A CAMPAIGN against a Winchester city centre road closure is gathering pace.

More than 800 people have backed an online petition against the continuing closure of Hyde Street at the junction with North Walls.

The measure was introduced at the first lockdown last year with Government funding to enable the footway to be widened to allow better social distancing and to encourage more walking and cycling.

But a side-effect has been a big increase in congestion and air pollution on other roads, notably Worthy Lane and City Road.

The county council is consulting on a series of measures designed to make things better for pedestrians and cyclists. They include an 18-month trial closure of Hyde Street, the narrowing of North Walls to a single lane with wider footway on North Walls and a two-way cycle lane; Jewry Street - a wider pavement on the west (Discovery Centre) side; Upper High Street - a contraflow cycling lane; Romsey Road at Clifton Terrace - a signalised Puffin crossing.

The consultation runs from February 17 to March 21.

Residents in the Worthy Lane area are leading the campaign to reverse the closure of Hyde Street.

Bill Hoade, of Worthy Lane, said emails to the senior Lib Dem councillors on the city council had been ignored.

He said he is considering a legal challenge similar to ones in London against ‘Covid emergency’ schemes, because no public consultations had taken place.

Mr Hoade said: “It is unclear why these consultations are being rushed through during lockdown when many users of the route will be unaware of the latest move. There is no reliable data available as to what traffic levels, pollution and the related health risks will be when traffic returns to normal.

“The scheme does nothing to reduce overall traffic but merely redirects it on a longer route, increasing journey times, pollution and driver frustration.

“Traffic from Hyde travelling into the city now has to travel along Worthy Lane, Andover Road and City Road to arrive back at Hyde Street.”

Steve Harbourne, of Worthy Lane, added: “Right from the start we were told that closing Hyde Street to through traffic was primarily a consequence of making North Walls single lane.”

Mr Harbourne added: “Also that it would facilitate better social distancing. They have consistently ignored any alternative suggestions that many of us have made to them and just said that there would be ‘winners and losers’. Is this an acceptable basis for making policy?”

The petition is at 38degrees.org.uk.

In a second exercise, the city council is consulting on a strategic planning document (SPD) to improve air quality. The city centre was declared an Air Quality Management Area in 2003 but has repeatedly failed to hit targets for clean air, largely due to traffic pollution producing nitrogen dioxide. The consultation runs from February 15 to April 12.

Two ‘virtual’ public presentations will be held over Teams on Thursday March 11 at 3pm and Thursday March 18 at 7pm.

Meanwhile, research has found more than half a dozen schools and colleges in Winchester are in areas with potentially dangerous levels of air pollution.

The British Lung Foundation is calling for stricter laws and a new cross-government air quality minister to protect the public.

Winchester has seven nurseries, schools and colleges in areas where levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) are above the World Health Organization-recommended limit.

PM2.5 is the most harmful type of air pollution for human health and particularly affects children and people with lung conditions such as asthma, says the BLF.

Traffic fumes are a major source of the pollutant, which can also be produced through industrial emissions and wood burners.

The WHO says concentrations of PM2.5 should not exceed 10 micrograms per cubic metre on average in the year – half the current legal limit in the UK of 20 micrograms.

The research used government data collected in 2019, which provides estimates of PM2.5 for small areas across the country.

City and county councillor Martin Tod said: “The county council isn’t proposing to make the schemes permanent. The consultation is crystal clear about that.

“The county council is also not proposing to keep any of the current schemes unchanged. The North Walls scheme needed serious improvement and it has been - with big improvements on both sides of the road for pedestrians and a new two-way cycle lane for cyclists as well. The Hyde Street changes are now part of a joined-up scheme to significantly improve access to the centre from the north for pedestrians and cyclists. For cyclists in particular, this is currently very poor - and I know the proposed cycle contraflows on Parchment Street and St Peter Street are something they’ve been calling for.

“The proposal is to take these improved proposals and, subject to this round of consultation results, trial them for an 18-month period, monitoring traffic movements as well as pedestrian and cycle journeys. Only then, if the trial works, would new permanent proposals be developed - but before any of these were implemented, the permanent proposals would be consulted on again.”

“Not every detail of every scheme is right - they’re not something that the city council or even local county councillors get to sign off - so it’s important that people take part in the consultation. That’s true for the designs that will be completely new to people such as the proposals for the High Street, Upper High Street and Romsey Road crossing.”