‘It’s a ghost town’ - angry Clifton Village traders react to council’s delayed decision on pedestrianisation

The trial which started in August 2021 was a bid to reduce congestion and encourage people to walk or cycle

“It’s still a very sore subject in Clifton,” says business owner Richard Davis of DBM Wines in Princess Victoria Street. “Saturdays are starting to recover, but in the week this place is a ghost town.”

Mr Davis certainly isn’t a lone voice when it comes to bemoaning Bristol City Council’s ongoing pedestrianisation of this main route into Clifton Village.

The trial, which started in August 2021, was a bid to reduce congestion and encourage people to walk or cycle but it has split opinion with business owners and residents since its launch.

In his 2022 State of the City Address last month, Mayor Marvin Rees said the pedestrianisation of Princess Victoria Street had helped the hospitality business sector recover after the pandemic.

But speak to business owners in the area and it’s a different story, with many even unsure whether the scheme is now permanent or still a pilot.

Many business owners say it has had a negative impact on trade, with plummeting sales due to reduced footfall.

For Mr Davis, the lack of dialogue between business owners and the city council is unacceptable, as is the delay in publishing the data and results of the pilot.

“The businesses are not shouting about it anymore because it’s a waste of time and effort. All our efforts previously to create a dialogue with the council were completely ignored.

“They left us in no doubt that they weren’t interested and that if businesses failed or left, that was fine. Sadly, some have already gone, such as Johnsons dry cleaners.

“They haven’t even had the decency to publish the survey they carried out to measure the results, which was supposed to be published in February - nine months ago.”

Although Mr Davis happily concedes that some businesses in the village have done well with the road closure - mainly cafes and restaurants allowed to have outdoor seating - many have not.

“Many of the independent shops and delis have suffered a substantial loss of business from the closure, mine included.

“The closure has driven away customers from other parts of Bristol who used Clifton Village as a shopping destination.

“But I’m not surprised that Marvin Rees has said the scheme has improved things – the council are convinced the results of their projects are automatically self-confirmatory, and are not prepared to listen to anyone who says otherwise.”

Across the road at the award-winning Clifton Village Fish Bar, owner Marco Maestri agrees that some cafes have benefited from the pedestrianisation but also points to a lack of clarity from the council about how long it will go on, or whether or not it is now permanent.

“The majority of businesses have suffered and people are going elsewhere, places where it’s easy to navigate, stop and park.

“A 12-month trial then an 18-month consultation … the report on their findings due at the start of the year still hasn’t been published and a lot of businesses aren’t very happy.

“But there is only so long you can bang your head against a brick wall. You get no or very little response from the council officers and you feel like your just wasting your time and effort when you should be concentrating on keeping your business afloat.

“As a small fish and chip shop, we’re already finding things extremely difficult and have been hit hard from all angles with price increases on fish, oil and energy, plus a lack of staff. We’re in for some very tough times.”

Grey-Harris & Co antiques and jewellery shop has been trading on Princess Victoria Street since 1968. When Bristol World contacted the shop’s Thomas Ward, he thought the pedestrianisation was already permanent rather than a pilot.

“We haven’t been overly affected by it but we have had to change a lot about how we do business and footfall has fallen.

“Talking to other businesses it has mostly been very negative for other traders and only seems of benefit to hospitality businesses. It seems one of those changes that has cost a lot of money and upset a lot of people and to be honest has had no real purpose.

“In winter or on wet days, the street is dead and quite depressing. Clifton Village used to be a lovely place full of bustling businesses of all types but trading seems to be harder than ever.”

When contacted, a Bristol City Council spokesperson said: “We continue to monitor the Princess Victoria Street project with a view to coming to a decision soon.”

The Pedestrianisation of Princess Victoria Street in Clifton Village (Pic from BristolWorld)
The Pedestrianisation of Princess Victoria Street in Clifton Village (Pic from BristolWorld)
The Pedestrianisation of Princess Victoria Street in Clifton Village (Pic from BristolWorld)