Warning coastal town’s tourism sector could face second ‘bleak’ summer amid lockdown
PUBLISHED: 06:34 27 April 2020 | UPDATED: 16:16 27 April 2020
A tourist-dependent north Norfolk town, which is already recovering from the economic impact of a sinkhole in 2019, may well be facing another bleak summer.
Lockdown restrictions mean businesses in Sheringham could be looking at more disruption after a “touch and go” 2019 summer season, which saw a sinkhole open up in its High Street and cause more than three months of disruption.
According to former deputy mayor and current district councillor for Sheringham north, Liz Withington, many businesses in the town have no back up resources as a consequence of the sinkhole last year.
She said: “Many local people were also living on the last of their earnings from last year, hanging on for seasonal enjoyment to start.
“Not only will people be living in poverty but also the local economy will slow further with reduced local input.”
She said some businesses would be looking at “going over a cliff edge”.
The sinkhole, which was caused by a collapsed sewer and damaged water mains beneath the High Street, caused disruption in the seaside town between May and September.
Now, due to the ongoing lockdown, which has seen the government ask holidaymakers to put their trips on hold and many firms to close, the town’s tourism sector risks facing another crisis.
The North Norfolk district councillor said: “As a town we survived the sinkhole but it was very touch and go at a cost and I am very concerned at the moment about the future of Sheringham.
“In particular I fear for the B&Bs due to the fact they appear to be ineligible for the £10,000 small business grant.
“This is causing acute stress and anxiety for the many B&B owners in the area.
“Unlike retail and leisure businesses these are primarily also the homes of these people and they face the prospect of losing both livelihoods and the roof over their head.”
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B&Bs across the country have appealed for greater support after falling through the gaps in the government’s financial support.
Ian Abernethy and Christine Hendry, who opened the Sheringham B&B Picaroons in summer 2016, said the impact on them due to coronavirus lockdown has been “devastating”.
The couple, who previously won Channel 4’s reality show Four in a Bed, said: “Because we have just three rooms we don’t pay business rates and it means we can’t get a grant from the government.
“The start of this year looked really good, we had some repeat customers booked in and some people staying for longer than they did last time, now we have no money coming in.
“We took a hit last year and we thought we would be okay if we could just make it to this year season, then lockdown came into place.
“It’s a really scary time for us.”
The pair have both applied for Universal Credit and have been granted a three-month holiday in both their mortgage and council tax.
Helena Smith, another holiday let owner in the town, said although businesses were struggling, she thinks the town will recover.
She said: “I think the first thing people are going to want to do once lockdown is over is go away on holiday.
“I think we will see more people staying in the UK instead of going abroad for sure, I think once this is over we will be okay.”
A recent study, compiled by Tortoise Media, found that Cromer and Sheringham are among the worst hit towns in the country when it comes to visitor spending during the coronavirus outbreak.
The total spend in Cromer and Sheringham in the first week of April was down 53pc on the same time last year and non-grocery shopping dropped by 75pc, it said.
Mrs Withington said: “Areas such as Sheringham, which work with a very seasonal income flow, are dependent on the Easter flurry to pick them up and carry them on a survival wave until May and the onset of busier times.
“This has vanished and without that buffer and the prospect of an extremely curtailed season the future for them is, I believe, bleak.”
The government has said its “unprecedented government financial package” would help businesses of all sizes, including through its self-employed income support scheme.
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