The closure of Boot’s Corner is creeping ever closer. Royal Well Road is being reconfigured. New traffic signs will be going up behind the Muni. Within a matter of months one of Cheltenham’s key arterial routes will be blocked off.
No longer will motorists coming down the Prom from the Queen’s Hotel be able to continue past Boot’s and up towards the Racecourse. Instead they’ll have to wiggle through town to a new route – potentially up Hales Road or Gloucester Road.
So what’s the rationale for all this, with its inevitable expense and disruption? According to the schemes backers, one of the key justifications is to improve air quality. But many doubt it will have that effect.
I’m sceptical too. My concern is that closure will achieve precisely the opposite. That’s because as traffic is diverted along rat-runs through residential streets, including in St Paul’s and St Luke’s, narrow roads and parked cars will cause traffic to stop-start. That’s precisely the kind of urban use that increases, not reduces, toxic emissions.
Back in 2015, after calls from many residents including myself, the Council agreed that the closure should be for a trial period only. I was grateful for that. But the trial should be genuine, with rigorous and measurable outputs. If pollution and residential disruption increase unacceptably, there should be a re-think. This should not be a done deal.
And many will wonder too whether the proposal to spend so much public money from the sale of North Place on changes to Boot’s Corner itself represents value for money for local taxpayers. After all, just £700,000 has been allocated to repave the diabolical High Street near to John Lewis. Shouldn’t that be a priority?
I don’t doubt for a moment the good intentions of those who devised this traffic scheme. But the road to chaos is paved with good intentions. Ultimately it’s judgement that matters.