The decision to keep restrictions to some traffic on Witney High Street has met with anger on social media.

Its future was decided by Oxfordshire County Council's cabinet member for Highway Management Tim Bearder at a meeting yesterday.

He approved the closure of the upper part of the High Street and Market Place to motor vehicles, with exemptions applying to buses, taxis, vehicles loading or unloading and those displaying a valid blue badge.

He said: “These measures are in line with our aims to create a transport network that makes active travel – walking and cycling – the first choice for short journeys, encourage public transport, and reduce reliance on car journeys.

“There are a large number of free car parking spaces behind High Street so this measure should not impact significantly on businesses in the area.

"Indeed, there is growing evidence to suggest that cycle and pedestrian-friendly streets can boost footfall and retail sales, helping to revive traditional high streets and town centres by creating more pleasant conditions.

“Both Cornmarket Street in Oxford and Sheep Street in Bicester used to be full of vehicles, and I doubt anyone would suggest a return to that situation now that they are both pedestrianised.

“I’m sure that these changes in Witney will be just as popular, although we will monitor the situation to see if any amendments are required in the future.”

Witney East town councillor and West Oxfordshire District councillor Duncan Enright added: "Witney is open for business, and for Christmas.

"The County Council decision on the High Street includes a pledge to support better parking for blue badge holders, and access for buses and taxis, while reducing the pollution of through traffic.

"We now need to work on a plan for the town centre to make it a much nicer and safer place to live, work and shop."

A public survey into the measures, originally introduced to allow social distancing, conducted by WODC in June found that the restrictions are supported by the majority.

Of 1,346 responses – 64 per cent (846 people) said the extra pedestrian space should be retained while 36 per cent (484 people) said they would like the restrictions removed and the high street returned to its pre-Covid state.

However a public consultation run by Oxfordshire County Council with 1,313 responses found 50 per cent objected to the measures and 39 per cent supported them.

One objection comment read: “As a local business with staff members who need to travel around the vicinity throughout the working day, we have noticed a considerable increase in traffic on all the other roads due to the closure of the High Street – journeys of 1.5 miles are currently taking up to half an hour.”

Henry Mo, independent shops spokesman and owner of Sandwich de Witney, who set up a petition against measures signed by 36 out of 37 High Street businesses and more than 1,000 shoppers – told a Witney Town Council meeting business was down 40 per cent. 

Of the decision to make the measures permanent, he said: “Still fuming! The other side streets of Witney are being damaged, local independent shops damaged, the ethical democratic process damaged, trust in councillors damaged, minority rule wins.”

Social media users posted their views on the Witney Gazette Facebook page.

Paul Mills said: "Another example of a few councillors, detached from reality pushing through measures with no care of the consequences and no plan to build infrastructure around it to compensate.

"Duncan Enright will never get my vote again as he assisted in pushing this through.

"The High Street was dying and today a few councillors decided it was in THEIR best interests to switch off the life support. RIP Witney High Street."

Director of The Blanket Hall Richard Martin posted: "Between the county, district, and town councils there seem to be any number of variously fanciful plans about how we should live tomorrow, but less care for keeping the centre of Witney vibrant today.

"Traders care very much, and they know that without bustle and with over-zealous central planning, towns lose headway. Until recently, Witney has been one of the best managed small towns I've ever encountered, thanks in no small measure to previous council administrations.

"We can only hope that everyone concerned realises that misguided intervention will see past success very quickly start to melt away, and we can return to the normal hustle and bustle of a small market town without delay. May Witney thrive again!"

Simon Hall: "I do hope that those who enjoy it being nice and quiet also enjoy it free of shops as they are going to struggle to survive, especially on top of Covid."

Amanda Elliott posted: "I fear for the ghost town that the town is becoming now."