Last week the Local Democracy Reporting Service revealed that the Boots Corner road closure has raked in more than £1.3m in fines from motorists in just nine months. Nearly 48,000 tickets have been issued to drivers struggling to navigate Cheltenham. The widespread media coverage and negative impression this has given of our town is worrying.
As I know from my constituency mailbag, many of those drivers were visitors coming to Cheltenham. All were angry. Some told me they won’t be coming back. The potential loss of their spending power on our economy cannot be ignored.
The trial closure of Boots Corner was supposed to improve air quality in the town centre. But this argument collapses under the slightest scrutiny. First, Boots Corner was not one of Cheltenham’s four sites where NOx levels breached the legal limit (and still do). And no monitoring equipment has ever been installed to establish before and after data.
What we do know is that traffic has been pushed into nearby residential neighbourhoods. Residents in areas ranging from St Luke’s to Gloucester Road say congestion and fumes have got worse.
Yet the closure is inexplicably being extended. All the while, the astroturf sticks out like a sore thumb in the heart of Regency Cheltenham.
Air pollution in Cheltenham needs to be tackled - but with common sense measures. Earlier this week, I opened a conference in Parliament focusing on this issue and it was inspiring to hear about the range of cross-party initiatives being implemented around Britain.
Here in Cheltenham, there could be anti-idling zones in front of schools, on the Promenade and in the bus station. And we could have a properly thought transport plan that doesn’t displace vehicles into residential communities and gets visitors safely and swiftly into affordably priced car parks.
With the whopping £1.3m raised in fines, there’s more than enough money to do it too.