Measures being finalised to safely re-open town centres
June 11, 2020
Draft proposals to safely re-open town centres as lockdown eases are being finalised by Northumberland County Council.
Since the start of lockdown in March, most town centres across the country virtually closed. Some shops were allowed to stay open, but in the main, streets have been empty.
Now, following the Government’s announcement that restrictions on shops will be lifted on 15 June, town centres will open once again to shoppers.
However, the government has made it clear that social distancing guidelines remain in force, and that both inside shops and in all outside areas such as pavements and street crossings the public must maintain a two-metre distance from one another.
Councillor Glen Sanderson, the county council’s Cabinet Member for Environment and Local Services, explained: “In Northumberland, the layout of shopping streets, particularly in some of the older towns, does not make social distancing easy, with narrow pavements and limited queueing space.
“But if the retail market is to recover people must feel confident that they can visit town centres safely, which will require some simple temporary adjustments to the way that town centres operate.
“We’re doing our best to ensure we’re supporting all our high-street businesses while at the same time keeping residents safe – which is our absolute priority.”
The county council has initially focused on its 12 larger towns to establish what measures could be put in place to ensure the safe movement of pedestrians, while still allowing for shops to receive deliveries. Work is also progressing to look at the shopping areas in some of the smaller towns and villages.
Many of the measures identified are relatively simple. They include notices reminding people about social distancing, advisory one-way signs for pedestrians in some areas, working with traders to remove unnecessary street advertising boards on the pavement and liaison with the local Town and Parish Councils to relocate any street furniture that is causing a problem..
A range of other potential next steps have also been identified following discussion with local stakeholders, as options that could be considered at a later stage to create additional pedestrian circulation space for social distancing purposes, if this is required as the towns becomes busier.
These include the temporary suspension of some on-street parking / loading areas , and even the use of temporary one-way traffic systems and pedestrianisation of some areas, if it proves necessary to create more pedestrian space at key locations to ensure public safety. These potential next steps would only be brought into effect following further dialogue with local councillors, town councils and local businesses.
The council is also looking at providing ‘Community Ambassadors’ for the first few days of reopening to provide a visible presence on the high streets, offering friendly support and guidance to shoppers and traders.
Cllr Sanderson added: “We must stress these are simple, short-term measures and aren’t intended to replace the long-term regeneration plans for our town centres which are being developed. Discussions about longer term plans, which may include considering traffic flows and possible pedestrianisation of some streets, along with cycle and walking initiatives in line with our climate change action plan commitment, will continue with councillors, residents and businesses.
“And while any change can be difficult and bring a certain level of disruption we hope people will understand it’s in the interests of their safety as well as crucial to get our businesses up and running.
“We’ll continue to monitor how our town centres are operating as more businesses reopen and will work closely with local members, parish and town councils, as well as local businesses to make sure that our towns continue to be safe and attractive places to shop and visit.”