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Monnow Street revamp go-ahead dependent on funding

NEARLY three years on from the Covid outbreak much of daily life appears to have returned to how it was pre-pandemic, but a legacy of the pandemic lingers on Monmouth’s main street.

Monnow Street runs for nearly a quarter of a mile from the town’s fortified bridge to the Market Hall. Plans to breathe new life into it and the hall were last month rejected by the UK Government’s Levelling Up fund.

The overhaul of Monnow Street, aiming to make it more welcoming for pedestrians and encourage shoppers to spend more time on and enjoy its range of shops, will press ahead however if a Monmouthshire County Council bid for funding from the Welsh Government succeeds.

As part of that effort, and to demonstrate public support for the plan that could cost between £4 and £5 million, an exhibition has been staged in the former Ruby Tuesday shop opposite the Market Hall to explain the proposals to residents – some of whom have grown weary of makeovers.

Clothes shop owner Carol Davies (left) and staff member Claudia Blair have differing views but ‘both want the same thing for Monnow Street’.

As trade slowly opened up following the spring 2020 lockdown and, in common with many other town centres and high streets, the pavement was extended and spaces for outdoor dining created. But a one-way system, and a cycle lane, were dropped by that October after proving unpopular.

Partly as a consequence however the paving is an uneven hotchpotch of older stones and tarmacked areas created in 2020 and older adaptations. Many are unsure why street furniture and planters, which remain on the street, were installed, taking up space that was meant to allow for the two metre social distancing and bemoan the loss of parking spaces.

An image released by Monmouthshire County Council showing how Monnow Street could look in the future. Picture: Roberts Limbrick

Though plans to revitalise the street began at the end of 2019, before the pandemic took hold early the following year, it is hoped they will now solve issues that have plagued the street since.

The council hopes clarity the road will remain open to two-way traffic will help win over sceptics and is also keen to stress it has talked at length with businesses, the town council and groups such as environmental campaigners Transition Monmouth, the cycle campaign and the older people’s U3A group and disabled people about the plans.

Hancocks Butchers owner Howard Hancocks, left, with manager Ryan Mills. Howard can remember people going ‘shop to shop’ on Monnow Street in their cars

“The starting point in most people’s mind is why is the council doing this to us?,” said Paul Griffiths the county council’s deputy leader and cabinet member responsible for the economy.

“I wanted to change that and say ‘I wanted to work with you and find out what you want’. It’s a lengthy exercise and we’ve worked with people as the plan has evolved.”

The planting boxes will be replaced with planting in the ground, which is also intended to address long-standing drainage problems by soaking up the rainwater run-off.

Janet and Denis Adams have made their views known to the council by filling in a consultation form after viewing the plans in Agincourt Square.

The Labour councillor has promised the planting will be maintained and isn’t concerned that there will be no dedicated cycle lane, saying: “As a cyclist I will enjoy cycling down it more than in Cardiff where you have a one-metre lane and traffic whizzing past you.”

At the Harts clothes shop the challenges – and potential conflicts – of revamping Monnow Street are clear to owner Carol Davies and staff member Claudia Blair, who has been representing the business at meetings with the council.

A sticker placed on Monnow Street to remind people to keep two metres apart during the Covid pandemic can still be seen on the street

“I think the plans are nice,” said Ms Blair, who described the street currently as “horrible, awful and just a mess”.

According to Ms Davies both she and her staff members “want the same thing” – an improvement to the street. But she also noted they had different needs

“Claudia lives in town and cycles in while I live eight miles out in the countryside and I can’t come to work, or to shop, without coming in a car,” she said.

Her concern is for the elderly, disabled and parents with pushchairs who value on-street parking. According the council there are currently 33 parking spaces, with will drop to 30 under the scheme, although there will be six loading bays, something traders say is currently lacking.

Dad Andy Dale and son Sam were visiting Monnow Street on their way to Oswestry.

Town councillor David Evans, who said the body hasn’t objected to the plans and can “see the value in doing something”, said the intention should be to encourage visitors to use the nearby car parks.

“For me what the changes do is put the pedestrian – people – back on top of the pyramid,” said the town councillor.

Howard Hancocks, who has owned his butcher’s shop on Monnow Street for 51 years, said he can recall the days of herringbone parking – when vehicles park at an angle – on the street, which could accommodate 50 to 60 vehicles, but accepts times have changed.

“Everyone would drive to visit the shops, they’d go to one and drive to the next,” he said.

Gerry Newman is guided by her dog Billy and is concerned that crossing Monnow Street can be dangerous

“I think I’d like it to go back to a lot of parking but that seems to be off the table but what they are doing is, I think, very nice.

Liz Holford, who has lived in Monmouth all her life hasn’t had the chance to visit the exhibition but has seen plans on Facebook, and said she believed it is clear the council should: “put it back how it used to be and get rid of all this rubbish in the street and put the path back how it should be.”

Pensioner Denis Adams was filling in feedback forms with wife Janet at the exhibition, who said they had a blunt message.

“We totally disagree with the way they are impeding the main street,” said Mr Adams. “It is a mess at the moment, it was a beautiful regency street but they’ve narrowed it and put those terrible sheds in.

One of the dining areas created on Monnow Street during the pandemic and which still remain.

“Who wants to sit in those sheds with all the fumes coming from the traffic?”

Tourist Andy Dale was resting on one of the planters with teenage son Sam during a detour from their journey in Poole, Dorset, to visit friends in Oswestry.

“It’s a pretty normal high street but is there anyway it could be a bit more pedestrian friendly? Such as raised kerbs for crossing the street,” was Mr Dale’s assessment.

Crossing the road is a major concern for Gerry Newman who is visually impaired and registered blind, as well as having a hearing impairment, and is guided by her dog Billy.

“For people like me the only way to get across the road is to come down to the traffic lights, or at the top where the street narrows, and this is the only crossing for people with wheelchairs,” said Ms Newman.

A dining area created on Monnow Street during the pandemic and which still remains in place.

She added she was also concerned about what she saw as the town’s flagging retail fortunes.

“I was a great believer in coming to Monmouth to shop but now I look elsewhere like Abergavenny,” she said.

Initial plans by the council had proposed nine pedestrian crossings on the street, but those have been reduced to four.

It is an indication the council says of how the proposals have changed throughout their development with the plans now due to go on show at the Monmouth Community Hub until Saturday, March 4.