Councillors have reached out to angry high street traders as traffic restrictions in Witney town centre become officially permanent.

Oxfordshire County Council's legal traffic regulation order, which is effective from January 14, can be seen on their website.

Drivers who contravene the order are fined.

The measures were brought in as part of Covid regulations to encourage social distancing and were due to expire on January 3 2022.

Just buses, taxis, blue badge holders and vehicles loading and unloading have been able to use Witney's High Street and Market Square for 18 months.

During a county council consultation, 60 per cent of respondents said they objected or had concerns about the order being made permanent.

Oxfordshire County Council approved the move at a meeting in December.

Henry Mo, independent shops spokesman and owner of Sandwich de Witney, who set up a petition against measures signed by 36 out of 37 High Street businesses and more than 1,000 shoppers said he had been contacted by Witney MP Robert Courts and a Witney councillor.

He said: “Still fuming! We can only hope that it will be reviewed like the Burford case where they realised in fact shutting a main road can cause damage elsewhere.

"Robert Courts did email me 20 minutes after the Burford news to ask if I still want to meet and talk about Witney issues."

The OCC decision to lift the trial lorry ban in Burford has been called in for review.

Cllr Andrew Coles, who represents Labour on the county council and West Oxfordshire District Council, said consultations by the two authorities had shown the issue was "deeply divisive" but "we are all united in wanting to see a thriving High Street with successful local shops and businesses".

He said: "This decision gives us an opportunity to recreate that market town feel and buzz which has been drowned out by traffic and make Witney a much more pleasant and attractive place for residents, shoppers and visitors alike."

But he told the BBC businesses had been suffering from a lack of trade because of issues including high rents and online shopping before the order was first introduced.

Closing the street to parking would be a way of trying to entice shoppers back, he added.

Mr Mo said: “Cllr Coles also emailed me the day after the decision to say ‘now that decision has been made we can sit down to discuss details?' But I said, the business community is up in arms at the moment so leave it a bit."

He added: "There will be more empty shops and market stalls if the problem can’t be solved. At the moment the market stalls and us are down 40 per cent in trade with customers sneaking in to the High street to pick up orders and we expect trade to go down further. We know because we talk to customers.

"We still can’t understand why they would close off a main road and we are baffled as to why High Street independent retail business concerns were not properly discussed.”

Some 66 businesses responded to the county council consultation.

The future of the high street was decided upon by Oxfordshire County Council's Cabinet Member for Highway Management Tim Bearder.

He said: “These measures are in line with our aims to create a transport network that makes active travel – walking and cycling – the first choice for short journeys, encourage public transport, and reduce reliance on car journeys.

“There are a large number of free car parking spaces behind High Street so this measure should not impact significantly on businesses in the area. Indeed, there is growing evidence to suggest that cycle and pedestrian-friendly streets can boost footfall and retail sales, helping to revive traditional high streets and town centres by creating more pleasant conditions.

“Both Cornmarket Street in Oxford and Sheep Street in Bicester used to be full of vehicles, and I doubt anyone would suggest a return to that situation now that they are both pedestrianised. I’m sure that these changes in Witney will be just as popular, although we will monitor the situation to see if any amendments are required in the future.”

Witney town councillor Duncan Enright, who represents Labour as cabinet member for Travel & Development Strategy on the county council and is on West Oxfordshire District Council, said: "We now need to work on a plan for the town centre to make it a much nicer and safer place to live, work and shop."

But Richard Martin, director of Witney Blanket Hall, one of the town’s oldest institutions, was scathing.

He said: "It is ever clearer that this move is a piece of political horse-trading - a present to the eco-wing to keep the OCC coalition administration together.

"I very much doubt it has the full backing of the OCC cabinet, let alone West Oxfordshire District Council, Witney, its traders, its residents, and anyone who has looked at this sort of scheme in practice elsewhere!

"For where has closing the principal high street in a rural market town actually worked? Towns need bustle: traders know this, indeed anyone who has ever run any sort of attraction, whether a shop, a coffee morning, or a party… Everyone knows you need a buzz to get things humming, and closing our High Street will not do it."

He added: "It is perfectly proper to consider new ideas, but the fair and correct way would have been to see off Covid, and get Witney back to its bustling best first. Then talk about possibilities, refine a clear and agreed plan, and then, and only then, think about closing our High Street.

"It is not too late, and we ask OCC even at this stage to put the plan on hold: rather than take unilateral action, let Witney get back to normal, and then work with us all to achieve the best way forward."