A collective of Easton residents are fighting to make their voices heard on proposed road closures that they argue will divide the community in two.
Gathered outside the Jamia Masjid Mosque on St Mark’s Road on a wet Tuesday afternoon, holding a modest homemade sign between them, the small group is steadily gaining support of passers-by – none of whom knew about the changes.
“That’s a ridiculous idea,” says one resident about the plans that include permanently blocking off a number of streets, including Rosemary Lane and Bannerman Road, and introducing one-way systems under the railway bridge on St Mark’s Road and Chelsea Road.
The passer-by signed up on the spot to help the group who have pledged to knock on every door in the neighbourhood to ensure people in Easton are informed about the proposals.
“We just want the majority to be heard because we do feel the voices of the majority haven’t been heard,” says Aumairah.
She is one of a growing number of people who formed Easton Voice out of anger at the council’s failure to properly consult residents on changes that they believe will split the community and hit those most disadvantaged and vulnerable hardest.
Bristol City Council has been given a £500,000 grant from the Government’s Cycling Ambition Fund to pilot the Easton Safer Streets initiative and argues it will improve air pollution, reduce congestion and improve the health of people in the neighbourhood.
“Of course we want to have safer streets and we believe something needs to be done, but blocking roads off and shutting one half of the community off from the other is not right,” continues Aumairah.
“If you have a support network on one side of Easton and you are on the other side, you will isolated.”
Heading over to the railway embankment, now labelled ‘The Great Wall of Easton’ because it will mark the spot that the community is effectively split in two, group members explain what has driven a bunch of mild, publicity-shy people to speak out.
“The demographic data that the council had collected is not very representative of the community that lives in Easton,” says Naz.
They argue that a few stakeholder meetings and pop-up events failed to reach most Easton residents and while a letter detailing changes was dropped through doors, it was all too easily mistaken for junk mail and delivered during Ramadan – a bad time to reach out to Muslim residents.
Karen says she lives on the same street as an elderly, infirm woman, who is regularly collected by ambulance and raised concerns about access for emergency vehicles when one-way systems and bollards are imposed.
Pausing to chat on his way home, Easton resident Mohammed Quisar admitted he had not heard about the road changes, adding: “It’s a really bad idea to block the road under the bridge especially.”
Responding to concerns, Mhairi Threlfall, the council’s cabinet member for transport, said: “Easton Safer Streets project has been co-designing proposed changes to the area with the community in order to make streets safer and more attractive to walk and cycle in. Its focus is also on tackling issues such as air pollution and rat-running. More people on the streets also helps improve community safety and cohesion.
“Making it easier to walk around Easton will improve air quality and help children get some much-needed exercise. The plan is to reduce the 20 per cent of journeys using the residential streets to ‘rat run’ when these movements could be using the main roads that surround the area.
“We have modelled that this will have minimal impact on congestion.”
She added that the pilot is still in the consultation stages, feedback is being listened to and councillors are working on making some changes to the plan before giving people a chance to have a final say.
Read more: Community comes together to clean up streets