Pedestrians’ lives would have been put at risk if a plan to leave gates blocking Huntingdon town centre to traffic had been left open permanently, a leading councillor has warned.

Cllr Sarah Conboy, leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Huntingdonshire District Council, welcomed a change of heart by the authority which has handed over responsibility for locking and unlocking the gates at the High Street-Hartford Road junction to the town's Business Improvement District (BID).

She said she had been "dumbfounded" by the council's plan to leave the gates open and had not been able to find out if it was for financial or manpower reasons.

"The gates provide a level of security for pedestrians on the High Street as they know when they are closed they are not at risk of vehicles moving along the roadway," Cllr Conboy said.

"This has been vital to giving town visitors safe and easy access to the shops, services and to the street markets."

Cllr Conboy said leaving the gates open would have had a negative effect on trade, adding: "It is vital to creating the relaxed and secure atmosphere that encourages people to visit, stay longer and financially support our businesses."

Sue Wing, BID Huntingdon manager, said the group volunteered to take on the gates when they heard of the council's plan.

She said the gates provided a physical barrier to prevent vehicles getting into the High Street.

"To my mind, people are used to seeing the gates closed during the day and open at night. For me it is not feasible to have the gates open all the time and rely on signs." The gates will be operated by BID staff and the town rangers and a team of volunteers.

Many of the shops in the High Street do not have rear accesses for deliveries which meant the council was unable to fully pedestrianise the town centre.

A spokesman for Huntingdonshire District Council said: "From July 2, new arrangements will be in place for the locking and unlocking of the High Street gate.

"Although it is not a statutory responsibility, HDC operates these gates and will continue to do so on market days, (Wednesdays and Saturdays). BID Huntingdon has agreed to take over this role on other weekdays."