Love Local: Norfolk town’s new problem as it tries to bounce back after lockdown
Many business owners have just opened their doors for the first time in several months, and reporter DAVID BALE visited North Walsham town centre to see how independent shops were getting on post lockdown.
Businesses want to get back to some kind of normal after the coronavirus pandemic.
But in North Walsham the new normal includes a pedestrianised main shopping street, which traders don’t want.
Traders and shoppers protested against the town centre road closures, which were introduced by North Norfolk District Council (NNDC), on Monday, July 6.
The council said it had implemented social distancing measures to help protect shoppers and store staff.
It has also closed off the Market Place to traffic, which means that priceless car parking spaces are unavailable.
The council said the measures were temporary and would be reviewed monthly, but businesses claim it has brought a new lockdown and stifled the green shoots of recovery that were emerging.
Robert Morton, from the family-run business Mortons footwear repairs, said they had been “fairly steady” since reopening a few weeks ago, with customers eager to return after the lockdown.
But he said the council’s actions had damaged recovery.
He said: “Those car parking bays are so valuable as North Walsham is known as a pop-in place.
“We get people coming in just to have a key cut. We’re off the main street so the guys in the market will be even more affected. The public may be all for it, but they’ve got nothing to lose from it.
“We’ve been 35 years in town and were in Cromer before that.”
Colin Page, who owns CD Page tobacconist and confectioner, has been allowed to remain open for most of the lockdown.
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He said: “It is early days but I cannot see anything positive about pedestrianisation yet.
“Monday was about 30 to 50pc down in trade for us, compared to the previous week. We had a difficult time with coronavirus and with the gas mains work in the town. We’re just getting back on our feet, with things looking up, and now this.”
MORE: ‘They have put us back in lockdown’ - town traders and shoppers protest against road closures
Nick Lee, director of Broadland Travel, said: “It was going well or steadily growing, until this week
“The travel industry has only started taking bookings in the last week, but the pedestrianisation has already stopped one potential customer from visiting me, and I don’t think it will leave any business unaffected.”
Asked what lessons he had learned from the coronavirus pandemic, he said: “Don’t let it happen again. As a business I should have reacted faster in dealing with cutting costs. But by the time you follow the government guidance, it’s too late.”
Ian Jackson, owner of Sam’s Pets, said his shop had been open throughout the coronovirus lockdown, as it was classed as essential.
He said: “Last week it was getting back to normal standard, and returning to being busy. The council wants to reduce queues on the street, and has succeeded in getting rid of customers. Let’s hope they keep holding their weekly reviews.”
Christopher Smith, who owns Smiths jewellers and pawnbrokers, said: “We opened about three weeks ago and it was busier then than it is now. I think the council’s aim is to make this area pedestrianised, but I don’t think it’s going to work. “But we’ll just have to suck it and see.”
Rob Scamnmell owns Cafe Kitale, which has just had a £90,000 makeover with four new en-suite bedrooms at the back, and reopened on Monday, July 4.
He said: “It was our first day opening for four months. We hit about 60pc of our previous trade, which we were quite impressed with. We’ve got so much space out the front here, that we can do social distancing that others cannot.
“But I’m against pedestrianisation as I don’t think it’s necessary.”
• The Eastern Daily Press launched the Love Local campaign to encourage people to spend within our region and give the independent industry a vital boost.
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