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Coronavirus West Berkshire: Council outlines measures for social distancing for businesses

Outdoor dining measures, cycling, consultation and car parking discussed

John Herring

John Herring

john.herring@newburynews.co.uk

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01635 886633

Gallery: West Berkshire in Lockdown

West Berkshire Council has provided further details for the re-opening of businesses next week, including outdoor dining, consultation with traders, cycling and car parking.

The Government has announced that all non-essential shops will be allowed to reopen on Monday, providing they follow safety measures. 

To prepare for the reopening of high streets across the district, the council has been awarded £124,000 from the Department for Transport to introduce temporary measures to help with social distancing in a safe environment for walking and cycling.

The allocation is part of the government's emergency active travel fund split into two phases. Phase one includes encouraging active travel measures that can be implemented quickly to provide additional road-space for walking and cycling.

The schemes need to be implemented within eight weeks to be eligible to receive the funding.

Newbury's Northbrook Street and Market Place were pedestrianised 24/7 on June 1 to make it easier for pedestrians to follow social distancing guidelines. The temporary measure could be in place until September. 

Signs will be placed in town centres across the district to remind people to socially distance and temporary closures will be brought in across the district.

Outlining steps being taken for businesses to reopen in a webinar yesterday (Wednesday), head of transport and countryside Jon Winstanley said there had been an increased demand for outdoor dining, which had to be balanced against encouraging active travelling.

Businesses need planning permission and a highways licence to place tables and chairs on a public highway.

Mr Winstanley said the council was awaiting guidance over the relaxation of these rules, but the council would be looking at its own local policies to see if the process could be streamlined. 

He said the council would be giving "considerable focus" to the issue and that "road safety is the ultimate priority and we need to balance competing demand and we have to avoid any unintended consequences of putting tables and chairs out on the highway".

He said the council would be working with Newbury Business Improvement District (BID) to monitor queues and see whether additional measures might be needed to accommodate queues and allow for social distancing.

The briefing also heard that businesses had not been directly consulted ahead of the pedestrianisation. 

One business owner asked: "Newbury is not as busy as Oxford Street in London. What kind of scientific calculation has been done to take this position. Have you consulted with any other businesses in the town centre before taking the decision?

"Since the closure of the Market Place we are currently facing 30 to 50 per cent lower sales. Adding more tables and chairs won't help." 

Mr Winstanley said: "Newbury does get very busy. The decision was taken purely on safety grounds to allow shops to reopen safely in the coming weeks. We do expect a considerable increase in footfall going forward.

"We feel there will be more demand for tables and chairs. We are seeing that because we have had emails asking for that. It will get busier and busier in the town centre."

The council's economic development manager, Gabrielle Mancini, said: "We have been meeting with Newbury Town Council, the BID, who are essentially the voice of businesses in the town centre, managers of the Kennet centre and Parkway, as well as the police, to put plans in place for pedestrianisation.

"There was consultation as widely as we possibly could do in the current circumstances." 

The council suspended parking charges in its car parks at the start of the pandemic to assist key workers but has since re-introduced them.

When asked whether the decision could be reassessed, Mr Winstanley said: "Parking supports a number of key services and is a critical source of income for the council, there's no getting away from that. It supports adult social care and our waste services and we need to balance that income against the delivery of those services."

And there are no proposals at this stage to ban cyclists in the pedestrianised area, Mr Winstanley said.  

"I think what we will propose to do is put up signage asking cyclists to cycle through the town centre with as much care as possible.

"We are trying to encourage active travel... we felt banning cycling would be a disbenefit to those cyclists who would take notice of it and perhaps cyclists who tend to cycle antisocially would probably just ignore the ban and carry on anyway.

"Ultimately the enforcement authority is the police but clearly their resources are stretched in this time as well."

Leaflets are also being posted out to businesses with advice on how to be Covid secure. 

Businesses can receive Covid-19 safe certificates and must complete a risk assessment, develop cleaning, handwashing and hygiene practices, help people to work from home where possible, maintain two metres social distancing where possible, and where people can't be two metres apart, manage transmission risk.  

The council is also looking to bring in a town centre administrator to help collate requests for items such as tables and chairs, and will directly contact individual businesses to be a single point of contact through the next few months.  

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