Mayor George Ferguson plans car-free Sundays
BRISTOL'S mayor wants 2013 to be the year the city goes car-free on Sundays.
George Ferguson, pictured, has been talking to business leaders and landlords in the city centre about the idea, which has been influenced by similar schemes in Bordeaux and Latin American cities such as Bogota in Colombia.
The idea is part of Mr Ferguson's wish list for the coming year, which is largely focussed on the economy and transport issues.
The new man in charge has come up a seven point-wish list but the mayor's most radical scheme is to make the city centre a traffic free zone every Sunday.
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He said: "We are still in the very early stages in terms of planning but we have been talking to various organisations. Like everything at the moment, this is just an experiment but if it is successful then we would be looking at making it a permanent feature.
"The original idea was to launch the scheme during the Big Green Weekend in June and then take it from there.
"We are still at a very early stage and are still looking at the fine details. We still want people to have access to the city centre in terms of public transport and the main car parks but the aim is to create something new and different.
"This would be about creating an atmosphere in the city centre, rather than just banning cars. What we want is for people to come into the city and enjoy themselves.
"They have been doing something similar in Bordeaux for several years and it has proved to be a huge success. Bordeaux on a Sunday is a fantastic place to be and it would be great if we could recreate that fantastic atmosphere.
"Sundays in this country have become the same as any other working day and what we want to do is try and create something a little bit different.
"It is about getting people more involved in their city."
Mr Ferguson first stated his support for the idea during the campaign leading up to November's mayoral election. But he has told The Post he wants to push forward in the year ahead.
John Hirst is the operations director for Destination Bristol, the organisation which represent businesses in the city centre and promotes the area.
He said: "We are aware of these plans and we think anything that gets people into the city has to be a good idea.
"Of course we need to look at the details, in terms of access and public transport, but in principle this is something that we would very much support.
"Similar schemes have been tried on the continent and have been a big success. Of course, the first priority is to make sure that we can get people into the city but we would certainly support the thinking behind this.
"There have been events before, such as the See No Evil festival, where parts of the city were closed to traffic and it proved to be very successful, so there is no reason why we cannot do something similar."
Bristol's chamber of trade has also welcomed the proposals.
Business West director James Durie said: "We would be very much in favour of these proposals.
"Bristol has some great public spaces in the centre of the city and we need to make more of these natural resources.
"Anything we can do to encourage people to come into the city centre and use the green spaces has to be encouraged."
But Hugh Blaydon, from the Bristol branch of the Alliance of British Drivers, was less than impressed with the proposals.
He said: "These people live in their ivory towers and have no clue about the real world.
"What we need is more car parks and access so people can get into towns. Our city centres are struggling already, so why would we want to stop people from driving into them?
"If we banned traffic from city centres we would just end up with derelict ghettos with no businesses or shops. This is just another idiotic idea."
Mr Ferguson, who took up office in November, is in the process of preparing his first budget, to be unveiled next week.
He will be forced to make more than £30 million of cuts because of reductions in government grants and spending limits.
But the architect-turned-politician is still keen to have an impact on Bristol and the surrounding area.
One of his main priorities will be to negotiate a deal with the bus operators in the city to get a better and more affordable service, with special deals for young, disabled and elderly people.
He has also pledged to take a closer look at the £120 million Bus Rapid Transport scheme in a bid to make some last-minute changes to a system which has already been heavily criticised by transport groups.
Mr Ferguson said: "The major aim is to bring thousands of new jobs to Bristol by attracting investment and encouraging small firms to grow by breaking down barriers to doing business.
"I want to see our universities and colleges working closely with industry to create a high-skill economy and for our schools to continue to improve standards."
Other improvements include improving the image and profile of Bristol on the international stage.