‘There would be a shock if Boots Cor­ner went back to how it was’

Gloucestershire Echo - - NEWS - By CONOR GOGARTY

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

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