Princess Victoria Street: Clifton traders react to pedestrian zone being made permanent
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“It’s very sad but we’ve lost the buzz of the village - it’s gone, and the council didn’t listen to us,” says Lisa Elliott, who has run her florist shop in Clifton Village for the past 22 years.
Lisa’s shop is in Waterloo Street, just around the corner from the stretch of Princess Victoria Street that has been part of the controversial pedestrianisation project. Last weekend, Bristol City Council confirmed the scheme, which bans vehicles during the daytime, was now permanent. Not that many of the traders I spoke to had been officially told.
And on a wet and blustery Monday morning, Princess Victoria Street was quiet, with barely a customer to be seen. There were a few people sipping lattes in Spicer + Cole and a couple of shoppers buying their bread in Chandos Deli, but apart from that it was pretty much deserted.
Back at Lisa Elliott Floral Design and owner Lisa told me the news that the pedestrianisation was now permanent was ‘no surprise whatsover’ despite the large number of local traders and residents who signed a petition to stop it.
She said: “The council slipped it under the radar in the first place because they did it during Covid and we had six weeks to appeal over a Christmas and January period when most businesses were too busy doing other things.
“I don’t think they gave us enough time to appeal. They have chosen their moments very carefully and I think it was a done deal - we all knew there was no way it would be reversed.”
Although Lisa is still selling flowers online and over the phone, she says she has lost ‘at least 50%’ of her passing trade. She said: “We’ve pretty much lost all our footfall. We don’t really see many people now, we see half the people we did.
“People used to park up in a space for half an hour, whizz in here, go to the Co-Op and the pharmacy or a gift shop, it was the convenience and what people had done for many years. The main thing I hear from customers is they think they can’t even come into Clifton Village anymore. Most people think it’s shut off and closed for business.
“Saturday used to be my busiest day but that has flipped on its head, it’s now one of my quietest days. There are loads of people in the village but they’re just having coffees - it has become a destination coffee spot, which is great but people don’t come here to shop, they just a wander around and have a drink.”
And it’s not just the local residents who are put off. Lisa says many of her customers living on the other side of the suspension bridge aren’t bothering to make the short journey now.
“They tell me they now go to Waitrose in Portishead because they can park there and get everything they need. Clifton has lost those customers, too. But surely it’s counterproductive as they’ll now emit even more CO2 emissions by travelling further.
“The worry is that people will just come here for coffees and restaurants now, not shopping. And half of me now feels they may as well pedestrianise the whole village but make a car park provision on the Downs or where the old zoo is, with some sort of Park & Ride.
“They may as well go the whole hog now but put money into it and give us the transport links so people can drive to Clifton, park cheaply and then come into the village to shop.”
Walking around Clifton Village, I spoke to a number of traders who were angry that their voices hadn’t been heard by the council during the pilot scheme. One shop owner, who didn’t want to be identified, told me their Saturday takings had dropped from £2,000 to £700. Another said footfall ‘had all but stopped’ since the street was closed to traffic.
Other traders are trying to make sense of having the street closed off during the day throughout winter when the weather prevents people making use of the additional roadside seating outside the hospitality businesses.
And there was certainly no appetite for alfresco drinking or dining on the rain-lashed morning we visited. There is talk that business is considerably down at the Co-Op supermarket and worry that other shops may face closure now.
The Johnsons dry cleaners has already closed, the unit now empty and ‘to let’. The shop had been there for years and was also a pick-up point for Hermes deliveries so residents will have to find an alternative outlet to pick up parcels now.
Helen van Hoeve is the co-owner of About Face, a gift shop that has been open on Princess Victoria Street for 35 years.Like florist Lisa Elliott, Helen told me she wasn’t surprised at the news ‘because of the lack of honesty regarding most of the pedestrianisation’.
“I’m still really disappointed because like most things connected with the whole project, it has been snuck in,” says Helen, who claims traders were promised a review by local Green councillor Paula O’Rourke but it didn’t materialise.
Ms O’Rourke was appointed Lord Mayor in May 2022, in the middle of the pedestrianisation pilot. Helen said: “The council spent around £550,000 doing this including £7,500 on an orange bench. They spent so much money on it they were never going to undo it so they have moved on.
“A lot of our customers come from North Somerset and Thornbury and they need cars to come here. We hear people say they used to love coming into Clifton but they don’t come anymore because it’s too difficult to drive in.
“A lot to them are over 50 so they’re not likely to put Lycra on a cycle here, it’s not who they are. These are groups of ladies who meet up, have a nice lunch and do some shopping. And they spend money, which is what keeps us all going have have done for years.”
Lord Mayor Paula O’Rourke has been contacted for comment.