Safety measures as town welcomes back shoppers
Enhanced cleaning measures are in place for public toilets and car park ticket machines in Biddulph town centre ahead of a further easing of the lockdown restrictions on Monday.
Shops selling non-essential items can reopen from 15th June and Staffordshire Moorlands District Council is working with the county council on measures to ensure people can move safely around town centres.
But while Cheshire East Council has announced temporary road closures, the removal of parking spaces on streets and the closure of some car parks, and the installation of social distancing street signs in a move to ensure social distancing can be observed safely in town centres, nothing so specific has been mentioned in the Moorlands.
District council leader Coun Sybil Ralphs said: “With more of our shops, markets and businesses set to start opening up again from next week, the council is working to put in place measures to ensure people can return to our towns and villages with confidence that it is safe to do so.
“That will mean some changes to town centres and to how shops and business operate so that the necessary social distancing, and other safety measures, can be observed to protect everyone. “We're further supporting our local economy by beginning to open up the facilities which an increased number of people in towns will require, such as public toilets, and we're looking forward to welcoming people back.
“I would, however, strongly urge people to behave responsibly when they are out and about by staying two metres apart and following the specific requirements of any shops or amenities they visit. That way, we can all stay safe as we gradually begin to return to those activities we enjoyed before lockdown.”
Public toilets, including those at the Bus Hub in Biddulph, will be open from Monday. They will operate on a one-in-one-out basis and the conveniences will need to close completely while they are cleaned. Opening hours may also be reduced.
Sarah Haydon, Biddulph Town Council's chief officer, said: “We want to make sure people come back to the high street, things need to happen quite quickly.
“The district council needs to be supporting the traders. We need to signal that the town is safe to shop in.
“Clearly the town council can do some of this but the responsibility is at district level.”
She said the amount of funding, which would come via the district council for any changes, was unknown.
Ms Haydon pointed at certain measures that she believed should be introduced: “There's quite a few places in town that people touch from car parking machines, to pedestrian crossing buttons. Do we need some cleaning stations for these or do we employ someone to clean the buttons?
“We have some very narrow pavements in some places which makes it very difficult for people to pass each other. We could look at having one-way streets as well.
“Then there are visual reminders such as social distancing reminder signs.
“The buses have got to continue to come into town because they bring people in. And maybe streets could be widened so people can socially distance.”
She said town council had always been “very pro-active in getting things moving” but added there were certain aspects that required input from the county council in relation to highways and the district council for licensing matters.
“It won't be dealt with overnight. We have to come up with long-term creative options for High Street,” she said.
District Coun Hilda Sheldon, who represents Biddulph West, praised her authority in respect of the distribution of grants to business during the pandemic, but said she had not heard anything in respect of social distancing measures in town centres as the lockdown was eased further.
Coun Sheldon, who hopes to reopen her shoe shop Brammers, on Station Road, Biddulph, on Monday, said: “It's down to people using their common sense - make sure they socially distance and keep a mask in their pocket to use where appropriate. It's up to everyone to be sensible.”
She believed a one-way system for pedestrians could be operated, if needed. “Most people are stepping away from others when passing. Some people forget or cannot be bothered, or they have not got the message. It's down to common sense and the new rules we've been given.”
She said as far as opening businesses was concerned, there would be slightly different interpretations for each one, depending on what trade was involved.
“It's a case of thinking of what problems there could be and responding to that. Door handles etc will have to be thoroughly cleaned. It's very difficult and a lot of extra work. If parents come with children how many can we have in at one time?”
In respect of Cheshire East Council announcing social distancing safety measures in the town centre, Coun Sheldon said it had the advantage of being a unitary authority whereas Biddulph came under the three-tier system with responsibility for services divided between the town, district and county councils.
Staffordshire Moorlands District Council is also working with Chambers of Commerce, Growth Hub and Destination Staffordshire to support businesses with advice, training and funding to help them re-open.
To date, the council has paid small business and retail, hospitality and leisure grants totalling £20.6m to more than 1,800 Staffordshire Moorland businesses - approximately 91% of those eligible.