There has been a long term aim to part pedestrianise Wantage town centre and reclaim the Market Place (which is currently used as a large roundabout, bus station and car park) for public use.
A study to do this was carried out by the Town Council in about 2009 when Patrick O’Leary was Mayor (still on the Town Council now).
The favoured option at the time included lowering speed limits to 20mph and a two-way vehicle flow which would loop to the south side of the Market Place.
In 2011 when the Conservative councillors came into power the Market Place redevelopment, which was expected to cost between £500,000 and £1m, was scrapped as they said many shopkeepers and residents disagreed with the plans.
Market Place traders were concerned the scheme would drive business away if people could not park in the area.
The idea was carried forward into the draft Neighbourhood Plan with the vision to create more pedestrian space in the Market Place.
When the current Town Councillors were elected a year ago they immediately started looking at the Market Place and held two closures of the West end of the Market Place (nearest the Church) for specific events last summer.
Now in the new “Covid-19 World”, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has launched the “Reopening the High Street Safely Fund” to support the safe reopening of high streets and commercial areas. The grant funding will allow local authorities to put in place additional measures to establish a safe trading environment for businesses and customers.
The District Council has been allocated £121,938 to support initiatives in Abingdon, Botley, Faringdon and Wantage.
At a Zoom Town Council meeting on last Wednesday evening the Town Council discussed how this money could be spent in Wantage.
As the money can be used for temporary changes to the physical environment, where the changes last less than 12 months or until social distancing is no longer required, greater pedestrianisation is an option.
There was the possibility of widening pavements temporarily in some parts of the town to allow better, safer social distancing as well as the idea of taking forward some plan for the more extensive pedestrianisation of the Market Place on a temporary basis.
This is attractive because it can be done with minimum consultation and could provide a good trial for a long term solution.
Proposals are with the District Council for consideration.