If Cheltenham is going to thrive in the future, it’s essential that it is as welcoming and attractive as possible. Obvious perhaps, but at a time of growing threats from internet shopping, it can rarely have been more important.
That’s why I’ve championed cheaper town centre parking, as a way of pulling visitors in and discouraging shoppers from heading to Cribbs Causeway, or even Gloucester where parking is free on Sundays and after 6pm.
It’s why I support a crackdown on Cheltenham’s ‘grot spots’, because I know that eyesores make a big difference to the overall image and appeal of our town, and the quality of life for people living here.
It’s also why I continue to push so hard for Cheltenham to become a cyber hub, a magnet for people to come here to work and innovate – providing opportunities for our young people, including those from areas of intense, generational, deprivation who need that one break to turn their futures around.
But that belief in attracting people to Cheltenham is also why I remain concerned about the Boot’s Corner closure. My scepticism about this project is long-standing and well-known. I’ve written in this paper, and to the very many concerned constituents who’ve been in touch, that none of the justifications seem convincing for disruption on this scale. It feels like the solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.
But beyond the reports I’ve received of an alarming rise in displaced congestion in residential areas such as St Luke’s or disabled drivers struggling to access the Minster, equally troubling is the news of a dramatic drop in trade and footfall in the Clarence Street area. Already, bottom lines are being hit, particularly amongst restaurants and other businesses. Too many people, it seems, are getting fed up and going elsewhere.
What’s more, this may not even give us the true picture as it seems drivers are still routinely flouting the closure and driving through Boot’s Corner. It could get worse yet.
I sincerely hope things improve. But if they don’t, the scheme’s backers must urgently reconsider.