Chamber fights for say in street plans

By Desmond Pugh   |   Senior reporter and photographer   |
Sunday 7th August 2022 6:09 am
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Monnow street
(Des Pugh )

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A BUSINESS leader has hit out at the plan to formalise the present layout of Monnow Street as it stands.

Sherren McCabe-Finlayson, Chair of Monmouth Chamber of Commerce has told the Beacon that “most of our members are against changes to Monnow Street, they wish it to return back to how it was pre-Covid” although she added that many like the Salt and Pepper café area and would like that to remain.

This was backed up by a Monmouth trader who recently celebrated 10 years on the high street.

David Tovey, owner of MonTeas said that redesigning Monmouth has introduced more controversy than solved problems.

“The town has been changed to its detriment and other, more accommodating shopping locations are preferred, being easier to navigate with better parking and to park more cost-effectively.

“Recent changes and subsequent effects on running a main street business have been alarming and unbelievable - not in a good way either” he added.

However, wine merchant Tom Innes, who has been trading from the centre of town since 1987, said that some of the measures taken due to Covid-19 worked.

“When they shut the pinch point and St John Street in 2020, you couldn’t drive through town, but cars and delivery vans could still access Monnow Street and turn below the pinch point, and the same with Agincourt Square.

“Most of the traffic is driving straight through now and not stopping here.

“If they put retractable bollards at the pinch point to open the street at peak periods for an hour or so - such as end of school or due to pressures on the A40 - it would work.

“When it was blocked off, it was completely wonderful here, it was peaceful, there were lots of people in town, there were no cars belting up the street but you could still drive into town” he added.

“There was a lot of footfall and shoppers used to roam all over the road yet you could still drive into town with your car”.

But he said that widening the pavements and then putting planters in them was a self-defeating measure as it just obstructed the path.

He added they should get rid of all this extra pavement, “I like the idea of trees and planters but they are just obstructions.

“This arrangement is ridiculous, if you park next to a planter you can’t open your car door”.

He also bemoans the loss of delivery bays: “I often have to park away from the shop and it’s horrible trying to cross the road, you can’t do it”.

The temporary measures - wider streets and pavement cafés - were introduced at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic to allow for distancing.

The first meeting between Monmouthshire County Council officers and stakeholders in early November 2020, seen as essential ‘collaboration’ and ‘involvement’ in applying the five ways of working of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, was with 15 stakeholders which included five who were involved in Active Travel, another was an ex-chair of Transition Monmouth, one a chair of Bike Friendly Monmouth, one a chair of Monmouth Cycling Group and the Sustrans Network Development Manager.

The Chamber of Commerce had been completely unaware of any meetings that had taken place during that time.

Following this, a public consultation exercise was undertaken over a three-week period between November 27 and December 21, 2020. A questionnaire was made available on MCC’s website and was promoted via the local authority’s social media channels.

A total of 561 members of the public responded to the consultation questionnaire with 44 per cent saying their preferred option was ‘do minimum’ along Monnow Street while 53 per cent stated that they use the services available on Monnow Street at least once a week and 58 per cent said that the one-way option was their least favourite option.

A second consultation with stakeholders was held in March this year but extended to allow for the town’s chamber of trade and the Haberdashers’ Schools to put forward their case.

Sherren added: “I was not made aware of the second consultation process until the month before, at which point I questioned with the town council why their Active Travel group had not contacted the Chamber to discuss how plans for Monnow Street would affect businesses. I also made strong representation to MCC about why such an important consultation had not involved the Chamber of Commerce, Haberdashers’ Monmouth Schools, Emergency Services, and disability groups who had not been part of the conversation prior to that point”.

Sherren added:” I wrote letters of complaint to MCC Councillors about how badly skewed the second questionnaire was, given how many people wanted a return to a wide high street from stage one. There should have been a question regarding this, or at least ‘we want none of the above’ on the second questionnaire.”

MCC have been asked for a comment.

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