A project instigated by businesses and venues on one of Bristol’s most well-known streets and the city council is being hailed as an early success story in the drive to help the city’s hospitality sector recover from the Covid-19 lockdown.
King Street, in the Old City, was closed to traffic from last weekend for an initial six-month period and turned into a pedestrianised area following a collaborative venture between the local authority and businesses which had been put together in just two weeks.
The changes include an outdoor performance space for Bristol’s Old Vic theatre as well as the creation of outside seating areas for King Street’s hospitality venues, assisting with their social distancing measures and playing an important role in boosting capacity for bars and restaurants as they reopen for business.
Council design teams built on an approach from Bruce Gray, from the Small Bar, and LDA Design, who prepared initial designs for the scheme and canvassed agreement from fellow businesses on King Street.
A temporary Traffic Regulation Order to close the road to vehicles was completed in a fortnight instead of the usual two months and changes and safety measures put in place in less than a week, with additional work continuing to ensure access for disabled users is maintained. Council licensing officers worked with venues on the street to ensure they had the support in place to run their expanded premises.
Clare Street and Corn Street were also closed to traffic earlier this month as part of the Bristol Street Space programme, which includes the widening of pavements, the suspension of some parking bays and some road closures to ensure people are able to socially distance around the city.
Part of the on-going work across the city to pave the way for safer and better public transport, cleaner air and improved walking and cycling routes, the programme also has the longer term ambition of some of Bristol’s major commercial streets becoming thriving thoroughfares with priority for pedestrian use.
Councillor Nicola Beech, Cabinet member for Spatial Planning and City Design and on the Bristol @ Night advisory panel, which addresses the challenges facing the night-time business and leisure economy, said: “The city’s hospitality sector has been hit hard by the Covid-19 lockdown and, as an important part of Bristol’s culture, we’re determined to try and aid its recovery.
“King Street is an example of collaborating with businesses to build an inclusive and sustainable future, enabling hospitality outlets to maximise the area around them, businesses to continue their work with the minimum of disruption and allowing the street to thrive safely when given over to people rather than vehicles.
“We thank those businesses and venues who have worked hard with the council to bring this idea to fruition and hopefully their co-operation and the positive way it has been received offers the opportunity to rapidly upgrade the scheme to further support the hospitality sector as well as bring these ideas to other parts of the city.’’
Bruce Gray, from the Small Bar, said: “The pedestrianisation of King St has been a wonderful team effort by all involved. LDA Design, based on King St, and our local BID (Business Improvement District partnership) have really grabbed the project by the horns and helped push it through.
“There has been a real community spirit created by the businesses on King Street, both hospitality and offices and nursery. It's only by the collective will of all involved that we've been able to see this through so quickly.
“The council really has been a revelation within these difficult times, by recognising the clear and present danger to business, and facilitating direct action to help improve our chances of survival. Ultimately the increased seating areas in front of all our bars and restaurants could very well be the difference between survival or failure in the coming socially distanced times."
Clare Wilks, of LDA Design said: “Permission for closure was secured within days - this was fast, thoughtful work by Bristol City Council. The move fits with a wider strategy to pedestrianise the old streets of the city centre, making Bristol a safer and healthier place for residents, workers and visitors and making it far easier and more pleasant for pedestrians and cyclists to get around.''
Paula Ratcliffe, Bristol City Centre BID’s Business Liaison Manager, said: “Bristol City Centre BID have been actively supporting the King Street Collective in their reimagining of the area. The businesses have worked hard, forming a cohesive plan to revitalise King Street as the hospitality sector emerges from lockdown.
“Their vision and attention to detail will ensure that King Street can be enjoyed by all and their work contributes greatly to the safe reopening of our city.”