Long-awaited plans to redesign Gosforth High Street have been branded a “massive backwards step” by furious cycling campaigners.
Newcastle City Council announced on Thursday that it plans to remove the much-criticized bollards that have lined the high street for two years and install wider pavements, promising a more “people-friendly” area with new seating and greenery. But the proposals were met with an immediate backlash over a lack of any dedicated space for people on bikes.
While campaigners had hoped for a dedicated cycleway running the length of the high street, they fear the council’s latest plans would in fact remove existing cycle lanes at its southern end to make way for an extended bus lane. Sally Watson, of the Newcastle Cycling Campaign, called the move a “massive backwards step”.
Read More: Gosforth High Street bollards finally set to be axed as council promises new ‘people-friendly’ space
She added: “It is not going to be a nice high street for people to spend time on because it will still have a huge amount of traffic.” As a pedestrian, the thing you want there is to not have to wait for a minute for the lights to change so you can cross the road – I don’t think that is going to change.
“If you are bringing up a family in Newcastle then this is a massively negative thing. It is all about through traffic, not about local people.”
The Space for Gosforth group, which promotes safe walking and cycling, claimed the council’s proposals “look like they have been done in a hurry without that much thought”.
A spokesperson added: “Ripping out cycle lanes and turning the south end of Gosforth High Street into a four-lane highway won’t help reduce pollution or carbon emissions. Removing options for how people can travel to the high street won’t help the Shops attract more customers.
“Reclaiming space for “people who are walking or wheeling” is great in theory, but not if that means a shared pavement with e-scooters whizzing around the place. The one positive of this announcement is the commitment to work with people in the local area on the final design. There’s no reason why Gosforth High Street can’t be inclusive, accessible and safe for all users, but this plan won’t achieve it.”
Thursday’s news also prompted exasperation from Gosforth’s Liberal Democrat councillors, who warned the council would “repeat the mistakes of the past” if it pushes ahead with plans without consulting locals. The local authority is planning to implement the redesign in early 2023 on an 18-month trial basis during which time it will take feedback from locals, the same approach that provoked acrimony when a number of small bridges were closed to traffic in 2020.
Coun Tom Woodwark said: “Gosforth residents need to feel like a part of the process. Uncertainty helps no-one and we have said all along the next changes must be final. Our trust and confidence that the process will deliver a permanent scheme that residents can be proud of remains low.”
However, Tory campaigner Doc Anand, another major critic of the bollards, said he was “delighted” they would soon be gone and hopeful of progress towards a “final answer” for the street.
Jane Byrne, the Labor council’s cabinet member for transport, insisted that pre-existing cycle lanes would not be removed and said the trial of the changes was “an effective way to introduce new ideas”. She added: “What we are doing is replacing the bollards, which people have asked us to do, with a scheme that will make best use of the limited space available.
“We believe that our proposal will create a greener and pleasanter environment for people visiting this High Street. It will also prioritize buses in what is a very important public transport corridor for local and regional services. Cycle parking will be improved and we will be working on ways to connect this high street to cycle routes.
“We will be working on the details of the designs over the next few weeks and welcome ideas and suggestions. Local councilors have already been invited to discuss the plans and we will be providing other opportunities for people to get involved, including by emailing us at [email protected]”