MISTRUTHS: Council leader slams Misinformation about Blackett Street
A new image of how a pedestrianised Blackett Street could look, Image: Newcastle City Council
Newcastle’s council leader has slammed “mistruths and misinformation” that he claims is being spread by opponents of plans to pedestrianise a key route through the city centre.
Local authority leaders are pushing to remove traffic from Blackett Street in order to slash pollution and make the city’s busiest shopping areas cleaner and safer for pedestrians and cyclists.
The plans, which could yet be subject to a public inquiry, have come in for criticism from bus operators and some councillors in the outer west of Newcastle, who have claimed that closing the busy bus route would make it harder for passengers to access the heart of the city centre.
Stagecoach, the main bus operator on the street, previously said it had lost 120,000 passengers when Blackett Street was temporarily closed off during the 2019 Christmas markets.
But Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes this week accused opponents of creating a “false row” and claimed that a new bus loop around the city centre would actually put most passengers closer to their destination.
Coun Forbes told a meeting of the City Futures Board on Wednesday: “What we need to do is tackle the mistruths and misinformation that some people are deliberately spreading about the closure of Blackett Street, and promote instead the health benefits, the accessibility benefits, and reassure people that, although buses will be rerouted, two-thirds of the travelling public will be closer to where they need to get to rather than further away.
“None of which is fully percolating in some of the debates I have heard about this.
“The wider benefits to the city and the travelling public are immense and we need to hold onto that rather than get into a false row about the city centre not being accessible to some groups of people.
“The intention is to make the city centre more accessible, not less, through the closure of Blackett Street.”
If the Blackett Street plans are formally objected to by bus operators then that would trigger a public inquiry, at which a government inspector would ultimately make the final decision on whether the pedestrianisation can go ahead.
A public consultation on the scheme shut last month and ended with the council and bus companies hopeful of securing an arrangement which suits all parties without the need for an inquiry.
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 – with new bus stops planned on Market Street, John Dobson Street, and Grainger Street.
Stagecoach North East’s managing director, Steve Walker, has said he had “serious concerns” about the loss of access to Newcastle’s main shopping hub for people who rely on bus travel and a “detrimental impact on the city’s economy”.
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”.
Coun Smith has expressed fears that the changes would result in longer, slower bus journeys that would deter people from using public transport and ultimately lead to services to the outer west, which does not have a Metro line, being reduced.
Words: Daniel Holland, Local Democracy Reporter
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