That’s the question councillors will wrangle with next week as a scrutiny board considers a 4,000 word report into whether it should reopen or close permanently.
The road was closed to motor traffic last June to allow for social distancing – Pinstone Street was highlighted as a problem because of its narrow footpath, street furniture and customers queuing for shops.
But it meant some bus services had to be relocated through the city, to Rockingham Street and Arundel Gate, which prompted complaints from some passengers. Certain traders were also unhappy at the loss of footfall outside their shops and removal of parking spaces.
The closure needs to be viewed in context with Connecting Sheffield – a project which aims to link different parts of the city centre, encourage more walking and cycling and generally make the place more pleasant and green.
The council has funding for the next stages of Connecting Sheffield so it needs to consider how Pinstone Street fits in with this wider vision.
Council officer Matthew Reynolds, who has written the report, admits there has been a “positive and negative reaction”.
“There was a clear recognition that Pinstone Street should be used as a more people-friendly environment and the scheme would deliver this with the removal of the traffic, bringing greenery and improving safety.
“However, what was also clear was that the removal of bus services out of the core city centre would mean that bus users would have further to walk to certain facilities. This was specifically an issue identified by disabled groups.
“The closer proximity to the train station, and interchange with other bus services, has been recognised as a benefit but there is some localised opposition regarding the removal of parking.”
The report gives all the pros and cons but one thing is certain – as the legal requirement for social distancing has eased, the council needs to make a final decision about Pinstone Street soon.
The scrutiny board will consider this report, the first step towards the council making a decision. We’ve condensed the details and answered your main questions:
Has the road closure affected trade?
Some retailers have complained about a drop in passing trade and customers struggling to access their shops but the council says actually Sheffield is bouncing back well from the pandemic.
Recent city centre footfall figures for August show a weekly average at 252,379 – compared to 192,245 in August 2020 and 293,336 for August 2019.
The report says: “Given the impact of the pandemic on consumer behaviour and how this has been witnessed in other towns and cities, the city centre is not showing a comparable decline in use. Research shows Sheffield’s recovery is ‘strong’ and compares well with other core cities.
What about my bus service?
This has been one of the key complaints. Out of the 190 bus routes that use the city centre, 36 have been changed.
It meant passengers had a longer walk to reach the Cathedral, Town Hall, Fargate and Castle Square but on the flip side, it made it quicker to reach Hallam University, Pond Street and the railway station.
The report says: “There is recognition that the traffic-free area is beneficial for some, but access to bus services, particularly for older and disabled people has required some adjustment.
“Concerns related to the accessibility of the city centre from the relocation of bus services from Pinstone Street to Rockingham Street and Arundel Gate arising from the temporary closure have been raised.
“This coincides with the long-standing Shopmobility service ceasing to operate.
“The removal of bus services has increased walking distances to and from various locations across the city centre and decreased it for others. Clearly there are some users that benefit, and some that do not.”
The report says a bus gate on Arundel Gate, new crossing points, altering bus stop locations and changing which routes use certain stops should help.
For example, current buses route around the city centre go in a one-way direction which means that a return trip bus stops are in a completely different location to the inward trip bus stop.
The report adds: “The changes to routes, and the bus priority measures that would be implemented, are forecast to deliver significant journey time and reliability benefits – essential to growing the bus network.
“Although difficult to compare, initial feedback from bus operators is that there are journey time improvements as a result of the closure. There are improvements in journey time, comparing the pre Covid to the current position.
“With car usage now surpassing the pre Covid level on some routes, this shows that bus routes across the city are benefiting from the rerouted services from a journey time perspective.”
The report says passengers want quick and reliable buses and if bus operators save costs, those savings are reinvested back into the network.
Why are the bollards so ugly?
Two reasons – the council had to create social distancing very quickly but they also needed robust blockades to stop potential “hostile vehicle access into an area”. Police advised concrete blocks.
Even if these blocks were removed, Pinstone Street would still need some kind of permanent “hostile vehicle mitigation”.