‘Like a ghost town’: City centre business anger over council move to reduce traffic

‘I’ve been here for 12 years and this is the worst it’s ever been’

Unhappy traders along a city centre street in Bristol say business is being damaged and the area has become a ‘ghost town’ due to traffic restrictions made permanent by the city council in the summer.

Bosses at RSR Men’s Hair, Sandwich Sandwich and Central Studio on Baldwin Street claim they were ‘never consulted or even notified’ about the move, which saw bus gates installed on Bristol Bridge and at both ends of the road.

It means that public transport, taxis, cyclists and pedestrians can continue to use the road, but normal traffic can only access a part of it via Marsh Street.

Bristol City Council said that a statutory consultation period during the first six months of the scheme was carried out and that it was ‘now easier to walk or cycle up to the businesses’ in the pedestrianised zone.

In July, Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees announced that the trial had been ‘a success’ and the changes would be made permanent.

Baldwin Street business owners Jane Wright and Rachel Lavis.

But some businesses have argued that their takings are ‘worse than ever’ as a result.

Scott Rose, director of RSR Men’s Hair, said: “This was all carried out very sneakily over the first lockdown.

“As a result of the pandemic, around four or five businesses along Baldwin Street closed presumably because they couldn’t cope, and now these restrictions are threatening the future of the businesses that have managed to survive.

Baldwin Street in Bristol.

“As far as we’re concerned there was no consultation, we didn’t receive any letters.

“Customers are just finding it really difficult to get here, especially as all the parking has been steadily phased out over the years.

“Another problem we have is that many of our clients would come in for a haircut on their lunch break from the office, and of course many more people are now working from home.

“I’ve been here for 12 years and this is the worst it’s ever been.”

Nick Kleiner, owner of Sandwich Sandwich, which has operated one of its five branches on Baldwin Street for nine years, said: “No cars can come down here anymore and Baldwin Street, which used to be the loop road between the city centre and Park Street, has lost its soul entirely.

“I know that legally the council has to cut emissions but I believe Baldwin Street has been scapegoated in their plans.

“We have a similar problem to Scott in that people who’d normally pop in for their lunch are now working from home. There should be extra support for independent businesses but this is just damaging us further.

“And ask for the consultation, we didn’t hear anything at all.”

Jane Wright, director of Central Studio, said: “Baldwin Street used to be so busy and it is deserted now, like a ghost town. Every day feels like a Sunday.

“Some customers, like our elderly clients, are unable to walk or cycle and now they can’t park up near ours or at the opticians nearby.

“You hear about all these grand ideas set out by the council to boost local businesses in places like Lockleaze and Filton. They ought to try looking on their own doorstep.

“Getting in and out of Bristol is a nightmare now and clients have been slapped with fines trying to get here. That £60 on top of their haircut hardly encourages them to come back.

“The businesses here just don’t seem to have been taken into consideration whatsoever.”

It comes after BristolWorld reported that some businesses on Princess Victoria Street in Clifton claimed their takings were ‘down by up to 50 per cent’ after part of the street was pedestrianised.

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

A spokesperson added: “Evidence from around the world shows that where traffic is removed and areas pedestrianised, businesses thrive and the areas are more successful.

“By building homes in central locations, such as Castle Park View, we are bringing more residents to the area that will contribute to regular patronage for local businesses.

“Pedestrianising the Old City has created an area free from traffic to help improve the local environment and support recovery from the pandemic which has had an impact on the number of people visiting the city and making use of local businesses.

“We continue to listen to feedback from businesses and the community to identify improvements that ensure the area is accessible to everyone.

“Many people have adapted to the changes which are helping to improve air quality and making it easier for people to catch the bus, walk and cycle in the city centre.”