Labour councillor Pio Smith suggested postponing the West Street pedestrianisation pilot until Spring next year on Monday evening, airing a number of concerns about the viability of the upcoming trial period.
His suggestion fell on deaf ears however, and the first of three trial weekends will take place later this month – on Saturday September 19 and Sunday 20. His party colleague Michelle Hall suggested postponing the first trial period by one month.
It was announced last month that West Street is to close to all vehicular traffic for three weekends over the next three months as the local authority move to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on retailers and the hospitality sector in the town centre.
West Street will be closed to all vehicular traffic from 11am on Saturday to 10pm on Sunday on the weekends of September 19-20, October 24-26 and a weekend in November. The October weekend will also include the Bank Holiday Monday.
Speaking at Monday’s September meeting of the Drogheda Borough Council at the Barbican Centre, Cllr Smith outlined his concerns at the pilot scheme progressing this month.
“I do have some concerns at this point in time. I’m not quite sure how we measure success,” he said. “Will we have the street the way we need it to be to make it a success? Have we got the population in the town and the surrounding area to really make it a success on an ongoing basis?
“Is our purpose to do something long term and make the town centre better or is it just a reaction to Covid this year?,” he asked. “A significant number of businesses do seem to be against the proposal. You’ll never get them all but I’d rather have a consensus with the majority of business going forward.
Cllr Smith suggested postponing the upcoming three weekends until next year. A pushback to Spring would also likely lessen the chance of weather dampening public positivity towards the pedestrianisation.
Cllr Hall, while suggesting that weather could make the trial weekends a washout similar to that which impacted the Drogheda Christmas Festival last year, proposed postponing the pilot by one month to allow for delivery for new street furniture such as parasols, more planters and synthetic grass.
Cllr Smith queried whether there would be financial implications for the local authority should the scheme be pushed back to next year. However, Senior Engineer for Louth County Council told the meeting that the funding acquired from the National Transport Authority would be spent on the furniture stock this year regardless.
Mr Johnston said the measure of success would be how the footfall on West Street is affected. He said the Drogheda BIDS group had already installed counters on the street to measure footfall a number of weeks ago. He said Saturday was the busiest day, with Wednesday the quietest. “Wet weather affects it dramatically,” he added.
“We were delayed to see what funding we would get. We did apply earlier in the year,” Mr Johnston added. “It would be a better success if everything was in place but these suppliers, some of them have an eight week delivery time. It would be nice to have everything in place for full impact.
Director of Services for Infrastructure Frank Pentony told the meeting that a summer rollout, as originally envisioned, was going to be difficult to meet. “There was a statutory process. Whether you like it or not, that takes four or five weeks,” he said.
The meeting heard that 10 parking spaces – between St Peter’s Church and the former Permanent TSB – on West Street will be lost, while disabled parking spaces have been moved further north on the street, to outside the Moorland Cafe.