The leader of West Oxfordshire District Council said they had had the largest response ever to a public survey on the “Marmite” issue of the closure of Witney High Street.

The council’s cabinet met to discuss next steps following the consultation which found 64 per cent of residents (846 people) said the extra pedestrian space should be retained.

Cllr Michele Mead said: “This is one of the consultations that we’ve had the largest response to ever. It’s obviously, dare I say it, a bit of a Marmite subject but many people, not just from Witney, but from the whole of the district [have responded] but we have listened to the residents.

“It was huge the amount of people that felt more comfortable and it was more environmentally friendly if the high street remained closed and we have to listen to our residents first and foremost and for that reason I will be seconding the proposal that the high street remains closed.”

Cllr Andrew Coles, whose central ward covers half of the restriction area, added that he had had a lot of correspondence and there were “passions on both sides of the argument”.

“I think what’s important to remember is that the high street was struggling – we all know that, for many many years now,” he said. “Shopping habits have changed, the use of internet shopping and, to steal a phrase off Mr Biden, we do have to build back better.

“I think we do have to focus differently, the high street is such an important part of this town and the district and I think this does really give us an opportunity to make the town centre much more attractive, much more pleasant, much more encouraging for people to come back to, and much safer.”

Cllr Norman MacRae pointed to the recommendation that it is imperative that the future scheme is given a full consultation in great depth. “The present one is perhaps slightly light compared to what we need.”

Cllr Prosser said councillors who lived in Witney said conversations with residents backed up the results of the survey but there were “vocal opponents” and he asked what the council can do in terms of enforcement.

Cllr MacRae said the parking wardens were not legally able to issue parking tickets.

Cabinet voted to keep the high street closed until January 2022 and to work with Oxfordshire County Council, the Highway Authority, on an additional public consultation before looking at the longer term.

They also voted to remove the temporary pedestrian guard rails and replace with strategically placed planters.