Coffees could be enjoyed outdoors for some time yet
WELLS Market Place could remain pedestrianised until at least November 2021.
The area has been closed to all but essential traffic since mid-June at the suggestion of Wells City Council, with ‘elephant feet’ barriers now in place to protect people sitting at the extra tables and chairs the cafes have put out.
Discussions have been taking place between the city council and Mendip District Council, which has responsibility for the Market Place, and Somerset County Council, which has responsibility for highways, about the possible continuation of the temporary pedestrianisation arrangements.
A district council spokesperson said: “Mendip has been working with Wells City Council and Somerset County Council on the temporary pedestrianisation of Market Place, ensuring measures are in place for its safe use by hospitality businesses who have the required Pavement Licence.
“The temporary road closures will remain in place for up to 18 months. They are reviewed weekly by Somerset County Council, and so could change quickly.”
The pedestrianisation has been popular with cafe owners and the public.
Julie Lloyd, owner of Kitty Banks, said: “I am grateful to Mendip for putting the bollards in place and allowing us to use the allocated space in front of our premises, as we have limited space inside to operate with. All we need now is continuous good weather.”
Nigel Hancock, owner of Twentyone cafe and kitchen, said that the reduction in tables required due to the social distancing requirements would have made it uneconomical for them to reopen, and being able to place tables and chairs on the highway has saved the business.
He said: “The ‘opening up’ of the Market Place has been unbelievably well received by the public, and scores of customers have stopped me to say how wonderful it is to be able to fully enjoy the square. I have not heard a single negative comment about it. Everyone has the same message: ‘Why can’t it be like this all the time?’
“I think that the opening up of the square has been the very best thing that could have happened for Wells. There is a groundswell of public opinion that says let’s make this a permanent thing. It will surely lead to a growth in visitors and the whole of the city will prosper from it.”
Councillor Lois Rogers, a Wells district councillor who has worked to help make a success of the new arrangements, said: “It’s obviously been extremely successful. It looks nice and everybody likes it. If we can keep it going that will be good.”
Discussions are taking place between interested parties about the possible enhancement of the pedestrianisation scheme.
One suggestion is to try to make the Market Place more attractive by interspersing the barriers with large plant troughs on trolleys that can be wheeled into position and wheeled away again when required.
Thought is also being given to what might happen when the weather turns cooler, and whether gazebo-like structures could be erected to shield cafe customers from the elements.
Wells City Council Town Clerk Steve Luck said that the city council would like to take over control of Market Place from Mendip and oversee more improvements.
He said: “Wells City Council suggested the idea of a temporary closure of the Market Place to enable social distancing during Covid and have been very pleased with the outcome.
“The new cafe quarter adds to the charm of the Market Place and the city council have approached Mendip District Council to take over the control of the area. We would like to see it brought back into community use and the temporary arrangements replaced with heritage bollards and flower planters that will enhance the look of our beautiful city.”