Unexpected Pedestrianisation Gives Sussex Residents a New View

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Midhurst Sussex, temporary pedestrianisation after fire at Angel Inn
Midhurst Sussex, temporary pedestrianisation after fire at Angel Inn

Midhurst is a peaceful and picturesque market town of West Sussex. Residents in Midhurst, which is situated well within the South Downs National Park, are not used to national press or major incidents involving unexpected pedestrianisation.

This week the last road diversion signs advising visitors to Midhurst of the council enforced diversions were removed. The usual two-way traffic travelling through the town of Midhurst resumed on the 23rd June after three months of disruption. The route now enables road users to drive along the popular A286 road north towards the upmarket commuter town of Haslemere in Surrey or south towards the city of Chichester and its harbour in southern England once again.

The only sign left after the unplanned allocation of public space in the centre of Midhurst is the boarded-up 17th century listed public house The Angel. The monumental country inn sustained extensive fire damage following an accidental fire on the 16th of April in the early hours of the morning. The cause of the blaze is still unknown and according to ITV meridian news The Angel owners want to rebuild the monumental and historic building. An ITV meridian news reported that “More than 30 people, including a number of Ukrainian refugees, were staying at the Angel Inn when the fire started, but managed to escape uninjured.” (1)

On the 19th April Mike Davis from West Sussex County Council and his colleague finished the hoardings that closed off the high street to every road user, apart from people who usually use the pavements. Mr Davis explained that there “has been a fire at the Angel Inn pub. The road will be closed for at least 4 weeks. The beauticians next door is closed but the other businesses will stay open.”

Two female customers at the stylish and busy Midhurst boutique Stepping Out nearby agreed “we wish Midhurst would be permanently pedestrianised. It feels so much more relaxing and friendly to shop here without the traffic driving through the town centre.” (2)

Residents adapt and return to prioritising the traffic traveling through their town

The incident is still affecting people living and working in Midhurst and this week a West Sussex Highways spokesman stated: “The footway and parking bays immediately in front of the fire-damaged buildings are not in use, due to the shoring-up structure and hoarding covering the area. However, we are receiving concerning reports of people walking onto the highway to get around the hoarding. We urge residents to please remain safe and cross the road using the pedestrian crossings, rather than walking around the hoardings and into the traffic on the busy A road. A big thank you to the Midhurst community for their ongoing patience and understanding throughout the road closure and reopening.” (3)

Although the noise and hazards of heavy traffic continue to divide the high street in Midhurst once again, there is now ‘a seed of an idea’ for an open and relaxing pedestrianised area which has been unexpectedly trialled. There is support of the concept from many locals who use the town centre frequently to shop, work, relax and socialise in the numerous hospitality businesses. Many obstacles currently exist including for example, an alternative route, that doesn’t adversely impact citizens living in the surrounding streets or the nearby Cowdray estate.

The shocking incident of the blazing Angel Inn hotel in the normally orderly street, where thankfully nobody was hurt, was a regrettable drama for the owners, their team and anyone close to them. It might be possible that the silver lining in this instance is that the future of this historically attractive English market town might be as fresh and green as possible. That is all dependent on if the local shoppers can get their way and the central commercial area is permanently reserved again, just only for those on foot, with mobility aids and on their bicycles.

 

(1) ‘Road closed off after fire ripped through listed buildings in Midhurst to reopen’ Meridian News ITV, 23 June 2023 ‘Road closed off after fire ripped through listed buildings in Midhurst to reopen’ Meridian News ITV

(2) Stepping Out Boutique Midhurst, 13 July 2023 Stepping Out Boutique Midhurst

(3) ‘Midhurst A286 road reopening – an update’ West Sussex County Council 4 July 2023 ‘Midhurst A286 road reopening – an update’ West Sussex County Council

(4) ‘Midhurst on the move again after major road finally reopened’ Connor Gormley, 5 July 2023 ‘Midhurst on the move again after major road finally reopened’ Connor Gormley