July 4th should have marked the opening of cafes, restaurants, bars, hairdressers and barbers in the town as lockdown measures eased another stage further. The majority of businesses in the town have been badly affected by the lockdown and are fighting for survival. Consumer confidence is at an all time low and attracting people into Reigate Town Centre is extremely difficult given online competition and out of town retail parks.
The Active Travel measures erected last night overshadowed the positive aspects of today’s re-opening and instead of increasing the confidence of local businesses and visitors to our town the converse happened. We appreciate a modal shift away from cars is required to reduce air pollution and promote healthier lifestyles. We have seen and read the comments from the cyclists who visited the town today and acknowledge there are no simple solutions to this issue. Some of the cyclists who were present in the town today were no doubt aided by social media and had advanced notice of the changes that were due to take place. However, despite being key stakeholders The Reigate Business Guild and other local businesses were not consulted or given any notification from the County Council regarding the measures taking place. In the same vein local residents were also kept in the dark. Communication is still at a minimum from the County Council and virtually non-existent from the Borough Council. A pro forma email response from the County Council, some tweets and a press release this morning are simply not enough to justify the impact these measures are having on town centre businesses.
Some key lessons from today
- Traders reported that the majority of customers were not in support of the cycle lane
- Many stated they would avoid the town until the cycle lanes are removed, a point echoed on social media
- Takings were down for some and footfall from previous weekends also fell despite the easing of lockdown measures which were expected to increase much needed revenue at such a difficult time.
- Aesthetically the scheme is awful with poor signage (even the local cyclists who took to social media agreed with this point). Reigate Town Centre is a Conservation Area which sets it apart from other local towns and is a key selling point for local businesses. When combined with the floor stickers, new signage and red and white barriers slicing through the town centre we are badly damaging an important Heritage asset.
- Congestion in the town backed up to an unusually high level and created a continual crawl of traffic throughout the day. This was clearly evident on the ground and backed up on the AA Roadwatch site.
- Emergency vehicles continually struggled to make their way through the town centre which could result in tragic consequences, especially if there are accidents on the M23 or M25. Traffic may well contribute to slowing emergency vehicles down but closing off a lane made this far worse than normal.
- Pedestrians were unclear as to whether the cycle lane was dual use: an accident waiting to happen?
- The cycle signage for Priory Park consisted of one small sign with no further signage in the park to demarcate how to get to the other end of the High Street or locate any cycle parking near the town centre.
- Disabled parking bays have been reduced in the Town centre as a result of the cycle lanes.
- Loading bays have been closed leaving businesses at a loss as to how they can safely operate and no assistance or guidance has been provided by Surrey Highways other than to point to the already full loading bays on the opposite side of the High Street.
- Three bollards were removed from the end of The High Street overnight without explanation
The overwhelming responses of the businesses we spoke to were upset and dismayed at the impact this was having on the town and their businesses. The timing of this experiment and lack of notification has completely failed our business community. Whether the aim of the measures has been met time will tell but given the local reaction it is doubtful. We all agree there is no quick fix. There have been numerous studies and plans over the years. The Reigate Business Guild previously sought a 20mph limit but were denied. This element of the proposal is universally supported. The cycle route through Priory Park is also generally supported albeit no actual route has been demarcated.
Cars unable to turn out of the Morrisons junction safely
View down Bell street as cars back up and emergency services can’t get through
We want to keep an open dialogue with the respective Councils, businesses, residents, cyclists and visitors to the town to share ideas and learn from this experience if they are prepared to communicate with us on a level playing field.
One day really is enough to learn that while the experiment has furthered the debate and helped to publicise greener travel it is not the right time to force this on our Historic town.
The High Street and local schools have yet to fully open and offices remain predominantly empty yet still the town was at a standstill for most of the day. How long do we have to endure this before it’s agreed that there are better solutions and ways to spend public money on social distancing measures. Please share your experiences with us so that we can feedback to the County Council. We will canvass opinion from local businesses and provide data where available to aid this discussion. For the time being please leave the town centre alone and let us get back to business.
Spencer Copping, Reigate Business Guild Chairman – email@example.com