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Plans to reopen square to buses and taxis

St John's Square could be reopened to buses and taxis.

St John's Square could be reopened to buses and taxis.

Buses and taxis could once again be allowed to travel through Blackpool’s town centre 24 hours a day.

St John’s Square was controversially reinvented as a traffic free “central space” for street art, events and concerts back in 2010 as part of a £4.7m project funded by the North West Regional 
Development Agency.

Blackpool Council is now to consult on the idea of opening it up again to traffic.

The five-week consultation could result in access for buses and taxis being reinstated between Church Street and Abingdon StreetThe move would see the strict 10.30am to 6.30pm ban on 
taxis lifted and also make way for extra parking on both sides of Topping Street.

Labour Coun John Jones, cabinet member for highways and transport, said: “We want to make sure people can travel around the town centre smoothly and with as little congestion as possible, whether on a bus, in a car or taxi.”

However, Conservative leader Coun Tony Williams, said creating the events space in the heart of the resort was an “innovative move” that has since been under used.

The decision to close St John’s Square was made by the then Tory-led council in 2010 after safety concerns were raised about the shared space earmarked for concerts, events and markets.

And Coun Williams said: “The layout of St John’s Square was designed to attract people to the town centre.

“It provides a central space for events that would have brought people in and enhanced the retail trade, but those events have not been delivered.

“A rethink on how we divide that shared space is not a bad thing, but I defend pedestrianising it as it looks wonderful.”

Taxi drivers in the resort say they will back the plans to reopen the square.

Bill Lewtas, of Blackpool Licensed Taxis Association, said: “Taxi drivers support this proposal. We said at the outset that closing the area will lead to a loss of business for traders on St John’s Square.”

The plans include a new bus stop on Church Street and could happen as early as this summer.

Jamie Forshaw, of Glenndales Fruit and Flowers in Abingdon Street Market, said: “They shouldn’t have closed it, when they did I thought it was another nail in the coffin for the market.

“It makes you angry when you think about the cost of it all, but I’d be glad if they listened and reopened it.”

Blackpool Transports services, 2, 2C, 3, 4, 11, 16 and 20, face being re-routed. Around 18 buses an hour travel through the town centre and the plans would reduce travel times by 67 seconds.

Consultation documents were sent to businesses along Church Street, Abingdon Street and Cedar Square on Friday. These include proposals to change parking arrangements along Topping Street, where Blackpool Transport services currently divert from Church Street and up to Cookson Street and Talbot Road down to Abingdon Street, opening up both sides of the street to a mixture of loadings bays, disabled and pay and display parking.

Town hall bosses said when the area was reopened last year when roadworks were in place for the Talbot Gateway development it was found to be beneficial in reducing traffic congestion.

Coun Jones, said: “If the route is going to be used, then it has to be safe for everybody,

“I’m keen to make sure that if we go ahead it doesn’t impact on St John’s Square as an event space, and making sure that this remains will be part of the decision making process.”

People can get involved in the consultation by visiting www.blackpool.gov.uk/consultations or by emailing their thoughts to traffic.management@blackpool.gov.uk.

The consultation closes on 21 February 2014.

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