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Published by the Society in the Ripon Gazette, 28th November 2008
David Winpenny, Chairman of Ripon Civic Society, considers some of the reactions to suggested changes to traffic and parking in the city.

As predicted in this column two weeks ago, radical thoughts about pedestrianisation and parking have polarised opinion in Ripon.

Perhaps it has always been so; maybe in the Middle Ages there were complaints about having no horse-tethering space close enough to the merchants selling in the market, or in the 18th century that there was nowhere to park the carriage. Did the driver of the station fly mutter darkly about parked carts getting in his way as he delivered passengers and their luggage from the station on Ure Bank in the 19th century? Did the 19th-century housewife say that shopping was too difficult because her cab had to drop her more than five yards from the drapers? Probably they all did.

It is, of course, inevitable that anyone who objects to a new idea will argue strongly against it, and usually from their own point of view. The clergyman and wit Sidney Smith once saw two women arguing from the windows of the houses across the street. ‘They will never agree,’ he said, ‘as they argue from different premises.’ It is the same with traffic-free streets and parking. Where you begin your argument from will affect how you put it.

Yet it is encouraging just how much support there has already been for the proposal to clear the cars away from the Square and to rationalise the car parking. A car-free Square would be an asset to the city, and bring more spending visitors to the city. It is simply not true to say, as one correspondent put it, that ‘in winter there are very few tourists’. There are plenty – and we should be encouraging more. However we may wish it to be, a significant part of Ripon’s economy now rests on tourism. The city should be ideally-placed to attract more visitors during a recession, when the expense of flying abroad to foreign holiday destinations means that more people will holiday in Britain. But will they come – or come back – if they find the streets jammed with traffic and the Square cluttered with parked cars?

Those tourists should be encouraged to use a Park and Ride scheme. Other people, the fit and able, may wish to use it too. For the rest – older people, people who are disabled or infirm, parents with small children, for example – there will always be the car parks very near the city centre. The Civic Society is not advocating that the car parks behind Sainsbury’s or by the new Booth’s supermarket be closed. Both are within two minutes’ walk of the Square. That is hardly asking ‘the elderly’ (as one writer said) to be ‘waiting for buses when one can’t stand for any length of time.’ Of course there needs to be provision for many special groups, and such provision can be made.

There are arguments to be aired on both sides of the debate, but the elected committee of the Civic Society has thought carefully about the matter, and has asked quite of lot of its members – who are not, as one letter writer put it ‘generally speaking elderly’ but of a wide range of ages – for their thoughts. Their overwhelming opinion was that we need a traffic-free Square and better parking provision on the edge of the city.

This is not new; it was widely discussed more than a decade ago when the Square was re-ordered. As part of that re-ordering, the southern half of the Square was made traffic-free. We are promised that it will revert to being so immediately after Christmas, and the Civic Society will be vigilant in making sure that happens. When it does, go along, stand in the car-free space and try to visualise the Square entirely without cars circling it or parked on it. You may think it would be worth the effort.

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