Six years after plans for the controversial Historic Core Zone were first proposed Bradford on Avon residents could be set for another town referendum, as the saga rumbles on.
The proposed scheme, which would see the partial pedestrianisation of the town centre, was passed to Wiltshire Council’s Highways portfolio holder John Thomson for final approval, but last week in a private meeting with town councillors he instead called for an advisory public vote before making his decision.
At an extraordinary meeting of Bradford on Avon Town Council last night councillors expressed dismay at the prospect of a further delay, with concerns raised over the organisation of a public vote estimated to cost £6,000.
The result of the poll would not be binding, with the final decision still resting with Councillor Thomson.
In 2011 residents voted against plans for a new bridge in the town, following a long-running and protracted consultation process, and councillors expressed concerns at repeating the experience again.
Councillor Laurie Brown said: “I don’t like being bullied and I don’t like being blackmailed, and I do take exception to the way Councillor Thomson has presented it to us.”
Councillor Gwen Allison said: “Councillor Thomson is quite clear he wants us to have this poll before he makes his final decision, and I don’t think we have any option on this.”
The previous town poll was only open to residents registered on the electoral roll, with local business owners calling for their views to be recognised alongside residents.
Ruth Warren, of Fetch Pet Shop in The Shambles, said: “I have been a business owner for seven years. I have invested lots, and contributed to the local economy and employment, yet my understanding is I won’t get a vote.
“I feel entirely useless that I will not be able to vote on it, but my livelihood will be affected by it.”
The council agreed to urge Councillor Thomson to consider the opinions of local traders, as well as approving the first stage of the scheme, the implementation of a restricted parking zone, which will be deferred until the entire scheme has approval.
Councillor Magnus Macdonald said: “John Thomson felt one of the reasons it was in a muddle was the Town Council has failed to inform the town what the HCZ was all about.
“Wiltshire Council will be paying for the town poll, and Councillor Thomson said it would cost £6,000 to run. We have to decide whether we want the HCZ or not.
“I don’t want to see a poll that involves us fighting each other. We are a perfectly civilised bunch of people who can make perfectly sensible decisions and get on with each other.”
As the meeting came to a close an exasperated John Potter, the town mayor, issued a final plea to the people of Bradford on Avon. “Please let’s not be horrid about this”, he said.
“I hope we can all be reasonable about it, and just get on and do it.”