PLANS to turn Southampton city centre into a traffic-free area as part of a multi-million pound scheme have been unveiled.

Portland Terrace, Above Bar Street, New Road, Civic Centre Road, London Road and Bellevue Road are to close to through traffic as part of a trial which could start as early as this summer.

Civic chiefs said these roads in the city centre would be temporarily closed to all traffic except for cyclists, buses, taxis and access for servicing and homes.

City bosses stressed these would be temporary measures expected to remain in place for six months while the public is consulted.

All the changes and feedback will be monitored and will help civic chiefs make future decisions on the scheme, it has been revealed.

The news has been welcomed by campaigners and the business community with many of them saying it will improve air quality and will encourage more people to come to the city.

But some concerns have been raised over whether the scheme should be launched in the autumn to allow businesses to recover from the impact of Covid-19.

The initiative is one of the several measures announced by Southampton City Council as part of its £4.1m Green Transport Recovery Plan.

The authority said residents will also be asked to have their say on a number of other measures that could be taken to improve traffic flow around the traffic-free area.

Further details of the whole scheme, including how the traffic-free area will be enhanced, are yet to be disclosed.

As part of the plans, the authority is also looking to reduce the number of parking spaces across the city and create more cycle parking.

Civic chiefs said they are looking at both multi-storey carparks and on-street parking across the city but the exact locations for the new cycle parking are yet to be determined.

A number of pop-up cycle lanes is also going to be created to support key workers.

One pop-up cycle lane could be implemented on Hill Lane while others would be on route to Southampton General Hospital.

The council revealed it is also in talks with schools across the city to implement road closures at drop-off and pick-up times to support social distancing measures as well as encouraging more people to walk and cycle.

As part of the wider scheme, part of Weston Parade is also set to be turned into a cycle lane and closed to traffic.

This will be a temporary measure set to be implemented this summer and then reviewed.

A number of temporary cycle lanes are also being created on Bassett Avenue while further measures are going to be implemented across the rest of the city as the lockdown eases.

The city council said it is also going to create additional space around bus stops, shops and other places where queuing may be necessary to support social distancing.

The plans also include bus lanes with cycling permitted in each direction from Bitterne to Northam Road as well as a temporary cycle lane on St Mary’s Road and targeted road closures in St Denys, as previously reported.

Further details of the Green Transport Recovery Plan and a detailed timescale are being finalised but it is understood all measures are set to be implemented over the next year with the temporary measures set to be reviewed in January 2021.

The money for the project will come from existing budgets including Local Transport Plan, Access Fund and Transforming Cities Fund from central government.

Laurie Carrigan, from campaign group Southampton Street Space, said the plan is a "really bold statement of intent".

Lyn Brayshaw, from Friends of the Earth Southampton, added: "It's a fantastic idea. We need to put people first and have a people-friendly city and planet."

The scheme, and especially the proposals for a traffic-free area in the city centre, have also been welcomed by Go!Southampton, the Business Improvement District (BID).

Its executive director Giles Semper said: "The recent Bike Life survey showed that 61% of residents cycle or would like to start cycling, but only 26% feel that cycle safety in the City Region is good. The measures proposed in the Green Transport Recover Plan will, we believe, overcome some of these safety concerns and release the pent-up demand.We’re also working with the council to ensure that, once you arrive in the centre, it’s possible to shop while still observing social distancing. "

Opposition leader Dan Fitzhenry said the scheme should not be rolled out before September. "If we close too many roads it could impact the ability for the people to come in to the city,”he said.

Cllr Steve Leggett, cabinet member for green city and place at the city council, said: "Government direction to support safe and active travel as the country emerges from the lockdown is enabling us to accelerate some of our already planned infrastructure projects to meet immediate demand, while testing them experimentally first. Of the temporary closures referenced, we are working with Go! Southampton over the coming months to finalise plans for New Road, Bellevue / London Road and Portland Terrace, with proposals starting to be introduced from summer.We would reiterate that the changes being made are temporary and are being delivered using Experimental Traffic Regulation Orders, which enable us to carry out regular consultations while the measures remain in place."

Cllr Legget said the lockdown measures have resulted in an increase in active travel and a drop in pollution levels.

He added: "Our Green Transport Recovery Plan means we are well-equipped to rise to this challenge and emerge more resilient, with a transport system that is fit to meet our city’s changing demands now and in the future."