How Salisbury traffic scheme fell apart in just 30 days

A plan to reduce and restrict traffic in Salisbury city centre is to be called off at the end of November “indefinitely” – by then it will be just over a month after it came into force.

The so-called ‘People Friendly Salisbury’ scheme imposed measures limiting traffic movements back on Wednesday, October 21.

But just 30 days later, on Friday (November 20), Wiltshire Council announced it would stop the scheme after losing the support of businesses and the city council.

So how did we get there?

It follows weeks of complaints from both sides of the debate.

Vocal views on both sides

On Friday, the reaction was vocal from critics of the traffic plan.

On the Salisbury Journal Facebook page, Nigel Merrifield wrote: “Great news for the city and the people living here.”

While Dan Radley simply said: “Thank God for that.”

Mark Bradley took a different view, however. He said: “Keyboard warriors winning the battle to lose the war. All to save a few minutes stuck on the ring road that they complain isn’t fit for purpose.

“The stats that would prove that and get something done about it will now be lost in political point scoring and inter council fighting.

“Once again Salisbury stagnating due to a narrow sighted aversion to change.”

Nick Bowden agreed, writing: “Such a shame. So short sighted. I thought it was really good.”

But the majority of replies all echoed themes of “thank goodness”, “what a relief”, or “what a waste of money”.

It has to be said, though, there has been plenty of support for the pedestrianisation measures too – including from a city GP.

In the end though, the pressure to call off the changes proved too great.

Here’s how the low traffic zone proposal unravelled in weeks:

Wednesday, October 21 – traffic restrictions come into force

Back in October, the city was braced for getting used to new rules.

Journal reporter Benjamin Paessler, who has been covering the detail of the scheme all year, tried to explain the key points of what to expect, with an everything you need to know guide.

What started as a plan to encourage social distancing and make it safer for people to walk around Salisbury during the pandemic, had evolved into a more ambitious plan to use experimental traffic orders, reducing vehicle movements and pollution, and encouraging walking and cycling.

There were already people writing into the Journal, with views both for and against.

But most locals perhaps hadn’t realised what the scheme would mean for them, until it started properly.

Saturday, October 31 – new national lockdown announced

Perhaps this was the day it became inevitable the Salisbury low traffic zone would not get a normal hearing.

In what are now infamous scenes, Boris Johnson and his scientific advisers eventually – after hours of delay – went on national television to announce a new national lockdown.

Salisbury Journal:

It went against what the Government had said for weeks previously, that it would stick to local lockdowns.

For Salisbury, it meant a dramatic stop to usual daily life again, even if coronavirus rates stayed relatively low locally.

That meant no normal to and fro of people in and out of the city centre – so no normal traffic levels to monitor during the People Friendly trial, to see if it worked.

But surely it also meant the scheme couldn’t be blamed for any drop off in visits? Supporters argued it needed to be given time.

Wednesday, November 2 – new leader for city council’s majority party

Jeremy Nettle had already been ousted as city council leader last month, following a backlash against him from Conservative colleagues, largely over People Friendly Salisbury.

The Tories chose their new city council group leader on November 2 – Liz Sirman.

She had previously said the cost of the traffic plans “beggars belief”.

Her position as city council leader would be confirmed later at a full meeting.

It meant the city council was about to go from having a People Friendly plan supporter in charge (Nettle) to an opponent (Sirman).

Thursday, November 5 – second lockdown starts

It was March all over again as Salisbury joined the rest of England in a coronavirus shutdown.

Pictures showed the city streets looking empty.

Salisbury Journal:

Thursday, November 12 – Low traffic zone branded ‘disaster’ for business

Correspondence continued to flood the Journal’s inboxes, both for and against the traffic changes in the city.

But when we spoke to independent businesses in the city centre, the majority clearly took a negative view of the recently imposed restrictions.

A market trader called them “dreadful” for Salisbury, while another business owner said they had been a “disaster” for trade.

They insisted cars needed to be able to drive in, especially to give people every option to support local shops during lockdown.

The fact permits still allowed many types of visit into the city, and that car parks remained open, got lost in the muddle, with businesses critical of the way the rules were explained.

Friday, November 13 – Salisbury MP calls for halt

John Glen MP intervened in the debate on November 13.

He said the lockdown made it impossible for the trial of People Friendly Streets to be measured accurately.

He stopped short of calling for a permanent end to the plan, but said it should be brought back at a later date.

Salisbury Journal:

Monday, November 16 – New council leader confirmed

Remember the political comings and goings earlier in the month?

On November 16, Liz Sirman was finally officially confirmed as the new city council leader.

As we said above, she was a public critic of the scheme.

She vowed to focus on big issues and try to move on from council infighting.

But the shift in power and emphasis on the city council would prove crucial to the U-turn to come from Wiltshire Council.

Tuesday, November 17 – Salisbury BID also asks for suspension

After surveying its member businesses, the Salisbury BID joined the MP in calling for a suspension.

Wednesday, November 18 – Wiltshire Council listens to feedback

In the face of mounting pressure, Wiltshire Council said it would consider the way forward, but did not give in – yet.

Councillor Bridget Wayman, Cabinet Member for Highways, said on November 18: “We are taking into account all the feedback we have received for People Friendly Salisbury, and working with partners, we are considering the way forward for the scheme.”

Thursday, November 19 – City council leaders meet Wiltshire Council

The Journal understands the new leader and deputy leader of the city council met with Wiltshire Council figures on November 19, making it clear they did not support the continuation of the traffic restrictions.

Former leader, Jeremy Nettle, felt the wider city council should have been consulted more formally.

Friday, November 20 – People Friendly Scheme called off ‘indefinitely’

Which brings us to the announcement of the scheme being halted “indefinitely” by Wiltshire Council.

The council said without the support of business or the city council, it could not continue.

Reaction from all sides of the argument – from businesses, councillors, campaigners, the MP and more – poured in.

Here’s the Wiltshire Council decision in full.

Salisbury Journal:

Is there a way back for low traffic measures in Salisbury?

Both John Glen MP and the leader of the city council insist they want to return to measures to make Salisbury greener in the future.

Most critics had concrete concerns – from a lack of marketing to properly explain how the scheme worked, to calls for some free parking to support businesses.

If these could be addressed, perhaps there will be a return for a traffic reduction scheme in future, in more normal times after the lockdown and with the pandemic under control.

But supporters of the People Friendly plan will no doubt fear this week’s decision has set a benchmark which will make it hard to try something so ambitious again.

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