Tory MP Nick Fletcher: ‘Pedestrianisation of Doncaster city centre attracts antisocial behaviour where groups can stand and drink from cheap cans of strong alcohol without fear of being run over by traffic’

Conservative MP Nick Fletcher has said pedestrianisation of Doncaster city centre attracts antisocial behaviour where ‘groups can stand and drink from cheap cans of strong alcohol without fear of being run over by traffic’.

By George Torr, Local Democracy Reporter
Thursday, 16th June 2022, 3:06 pm

His comments form part of a letter in which he says that making pavements wider and reducing parking in central urban areas is ‘throttling towns and cities’.

He adds that on recent Friday visits to Doncaster city centre, Silver Street and Hall Gate were empty and parked cars on pavements were the only ones he saw.

Fletcher said he was ‘avowedly green’ but the pollution argument ‘doesn’t add up’ and people are ‘moving quickly’ towards electric cars, taxis and buses.

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Mr Fletcher's comments form part of a letter in which he says that making pavements wider and reducing parking in central urban areas is ‘throttling towns and cities’.

The Don Valley MP also said that trying to introduce al fresco café culture in Doncaster will be ‘not only desperate and foolhardy but will obviously fail’ due to the English weather.

Labour’s elected mayor Ros Jones hit back at the letter and urged Fletcher to come her directly ‘rather than going through the press’.

“I note that you have not met with me since you were elected in 2019, whereas I regularly meet with Ed and Rosie or discuss issues with them over the phone,” she said.

“As I have always said, my door is always open and I would be happy to meet with you.”

Fletcher said: “The truth is, pedestrianisation is slowly throttling our towns and cities.

“Wider pavements attract beggars as they can have their pitch without being in the way.

“It attracts antisocial behaviour where groups can stand and drink from cheap cans of strong alcohol without fear of being run over by traffic.

“I understood the street cafe culture during lockdowns. It made sense. But to deny the fact that English weather is anything but unpredictable and to force the use of energy-intensive heaters in a last ditch attempt to get our city busy is not only desperate and foolhardy but will obviously fail.

“Businesses will do everything to get their business in front of its customers. Driving through a town did that automatically.

“Let’s learn from this. I note with some horror the plans for pedestrianisation of parts of Thorne and Edlington. That must not happen. We must learn from our mistakes.

“We need to have a reopening of Doncaster City Centre and let’s loosen the ligatures around its neck.”

Mayor Jones said: “Current government transport policy focuses on promoting modal shift from cars to public transport, walking and cycling.

“Government policy states that we must reduce emissions from transport, aligned with the UK’s legal commitments and further the objectives of the national bus and cycling strategies, including ambitious bus and cycling priority measures.

“Government funding to Doncaster for Highways maintenance is roughly £5 million per year and has largely unchanged since 2010. Whereas in 2021/22 Doncaster received over £15million for bus / cycle lanes and active travel.

“May I suggest you lobby government and your own party to properly fund highways maintenance for Doncaster and the rest of the country.

“In Doncaster we have over £150million of highways repairs awaiting funding and nationally this now stands at over £12 billion worth of carriageway repairs to fix local roads in England and Wales.”

The letter in full

In the 80’s the driver was king and cyclists were seen as a problem. Things have changed somewhat since then. Now we have an emphasis on cycle paths and pedestrianisation of roads. Roads that aren’t closed to traffic have wider pavements.

The purpose behind all these changes was and is a laudable one. Healthy pursuits such as cycling and walking were to be encouraged. Motorists were not welcome and were urged to use park and ride schemes as well as more public transport.

Car parking overall was reduced and free parking went out with the changes. Parking charges were introduced and going into town became an expensive exercise and one that may involve driving around for a while searching out somewhere to park. People were not impressed.

The market reacted to what the public wanted. So we saw the introduction of out of town shopping outlets. They were popular from the beginning. You could drive there. You could be guaranteed a place to park and it was free. Then the internet came along and we saw online shopping take off especially during lockdowns. Yet the out of town outlets are still popular and still thrive. Shopping is made easy there.

What of those businesses in the town and city centres that have been the subject of pedestrianisation? Have they thrived? We all know that they have suffered dreadfully. Fewer people coming to town means less sales. Cash tills stopped ringing. Shops started closing.

The truth is this. Pedestrianisation is slowly throttling our towns and cities. Wider pavements attract beggars as they can have their pitch without being in the way. It attracts anti social behaviour where groups can stand and drink from cheap cans of strong alcohol without fear of being run over by traffic.

I understood the street cafe culture during lockdowns. It made sense. But to deny the fact that English weather is anything but unpredictable and to force the use of unenvironmental heaters in a last ditch attempt to get our city busy is not only desperate and foolhardy but will obviously fail.

Businesses will do everything to get their business in front of its customers. Driving through a town did that automatically. How many people sat in a car or on a bus and saw a new shop open up and went there the following weekend. Now the only way we know a new business has opened is by going online. We are literally advertising our new physical businesses on the competition’s platform.

Let’s learn from this. I note with some horror the plans for pedestrianisation of parts of Thorne and Edlington. That must not happen. We must learn from our mistakes. We need to have a reopening of Doncaster City Centre and let’s loosen the ligatures round its neck.

Our government is pushing active travel and so it should. But our streets are wide enough for vehicles too, if we take and claw back some of the pavements.

I’m avowedly Green but the pollution argument doesn’t add up either. Most vehicles have stringent exhaust emissions to measure up to these days. And we are moving quickly towards electric cars, taxis and buses.

No one who has been recently to our City Centre can deny this problem. I spent last Friday afternoon in town. Fridays are a busy day for shops historically. Silver Street was empty as was Hall Gate. Parked cars on pavements were the only cars I saw.

On the plus side the Council have listened and have recently carried out a deep clean. The undesirables are less in number than they were 5 years ago.

So while this subject is debated and we await a move on Free Parking, please try and do your bit if you can and make that extra effort to come into town. I am afraid that if you don’t, by the time the powers that be realise their addiction to pedestrianisation was wrong, it may be just too late.

So I call on us all to use the City Centre and for the Council to show less antipathy to local businesses. Let’s build a strong local economy. We have a plan. We can do this.