BUSY STREET: The future Blackett Street up in the air
A new image of how a pedestrianised Blackett Street could look, Image: Newcastle City Council
The future of one of Newcastle city centre’s busiest streets remains up in the air, with the threat of a public inquiry being launched into plans to pedestrianise it still not off the table.
Council transport chiefs are bidding to remove traffic from Blackett Street, as part of a £50m vision to make the city safer, cleaner, and greener.
The busy bus and taxi route, which has been named among the most polluted streets in the city, could be paved over to create a huge pedestrian zone through Newcastle’s main shopping area that would stretch up to the top of Northumberland Street.
But the plans have long been opposed by bus operators, who have aired “serious concerns” about cutting off passengers’ access to the heart of the city centre and could trigger a public inquiry if they formally object to the scheme.
While a final public consultation on the project closed last Friday, it is understood that negotiations between the council and bus companies are still ongoing – in the hope of securing a new arrangement that would satisfy all parties and stop objectors forcing an inquiry.
Stagecoach, the main bus operator on the route, confirmed it had “submitted our response to the consultation, which reflects our views based on the information we have”.
The company’s managing director in the North East, Steve Walker, added: “We continue to work with the council to deliver a thriving, vibrant, economic city that we can all be proud of, with sustainable transport at the heart of it.”
When the route was closed temporarily during Newcastle’s 2019 Christmas markets, Stagecoach claimed that it lost 120,000 passengers.
A council spokesperson said the local authority was considering all feedback on the pedestrianisation plans and reviewing what changes may need to be made, but did not know at this point whether an inquiry will be needed.
Blackett Street is currently served by more than 7,000 buses every week and caters for around 12m journeys on public transport each year, but services would be rerouted on a new ‘loop’ around the city centre’s core under the council’s plans.
Independent councillors in the outer west of the city have also been vocal critics of the street’s closure, claiming it would subject residents who rely on bus travel to longer, slower journeys from outlying areas to the city centre.
There have also been fears that pushing dozens more bus services every hour onto other city centre streets could create major congestion and simply push air pollution problems elsewhere.
Lemington councillor Jason Smith, leader of the Newcastle Independents, claimed the closure will be a “disaster” and said there “must be a public inquiry to make sure that residents’ views are heard”.
The council has argued that a traffic-free Blackett Street would create a “ more attractive place where people can spend time and enjoy what the city and local businesses have to offer”.
Labour councillor Ged Bell, the council’s cabinet member for transport, has called it a “natural progression” from removal of traffic from Northumberland Street back in 1998.
Words: Daniel Holland, Local Demcoracy Reporter
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