IT HAS been a big debate in how Southampton should approach life after lockdown, but where are we at with the reopening of Bedford Place?

Well, as the saga gets more and more complicated, we thought we’d try and untangle it a little.

So, here is where we are at, and what is set to come:

What is the latest step?

Later today, Southampton’s council leaders will be quizzed over the decision to reopen Bedford Place.

Members of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee (which is a group made up of both Conservative and Labour councillors which debates and scrutinises council plans) will meet at 5.30pm and grill civic chiefs over their proposals.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Service, Labour councillor Lorna Fielker, chair of the committee, said: “We brought it to scrutiny because it has gathered an awful lot of public interest. I am supportive of the scheme [to keep the road closed to traffic], but it is for the administration to justify why the reopening is the right thing to do.”

She added that the council should have consulted local residents before taking a final decision.

Why was the road closed?

Daily Echo: Bedford Place. Photo credit, Robin creative mediaBedford Place. Photo credit, Robin creative media

The road closure was first implemented last summer to support businesses during the pandemic – but it proved controversial.

Some businesses called on the council to reopen the road once restrictions ease, but others asked for Bedford Place to remain a pedestrian area.

Martin Chant, co-manager at Cloud Wine, said: "When the closure happened it dramatically affected businesses. We are glad to see it reopen."

Meanwhile, Ashley Delong, owner of Retro Cafe, said she does not think reopening Bedford Place is a good idea. She said being able to have outdoor seating has been the only way to reopen her business over the past months.

When is the road expected to reopen?

If all goes to plan then this coming Tuesday, July 20 at 8am.

Last month Southampton City Council confirmed that the road would reopen on July 19 when Covid restrictions will come to an end.

But this has now been pushed back by a day.

The council said work to reopen the road will start in mid-July and planters will be moved to allow on street parking which would include free parking for ten minutes.

However, although Bedford Place will reopen, the council has confirmed that Carlton Place and Lower Banister Street will continue to remain closed to traffic with a final decision on the scheme expected later this year.

What work still needs to be done before Tuesday?

Daily Echo:

Tomorrow, contractors will start to get rid of the painted street art that currently covers Bedford Place. It had been created by local artists and designers, and funded by GO! Southampton.

This work will be done from 7.30am to 5pm

The Carlton Place section of street art will remain, it has been confirmed.

Then, on Sunday, a crane will be brought in to move the barriers aside. The council said this will be around 10.30pm once the local firms have closed. A road closure from the Grosvenor Square junction to Amoy Street will be in place from 8pm to 6am Monday.

The barriers will be moved to house in a number of suspended parking bays, the council says, which will “support” smaller venues who will be able to use the spaces to provide outdoor seating. This will be done on a trial basis, the council added.

As well as this, existing painted barriers will be moved to the junction with Carlton Place to protect the ongoing pedestrianisation of this section.

Further work will then take place on Monday, with a lining crew brought in to paint in the new Zebra Crossing on Bedford Place between Carlton Place and Henstead Road. 

At the same time, temporary 20mph signs will be placed on frames along the route as part of a new speed limit trial. The council says these signs will be relocated onto lamp posts in the coming weeks.

What did the surveys conclude?

According to the report, an initial survey led by GO!Southampton before the launch of the scheme showed that the majority of businesses were in support.

But, Cllr Jeremy Moulton, cabinet member for growth, stressed that in a recent survey 57% of Bedford Place businesses were against the road closure.

What did Echo readers say?

Daily Echo: Carlton Place will be kept shut, the council says. Photo credit, Robin creative mediaCarlton Place will be kept shut, the council says. Photo credit, Robin creative media

Well, the majority of you say it is the wrong decision to reopen the road.

Following our call to find out what our readers thought, 1,692 (63%) of the 2,686 people to vote said they think the decision to reopen the road is not the correct one.

However, 886 (33%) agree with the plans, and said they want the road to reopen to traffic.

On the poll, Cllr Fitzhenry said: "It is really good to see many people with an interest in Bedford Place and the transport changes.

“I am really looking forward to working with them to deliver for our city. We will be mindful of all the views that people have expressed."

And how have councillors reacted?

Cllr Satvir Kaur, leader of the opposition, said: "The best way we grow our economy is by making our city and places like Bedford Place a destination, giving people opportunities to stay, sit outside and enjoy the sunshine.

“It's a shame the Tories are determined to get Southampton moving backwards rather than forwards. They had clearly made up their minds on Bedford Place beforehand, choosing to ignore the views of local communities and users, who tell us they want the scheme to stay in full."

But Cllr Jeremy Moulton, deputy council leader and cabinet member for growth, stressed the road closure was a temporary measure to support the hospitality sector throughout the pandemic by allowing outdoor seating.

Cllr Moulton added: "We had a strong indication because for the last few months we have been lobbied by businesses saying this was adversely affecting their businesses.

“We recognise the benefits that this scheme has had for hospitality businesses in Carlton Place and Lower Banister Street and will be keeping this section pedestrianised before making a final decision. 

“This is a balanced approach which, alongside other safety measures planned for the area, will support our pledge to get Southampton moving while ensuring that visitors investing in our economy can move around safely and easily.”