subject in the world, what I think should be addressed is the question of whether it is really a good idea to spend loads of money on this now. First of all, councils do not have a lot of money to spend as it is. That doesn’t just mean the £500k is in question, it means there seems to be no guarantee that even if the plan were drawn up and everyone liked it, that RBC or Warwickshire County Council would then have the money it would cost to actually do it.
Secondly there is the larger question of whether it even makes sense. Town centres are, frankly, facing massive problems. National chains are closing as debt overcomes them. Rents and rates and other costs are hitting smaller chains and independents. The rise of internet shopping and supermarkets with everything under one roof are major competition. And of course the ‘out of town’ shopping centre trend is also a challenge. These aspects are no less of an issue for Rugby, especially with the recent news that a Debenhams will be opening in the town, but on the road to the M1 rather than in the middle of town.
And thirdly, Rugby and in particular the centre of town has a bit of a traffic problem. Going between North and South is not too bad, although there is the bottleneck where the Newbold Road meets Leicester Road by the Avon Mill. But East-West is a real pain. There’s the A428, which is very narrow in front of Rugby School (where there seem to be frequent roadworks), there’s a long detour South to Ashlawn Road, or there are various routes through streets to the North of the town centre. While traffic is discouraged from using North Street by speed limits, it is used during the day. If it is pedestrianised, that traffic will have to use the other already congested routes. If it actually works to draw more people into the town, those other routes (which often mean going along residential roads) will be even worse.
Added to which is the question of where the bus stops and taxi ranks that sit there would go – too far away and people will be deterred from town rather than drawn in.
What looked like a good idea four years ago isn’t necessarily going to be so good now. Spending £500K to find out at a time when government cuts are hitting RBC services seems to be showing some poor priorities.