Humanising the High Street

The town of Totnes is a tourism magnet and quite rightly so. It’s beautiful. But the one thing that crops up over and over again is just how un-friendly it is to those valuable visitors. We have a high street where the car is king and that is so obviously wrong that this subject will continue to return until the problem is resolved. The improvement to widen the pavement just above the west gate clock tower a few years back, was resisted by some at the time, however few would argue now to return it to its treacherous narrow past. It’s a huge improvement.

It’s all about getting together.

The one way up debacle was a well meaning idea that was badly thought out and implemented and as such, failed. Not necessarily because it was completely wrong and partially because it was imposed on the town with very little consultation that caused entrenched partisan attitudes. The public money (more than £100,000) wasted on legal action was a disaster. It doesn’t take a leap of imagination to conclude that it helped create a damagingly negative attitude toward the town up at Follaton House. Importantly, a report of South Hams Highways and Traffic Orders Committee in November 2012 states “…a review of casualty collisions between 1 January 2009 and 31 December 2011 has revealed that another seven injury collisions have been reported by the Police in that period with one of these classed as serious. Of the seven collisions reported over this period, 4 of the drivers failed to stop”. Totnes High Street is quite a dangerous place.

So what is to be done?

Road / pavement leveling outside St Marys

Almost everyone has an opinion. So the Totnes Pulse aims to help clarify the problem.  We intend to consult with everyone and push for a solution. It’s all about getting together. So we will be asking businesses, tourists, local shoppers, residents and councillors how we can move forward. If the market square is the heart, the high street is a vital artery that breathes life into a town that people want to visit and we want to live in. The centre of town has to be a social space – not the polluted, traffic dodging mess it is right now. It simply isn’t good enough and what’s more – our future depends on it.

A report by American based group SPUR indicated 7 things to do for a perfect high street:

1. Create fine-grained pedestrian circulation.
In other words, make sure paving and guided routes are made for people to follow – Not really a problem for such a small space like Totnes. NOT VERY RELEVANT FOR US
2. Orient buildings to streets.
Also not relevant here because all our shops are already looking directly onto the High Street and the buildings aren’t being moved any time soon… – FILE UNDER IGNORE
3. Organize uses to support public activity
The best places have bustling centres where people want to spend time. A fountain, a play area. – REQUIRES INVESTMENT – MEDIUM EXPENSE
4. Place parking behind or below buildings
the report strongly recommends putting parking spaces underground or behind a building.- REQUIRES INVESTMENT – HIGH EXPENSE
5. Address the human scale with building and landscape details
Buildings may loom over pedestrians,but not here in Totnes – As far as we know, SHDC planning haven’t allowed a skyscraper to be built. – IGNORE
6. Provide clear, continuous pedestrian access

Before pedestranisation.

It’s almost universally accepted that pedestrians should have priority over cars – Arranging mild chicanes with street furniture like planters and benches can update the street and change the perception of who is in charge, cars or people. – RELATIVELY INEXPENSIVE, VERY EFFECTIVE
7. Build complete streets
Over the last 100 years high streets have been designed around cars. This needs to change. Encouraging places for people to get a cup of coffee, read the newspaper, or have an outdoor meeting next to a fountain  can go a long way to enriching the town. If the roadway and pavements were level, the space would become more open and much less linear. People would gather more and traffic discouraged from racing through. VERY EXPENSIVE, VERY EFFECTIVE

After pedestrianisation

What can be done?

Being realistic, it seems Option 6, could be implemented relatively cheaply and quickly. Large planters with foliage, flowers and artwork need not be difficult to arrange and would change the way the High Street works immediately without preventing deliveries to shops and other essential traffic. The difficulties would be: general objection to change, upkeep of the planting, positioning and design choices. Option 7 – leveling the streets would be the ideal for humanising the area. The space directly in front of St Mary’s Church is a successful example of creating a people orientated area. The cost and disruption however would be very high and with council budgets currently empty, it’s unlikely Totnes will see this level of investment for quite a while.

What do you think? Comment below:




  10 comments for “Humanising the High Street

  1. Rolf Norfolk
    30th October 2018 at 9:35 am

    How about restricting motorised vehicular use to:

    buggies for the mobility impaired
    Blue Badge holders?

    Commercial deliveries can come via the back of the market place (carry by hand or sack truck) or if necessary (with special authorisation disc) deliver to frontages?

    • Mike Sealey
      8th November 2018 at 2:02 pm

      You have forgotten:
      Taxis, Bob the Bus, Access to Castle Court for residents, Access for residents living above the shops/ behind the shops, Deliveries for upper Fore Street, Post delivery, emergency vehicles, small parcel deliveries to residents.

  2. John Birch
    3rd November 2018 at 8:12 am

    An initiative by Totnes Pulse to seek to bring about a consensus of opinion on an improved environment in the High Street would be welcomed.

    A few years ago the town was split over the rearrangement of the traffic flow and there is a nervousness over opening up old sores.

    Let’s start with one High Street project. I have been working with the Totnes Trust on a proposal to create a St Mary’s Square in front of the historic St Mary’s Church.

  3. Peter Shearn
    6th November 2018 at 3:22 pm

    Following the conversation on the Totnes Pulse Radio Programme with reference to the website by Roger Hawkins:

  4. Mike Sealey
    8th November 2018 at 2:05 pm

    Talk to Andy at Totnes TV High Street. He has plans for just what is proposed from years ago. There are some great ideas that the council could not/would not implement.

  5. Sylvia Dell
    18th November 2018 at 12:51 pm

    Could there be one day per week in the summer when vehicle access (except Bob the Bus) could be restricted to early or late, leaving a clean, safe pedestrian space at times when there are most people out and about. I appreciate that disabled access may be required but can this not be catered by either mobility scooters or Bob? Shop deliveries could be scheduled early before the crowds, and parcel delivery could be at a central point for individual pick-up – maybe one of the businesses on the Plains might see this as a way of attracting more footfalls. Would this be acceptable to residents?

  6. Jeff Chinnock
    1st December 2018 at 10:48 am

    I would love to be involved sorting this long running issue. Talking about it is good but we need to get those with the wherewithal to take the limited actions you propose.

  7. Tina Taylor
    14th September 2019 at 6:58 pm

    I go down to totnes regularly and I have to say it needs to be pedestrianised with access only for traders and deliveries.
    Today 14.09.2019 there was an event going on in the town and it was a nightmare! It seemed like every car wanted to go through totnes to see what was going on or hinter the event. To be honest I have never witnessed so many cars going through the town in the 25yrs I have been visiting totnes (generally every 2wks). There really is no need to drive through the town as there are good alternative routes to get to various destinations.
    My message to the south hams council is ‘Pedestrianised Totnes high street area, bring it on’ alternatively close the high street on weekends or during even minor events.

  8. Frances Place
    30th May 2020 at 10:19 am

    We have recently moved to Totnes and it would be good to hear what the latest view on limiting road traffic in the high street is. I know some high streets have access for delivery morning and evening, access for disability vehicles, public transport, bikes and emergency vehicles at all times.

    Is it possible to take advantage of the reduction of traffic and pollution during the lockdwn to limit traffic? Would it then be possible for some cafes, pubs, restaurants to actually have seating outside, as in many parts of Europe, allowing them to open in this difficilt time sooner than otherwise?

    I dont know what the answer is and im sure the whole question of road traffic to the high street has been debated for years, but I would be interested to know what has been happening about this and what are current thoughts.

    • Peter Shearn
      30th May 2020 at 4:12 pm

      Hello Frances, welcome to our / your wonderful town.
      You will find the High Street/Fore Street conversation has been run many times over. Unfortunately it is a strangely devisive issue. However Covid 19 has highlighted an absolute need and desire to make the area more attractive to pedestrians and it looks like shared space may well be the way forward. Listen in to the Full Totnes Breakfast on Soundart Radio 102.5FM between 8 and 9am where local councillors often guest and discuss local issues like these. (Next Monday will feature Cllr Victoria Trow and Tuesday the 2nd June will have Cllr John Birch)

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