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‘It’s just another blow for us’ - Business owners’ anger after road closures

PUBLISHED: 17:19 26 June 2020 | UPDATED: 00:07 27 June 2020

Okan Ucar (middle) and Ozzy Oscar (right) run Atlantis Fish Bar, on Middle Street, in Watton. Photo: Emily Thomson

Okan Ucar (middle) and Ozzy Oscar (right) run Atlantis Fish Bar, on Middle Street, in Watton. Photo: Emily Thomson

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Business owners say they are angry and frustrated after the closure of “vital roads” on its high street, calling it “another blow”.

Caroline Brown is owner of the Dutch Flower Parade, florist, in Watton. Photo: Emily ThomsonCaroline Brown is owner of the Dutch Flower Parade, florist, in Watton. Photo: Emily Thomson

Businesses across Norfolk have been hit as the pandemic forced many to close their doors or find a new way of working.

But owners in Watton say they are now faced with even more hurdles after Middle Street and part of Dereham Road have been closed off due to the coronavirus.

And with a large elderly population, who rely heavily on transport and disabled parking bays - located on Middle Street - they say they are losing business and their customers are losing confidence.

Caroline Brown, owner of the Dutch Flower Parade on the high street, said: “Watton is already on its knees, with Lloyds bank closing, the fire and now closing these roads.

George Dover, 91, is a regular customer at Atlantis Fish Bar in Watton. Photo: Emily ThomsonGeorge Dover, 91, is a regular customer at Atlantis Fish Bar in Watton. Photo: Emily Thomson

“It’s hard to survive on the high street anyway and we have been given these wonderful grants to help us during the coronavirus – well they might as well not have bothered.

“The biggest thing is the disabled parking spaces. Our clientele are older people so the convenience of parking outside is crucial and sometimes we are the only people they will see all day.

“People who have been shielding are now building their confidence to come out, but they are not doing that now. These roads are vital for us and our customers.

“If they want to kill Watton, they are going the right way about it.

Middle Street and part of Dereham Road have been closed due to Covid-19 restrictions in Watton. Photo: Emily ThomsonMiddle Street and part of Dereham Road have been closed due to Covid-19 restrictions in Watton. Photo: Emily Thomson

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Okan Ucar and Ozzy Oscar run Atlantis Fish Bar, on Middle Street, and have said the road closure, by Breckland Council, “doesn’t make any sense” and does nothing to increase shoppers’ safety on the high street.

Mr Ucar said: “95pc of our customers are older generations. They drive their cars to our door and park just outside because they can’t walk very far.

“All the customers are shocked and frustrated that they can’t get to us.”

One of Mr Ucar’s regular customers is 91-year-old George Dover, who has disabilities, and said he thinks it was a thoughtless decision.

Sam Smith owner of Posh Paws dog grooming, on Middle Street, in Watton. Photo: Emily ThomsonSam Smith owner of Posh Paws dog grooming, on Middle Street, in Watton. Photo: Emily Thomson

“I have been living in Watton since 1946 and I’m 91-years-old,” said Mr Dove.

“It is absolutely scandalous and there is no preparation for the disabled people.

“I am disabled and I am trying to get round to the butchers, but I can’t now.

“They wanted more people using the high street and now this is turning people off the High Street – which is ridiculous.

Middle Street and part of Dereham Road have been closed due to Covid-19 restrictions in Watton. Photo: Emily ThomsonMiddle Street and part of Dereham Road have been closed due to Covid-19 restrictions in Watton. Photo: Emily Thomson

“It is absolutely pointless.”

MORE: ‘The town has been wonderful’ businessman humbled by community spirit after devastating fire

Sam Smith, owner of Posh Paws Dog Grooming, on Middle Street, and she added: “Watton has a large elderly community, and it’s stopping all of those people coming out.

“They can’t drive to the front of the shop so they don’t feel confident coming out and in one foul swoop it’s been taken completely away from them.

“Shutting the road off doing isn’t doing anything for social distancing and it isn’t helping.

Kevin French, manager at Andrew Francis Funeral Services, on Middle Street, is disabled and says he has been affected by the road closures in Watton. Photo: Emily ThomsonKevin French, manager at Andrew Francis Funeral Services, on Middle Street, is disabled and says he has been affected by the road closures in Watton. Photo: Emily Thomson

“But no councillor from Watton, or even the mayor, have come down here and asked any of us how it has affected us or how we are getting on.

Since raising their concerns, officers from Breckland Council have been out to speak with the business owners.

A spokesman from the council said: “The temporary road closure was recently established as part of wider programme of initiatives to support Market Towns, and is there to enable the market to continue trading whilst social distancing rules are in place.

“We are reviewing the impact and speaking to local businesses, to make sure we apply the right balance of support.”

Ms Brown added: “Covid has affected everybody and we want to give our businesses a fighting chance. This has just been another blow for us.”

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