Retaining parking on Sudbury's Market Hill is the 'preferred option' for town council
A flexible approach to Sudbury’s Market Hill, where much of the existing parking is retained but pedestrian access is increased in the summer, is the preferred option of the town council.
Four options for the future of the town’s main thoroughfare – ranging from a 'light touch' change to full pedestrianisation – were outlined at the three-day ‘What next for Sudbury?’ exhibition earlier this month.
More than 440 people attended the showcase – run under the banner of the Sudbury Vision Group, in partnership with Babergh District Council, Sudbury Town Council, Suffolk County Council, Sudbury Culture Group and others – to give their views on various major projects and development plans.
In response to the consultation, at a Sudbury Town Council meeting this week, a majority of members said they could not support removing Market Hill’s central parking area, for fears of the detrimental impact this could have on businesses.
Instead, councillors voiced a preference for the consultation’s second option – keeping central parking spaces leading up to St Peter’s, but removing bays to the north of Market Hill to enable the pavement to be widened.
The scheme also proposes closing the road to traffic between May and September, allowing for outdoor seating and events, while parking bays on King Street would be taken out to create space for on-street bus stops.
Cllr Nigel Bennett said this option was most in line with the town council’s previous suggestions to have flexible use of Market Hill at different times of the year.
“The balance is, you could keep all Market Hill parking, for the convenience of businesses, but at the same time, after the lockdown, people enjoyed using that space,” he told the meeting on Monday night.
“That’s why we suggested closing off Market Hill for several months in the summer and being more flexible with that space.
“The best opportunity for greater use for events is a closure during the summer, but not removing all the parking and hitting businesses, who appreciate that use of Market Hill.”
At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, most parking on Market Hill was suspended via a Suffolk Highways traffic order to help facilitate social distancing, before being restored when all Covid restrictions were lifted last year.
The measure was met with a divided response, with opponents concerned that it had hindered trade in local shops, while supporters suggested the more pedestrian-friendly format had been popular in between lockdowns.
At this week’s town council meeting, Cllr Jack Owen called for any proposal for Market Hill that had no parking to be dismissed.
He pointed to the departure of long-standing department store Winch and Blatch as an example of the negative effect its removal had, and added that retaining parking would not prevent the town council from staging public events.
“I propose we don’t accept any scheme that eliminates all parking,” said Cllr Owen.
“Whenever we want to close Market Hill for an event, we can, so the parking is never an issue in relation to that.
“All of those parking spaces on Market Hill get filled up pretty well every day, because it’s easy access to the shops.
We must consider the shops. If you don’t consider that, they’ll have an excuse, like Winch and Blatch, to move out of town.
This was echoed by Cllr Steve Hall, who added: “We should keep the existing parking, still use the Market Hill for events and barrier it off as we always have done.
“My compromise is the car parking spaces on the side where Boots is. You could pave that area and make it an alfresco-style dining area. If restaurants want that, they should be able to have that.”
However, Cllr Tim Regester argued that there needed to be a move towards more sustainable transport options and cutting down on car use.
He said the current layout of Market Hill was contributing to congestion and pollution.
“The biggest issue now is the amount of pollution, and the amount of nitrous dioxide and particulate matter emitted when cars are idling, pulling out and parking,” he told the meeting at Sudbury Town Hall.
“That’s why I’d rather have one layer of parking rather than two. I don’t think it would have that much of an impact on retail.
“The most ideal time was last summer, on those brilliant days. That attracted a lot of people into Sudbury. They loved it.”
But Philip Faircloth-Mutton, Suffolk county councillor for Sudbury, stated the change to footfall in the town outside of summer needed to be taken into account.
“In the winter months, we’ve got to remember this is our town as well, not just a tourist town,” he said.
“Tourism goes down in the winter months. We need local people to make up for that footfall.”