Wiltshire's highways chief has defended his decision to call a public vote on Bradford on Avon’s controversial Historic Core Zone scheme, amid allegations of bullying by town councillors.
Councillor John Thomson was due to give his verdict on the £2.5 million town centre pedestrianisation project last week, but instead says he wants a poll of residents before he makes his decision.
At an extraordinary meeting of the town council on Tuesday, councillors criticised the move to force a vote on the project, which was first put forward six years ago.
Cllr Laurie Brown said: “I don’t like being bullied and I don’t like being blackmailed, and I do take exception to the way Councillor Thomson has presented it to us.”
Cllr Gwen Allison said: “Councillor Thomson is quite clear he wants us to have this poll and I don’t think we have any option on this.”
The council also approved the implementation of a restricted parking zone, which will be deferred until the entire scheme has approval.
The vote, which will be funded by Wiltshire Council and will cost around £6,000, will be open to all Bradford residents registered on the electoral roll, and will not be binding, with Cllr Thomson still set to have the final say.
Despite the wishes of some traders, business owners who do not live in Bradford on Avon will not have a vote.
Cllr Thomson said: “This has been going on for a huge amount of time and I have picked it up and decided it needed to be dealt with to get a decision one way or another. I have never had so much correspondence about a delegated decision.
“I had two petitions and lots of letters.
“When I get that amount of objections for a community project, I think the supporters of the project need to get out and sell it to people. If the community supports it, I will be pleased to support it.
“It’s really now down to the local community to get together and sell the scheme.”
In 2011, plans for a new bridge in the town centre were scrapped by a public vote, following years of wrangling.
Petitions have been passed to Cllr Thomson regarding the scheme, with more than 1,200 people in favour of retaining the Market Street zebra crossing. As of March, an opposing petition supporting the HCZ had 145 signatures.