The Gloucester business community is closing ranks on plans to ban motor traffic from Hempsted Bridge.
The city branch of the Federation of Small Businesses has now thrown its weight behind a growing campaign against county council plans to close the bridge after the South West Bypass opens in April this year.
The county council wants to restrict access to the canal bridge to cyclists and pedestrians once the bypass connects Hempsted to the A38 at the Cole Avenue junction on the Bristol Road about one mile further south.
But Hempsted residents say closing the bridge will cut them off from the east side of the canal and put the future of the local newsagents and the village post office store at risk, which depend heavily on businesses from along the Bristol Road.
And businesses on both sides of the canal say that if the post office closes they will have to travel into the city centre post office, losing both time and money and adding to the traffic congestion the bypass is designed to alleviate.
The Gloucester branch of the Federation of Small Businesses has now taken up the cudgels on behalf of the two threatened shops and other local businesses.
Mark Owen FSB branch chairman said: “The whole point of the bypass is to reduce the mass of through traffic from the A40 West of the city on this narrow single track bridge, not to close it to local businesses and residents.
“If you look at traffic congestion problems in and around Gloucester you will see that many of them are the result of bottlenecks caused by too many roads being funneled into too few bridges across the river and canal. To close an existing bridge is completely irrational.
“It seems crazy to us to close off this bridge which is perfectly placed to serve an entire village community.
“The bypass will remove the bulk of the traffic presently using this bridge making it a very convenient link between the village and the Tuffley area to the south of the city. Closing it saves the authority no money and helps no-one – it’s a lose-lose situation all round.
“I cannot see how the village shops and Post Office can continue to be viable if this bridge is closed. For businesses in the Bristol Road it will become an inconvenient journey.
“It will also inconvenience residents and make school journeys more complicated and time consuming than they have to be.
“And if the post office closes, all the businesses along Hempsted Lane and the Tuffley area of the Bristol Road, which currently find the Hempsted Post Office convenient, will all have to switch to the Gloucester city centre Post Office.
“We would suggest imposing a weight restriction on the bridge to start with and to monitor the situation for at least six months after the opening of the bypass before making a final decision. In that way the council will be able to assess the situation on fact rather than conjecture.
“We should all bear in mind that we are dealing with people’s livelihoods here and also with the quality of life of Hempsted residents. The county council has a responsibility to take these factors into account before making such an important decision.”
The campaign to save the bridge is also backed by the Hempsted Residents Association, local businesses and the Road Haulage Association. Gloucester City Council has also asked county planners to review the situation.
Dion Smith, who runs the village post office and stores, said: “If this bridge closes it would certainly put the long term financial viability of this business in jeopardy. There would be a very good chance that we would be forced to close.”
“I have already received letters from customers based along the Bristol Road, informing me that they would no longer be able to use us due to the distance involved.”
Businesswoman Bridget Rees who runs the Coffee and Canvasses snack bar in Hempsted Lane said: “The Hempsted Post Office is so convenient for us. If I had to use the city centre post office it would cost me time and money and I would just be adding to the traffic and parking problems in the city centre.
“As a resident in the Hempsted area, it would also be an inconvenience for me and my family.”
To join the protest, log your views on www.savehempstedbridge.co.uk
“There are tremendous benefits to being a FSB member including free legal advice, free legal and professional insurance to protect your business activities, discounted telephone and free banking services and many other business and social benefits,” said Mark Owen.
“The Federation gives local businesses a united voice. Together with our 430 members we can make a real difference working together. After all it’s who ever shouts the loudest gets heard. Local authorities and individual councilors have to at least listen to our members and hopefully take action accordingly.”