‘There would be a shock if Boots Corner went back to how it was’
THE man leading the Boots Corner project has defended the area’s new look and revealed pedestrianisation is a possibility.
Tim Atkins, Cheltenham Borough Council’s managing director of place and growth praised the council’s installation of benches, bike racks, planters and even artificial grass around the fountain.
The price for delivery, installation, planting and one year’s maintenance of the four new planters is £17,941.
Mr Atkins said: “Boots Corner is missing a bit of greenery. Most of the time people would applaud you for putting trees in the High Street.
“Suddenly we are against trees? Some people are shooting it down in flames.
“We don’t think the planters are remotely ugly or hideous.
A Gloucestershire Echo reader said it is “crazy” one of the Boots Corner planters features a seat in the road, facing onto Clarence Street.
But Mr Atkins responded: “There is nothing unusual about having seating by the highway.
“All the things we are doing can be removed if the closure is made permanent.”
Asked if the same installations would remain in place if the trial was successful, he said: “Let the trial run its course.”
The two new car-shaped bike racks in front of Boots and Starbucks, which together hold 20 bicycles, cost the council £6,330 in total.
Explaining the thinking behind their shape, Mr Atkins said: “It’s symbolic.
“That spot could have been a car parking space, but instead you can get 10 bikes there.
“People are saying why do we need bike racks, but if you look around they are being used.”
Mr Atkins said his hometown Middlesbrough would “bite your arm off” to have Cheltenham’s footfall and extensive architectural beauty.
But Mr Atkins revealed there was one aspect to Cheltenham that disappointed him when he arrived two years ago.
“I saw Boots Corner and I thought, ‘Is this really the centre of the high street?’ I was a bit shocked.
“We want to link the Brewery Quarter and John Lewis, so Boots Corner does not sever the High Street.
“This is about High Street. Boots Corner could be the new heart of the high street.”
He thinks those who oppose the project may be shouting louder than those who are enjoying it.
“People are walking across Boots Corner, feeling more comfortable and owning the space,” he said.
“When it was open to traffic they wouldn’t have dreamed of doing that.
“At the moment the majority of shoppers are thinking it is quite nice, without thinking why they are able to walk through.
“They would get a bit of a shock now if it went back to how it was.
“It would be a massive backwards step if we reversed that.”
Despite claims from some nesses of reduced town centre footfall since Boots Corner closed, Mr Atkins believes “more people coming in will be a slow reaction”.
He said the removal of cars is a bid to emulate the best town and city centres.
“There is competition with other sucessful town centres, like Bath, which don’t have 13,000 vehicles going through a day.
“It’s people who spend money in shops, not cars. Those driving through are not the ones bringing money into the town. They are trying to find a shortcut through Cheltenham.
“Even before Boots Corner shut, less than 25 per cent of town centre visitors came by car. “Promenade is a place for people to walk up and down. We are trying to create that character in Boots Corner.”
Buses and taxis are among the vehicles still allowed to use the route.
Asked if a Promenade-style character would be easier to bring about in Boots Corner without that traffic, Mr Atkins revealed the council may consider greater pedestrianisation.
“We are trying to get a feel for that, but first we are doing the trial,” he said.
“Copenhagen is a beautiful city. It has hardly any car priority, and that was a long, hard process, but they achieved it and it’s been absolutely transformational.”
Asked if full pedestrianisation of the High Street is on the cards, he replied: “We would definitely want to consider that.
“There are question marks about deliveries for shops.
“It could be a shared space scheme, it could be total pedestrianisation. Nothing’s definite yet.”
He hopes a shift away from vehicle priority in the town centre will encourage more people to travel by bus and bike.
Traders in Clarence Street and Clarence Parade have formed an association to fight the closure of Boots Corner.
They have reported problems with deliveries, parking and footfall.
Mr Atkins said: “We are thinking about Cheltenham as a whole and its future.
“I believe we can address 75 per cent of their issues. When you plan a scheme you don’t always see every single thing that won’t go perfectly, and we are listening to feedback.”
A Cheltenham Borough Council spokesman said officers met the traders on September 10.
Councillor Andrew Mckinlay, cabinet member for development and safety, added: “We’re listening to local business owners.
“We’ve met with them and are currently working to find solutions that will help address their concerns.
“We appreciate there will be initial disruption as people adapt to the changes and develop new routines, however we hope to see these changes bringing an improvement to the high street environment, and better traffic management and safety.
“The next few months promise to be exciting when we can begin to see the High Street looking very different, and in the long term, offer a considerable boost to Cheltenham’s economy.”
Tim Atkins, Cheltenham Borough Council’s managing director of place and growth
Some of the new street furniture at Boots Corner including the planters, artificial grass and bike racks