TEIGNBRIDGE Council has been warned it could go down in history as ‘the council that killed Newton Abbot’ as a row simmers over controversial plans for the town centre.
But supporters of a new traffic scheme for Queen Street say going ahead is the only way to save the retail road from decline.
Protesters chanted and waved banners as members of the full council arrived for their meeting. They want the council to think again and talk to traders affected by the proposals before work starts next spring. They say they are prepared to go to court to fight their case.
The government has awarded Newton Abbot more than £9 million to improve the town centre.
The current plan – agreed in the summer – is to introduce ‘public realm enhancements’ including widened footways, improved crossings, more seating and extra provision for buses and bicycles.
Traffic orders have already been signed off, with the changes including a 20mph speed limit, new waiting, parking and loading restrictions, and closing off several roads to anything other than through traffic.
But protesters say the consultation which came out in favour of the scheme was flawed, and overlooked an overwhelming majority of traders against the changes.
Loss of parking spaces is seen as a threat to the livelihood of businesses in the street.
In a written question, department store owner David Austin said: 'Austins has done quite successfully for 100 years, but it is concerned about its ability to continue doing so in the face of the council’s proposed changes.'
South Devon Alliance leader Richard Daws (Ambrook) called on the council to ‘park’ the project and consult again. The aim, he said, was to 'create a vision for the future of Queen Street and the town centre that carries the support of the majority of retailers and the community.'
He told the meeting: 'If parking is removed, the very existence of retail in the town is under threat. Decisions have been made by people who don’t know or understand the nature of the place.
'We have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make a transformational change.'
Cllr Daws warned that if the situation could not be resolved, legal action could follow.
'Let’s not go down in history as the council that killed Queen Street on its way to killing Newton Abbot,' he said.
Council leader Martin Wrigley (Lib Dem, Dawlish NE) said he had 'great sympathy' for the traders. But, he said: 'It is a question of what is best for Queen Street.
'The national picture shows that in many areas a pedestrianised future is better, and without changes Queen Street will die. We are looking to save it.
'Trade will change, but it has to change. All over the country shopping streets are dying because they are stuck in the 19th Century.
'This needs to be a street for the 21st century.'
Members declined to debate the matter, and it will next be discussed by Teignbridge Council’s executive, which meets in a fortnight.