Bristol Park Street closure: Hear from the traders split over plans to close road to cars

Many businesses spoken to branded the proposals an ‘awful’ idea - but some thought they were essential to improving safety and the overall vibe of the historic Bristol shopping street

Jacob and Holly from Bird and Blend are in favour of the scheme.
Jacob and Holly from Bird and Blend are in favour of the scheme.
Jacob and Holly from Bird and Blend are in favour of the scheme.

Plans to close Park Street in Bristol to cars have stirred the pot among traders - with one business owner claiming the scheme is the latest ‘nail in the coffin’ amid the pandemic and soaring energy bills.

Others, however, have supported the scheme, claiming it could improve footfall and safety.

Proposals to close Park Street to private cars, allowing only buses, taxis and exempt vehicles, were announced by Bristol mayor Marvin Rees during his annual State of the City address on October 20.

The mayor said the scheme had the potential to ‘reinvent public realm up to the Triangle and remove rat-runs from the Downs’. He said it could also bolster ongoing plans to reduce congestion on key routes through Bristol.

But many Park Street businesses BristolWorld spoke to, still recovering from the height of the pandemic, said they were firmly against the plans.

Rudy Desousa, owner of Woodes cafe which has stood on Park Street since the 1960s, said: “I think it’s an awful idea and you’ll find that most of the businesses here along with my regular customers feel the same way.

“You only have to look at Baldwin Street to see how this could turn out for us. I know they’re really struggling, there’s just no reason to go down there anymore.

“We’ll have the same problem as them in that tradespeople who stop off for their lunch or a coffee won’t be popping in anymore, and how are my disabled and elderly customers going to get here?

“There’s also the question of how I’ll get my stock delivered and if I’ll be able to unload my car before my work.

“I’m still nowhere near to capacity after pandemic, which is just one of the little nails in the coffin along with rising gas and electric, and now this.

“I’ve heard they are pummelling big money into the underground but there doesn’t seem to be any thought for us. I’m not for it at all.”

Karen Purnell, manager at the Sue Ryder charity shop, echoed these concerns.

She said: “A lot of our donations are dropped off by drivers who struggle to park as it is.

“We do have students who come in and drop things off but many of them go home during Christmas and at many other points of the year, we see a huge difference during those times.

“I already think enough is being done to tackle pollution and noise. Park Street always used to be bustling but it’s definitely dropped off and this will only make things worse for the businesses.

“The pandemic was the last straw. You’ll see walking up and down it how many shops have closed.”

But Jacob and Holly, who work at Bird and Blend, are in favour of the pedestrianisation.

Holly said: “I was hit by a car on Park Street two years ago on my way to work.

“I see people cycling down Park Street so fast and cars pulling out on them all the time.”

Park Street in Bristol.
Park Street in Bristol.
Park Street in Bristol.

Jacob said: “I think it would also improve the overall vibe of the area. Many of the businesses here are independent and want their shops to have a relaxed feel. That’s difficult to pull off when noise and fumes from traffic outside is so bad.”

“At one point we were doing yoga and workshops here,” added Holly. “We were trying to do restorative activities with customers. But that was hard when it was no noisy and polluted in the street.”

Gideon Gurung, manager at Ganesha jewellery shop, said: “I have to say, I’ve been thinking about it and I don’t think it’s a good idea.

“It’s already a slow trade here. People don’t want to walk uphill, if they want to shop they go to Broadmead.

“I think little changes would improve what we already have. I know how fast people drive down the hill, but I think installing a speed camera at the top of Park Street would make a huge difference to safety and traffic.”

But the council insisted that the Princess Victoria Street scheme along with a similar project on Cotham Hill had received ‘overwhelmingly positive’ feedback.

Asked why the plan to close Park Street to cars was being being put forward, Mr Rees said it was part of an effort to prioritise a bus route through the city which he hoped would encourage more people to use pubic transport.

And on any concerns from businesses, he said: “Any intervention we make in the city can have a negative consequence for some people no matter how good it is. That’s the very nature of a complicated world.”

He added: “Those are all things which have to be part of the conversation and that’s actually part of the consultation; when you go out and say ‘here’s a proposal, these are the upsides, these are what I anticipate could potentially be some of the downsides - you help us understand what this would mean’.

“It may be that the downsides are so big that you actually say you can’t do it.”