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Jury still out on planters and 'parklets' in Tunbridge Wells High Street


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The jury is still out on measures taken to support social distancing and provide additional space for pedestrians in Tunbridge Wells.

The borough council introduced a temporary measure of making the High Street one-way during the summer last year at the height of the Covid emergency in order to give shoppers more room to pass each other.

The High Street in Tunbridge Wells. Picture Jack Hay
The High Street in Tunbridge Wells. Picture Jack Hay

At first the council used plastic barriers to close off one lane of the carriageway as part of the Government’s Emergency Active Travel Scheme.

However, at the end of July this year, the plastic barriers were replaced with wooden planters and "parklets" - where people can sit and socialise.

A similar scheme had earlier been introduced in Earl Street in Maidstone by the borough council there. That scheme led to a number of complaints - chiefly from traders who said they could no longer take in deliveries, and also from disabled motorists who lost a couple of dedicated parking spaces as a result. However, after adjustments were made, the scheme there has settled down.

In Maidstone, the council had intended its 'parklets' would be hired by local restaurants to provide additional outdoor eating places, but the take up has been minimal.

A 'parklet' in the High Street. Picture: TWBC
A 'parklet' in the High Street. Picture: TWBC

Tunbridge Wells has taken a different approach, saying the parklets are for everyone.

A spokesman said: "Creating more space and places to sit encourages people to stay longer.

"It also allows hospitality businesses to place additional seating outside their own premises as it effectively widens the pavement."

The council said: "We are pleased with what it looks like. We had hoped it would have been installed sooner, but there were issues with sourcing materials.

"There have been a lot of favourable comments."

The improvements to the High Street in Tunbridge Wells
The improvements to the High Street in Tunbridge Wells

But the council said: "It remains a temporary scheme and we’re looking to do further consultation with businesses and local residents in the autumn to see if the scheme is still working well for them."

The installation of the planters and parklets was funded by the Government’s Welcome Back Fund with a contribution also from Royal Tunbridge Wells Together Business Improvement District.

However, not everyone is in favour. Jack Hay has lived in Tunbridge Wells since 1996. He doesn't like them.

He said: "Walking down the High Street now, it just looks tacky and, dare I say, downmarket!

"Certainly not the place that tourists would love to explore on their way to our famous Pantiles!"

Maidstone's parklets have remained largely unused
Maidstone's parklets have remained largely unused

He said: "The council should either put the High Street back as it was or else go the whole hog and make it pedestrian only."

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