‘Ridiculous’ decision to close some parking bays
Traders in Congleton have slammed Cheshire East Council's “ridiculous” decision to suspend some on-street parking in the town centre.
On Monday, when many shops in the town reopened for the first time since lockdown, a number of measures to encourage social distancing were implemented by the borough council including the suspension of parking bays on Swan Bank and along parts of High Street and Lawton Street.
Coun Laura Crane, the Cabinet member for highways, said when the temporary measures were announced that they would be under constant review and that the council's priority was to “protect people and local businesses”.
The measures also include signs reminding shoppers to observe social distancing rules and highlighting one-way routes for pedestrians on each side of the narrow Mill Street.
Frank Hilldrup, owner of Congleton Bazaar and Emporium on Lawton Street, said that the changes to the street were “absolutely ridiculous”.
“There aren't enough people walking on Lawton Street for them to be needed anyway,” he said. “They won't really keep anyone apart.
“This business with the suspension of parking bays - nobody wants that. It's not helping anyone, especially the traders.”
On Monday, Mr Hilldrup, who is holding off opening the emporium until he has had the chance to replenish stock, doubted whether the measures would be in place for much longer.
“These things were put in place without any consultation to the town council. We always seem to have this dichotomy between Congleton Town Council and Cheshire East.
“I think Cheshire East will probably adapt the measures soon because they're under review.”
Philanthropist and former businesswoman Dawn Gibbins, whose daughter April Wild owns the café Wild and Wild on Bridge Street, said that the new social distancing signs looked “negative”.
She said: “It's very confusing because it looks as though the roads are completely closed. Bridge Street isn't normally open to cars anyway. It's just a little bit of a negative image. We want the town to thrive. We just don't want that negative influence on shoppers.
“I'm a tinker. I'm always writing to the town council about different things, but maybe I need to start writing to Cheshire East Council instead.
“I'm still optimistic for how it will go with the shops reopening. It's a massive day for Congleton.”
Speaking to the Chronicle on Monday morning, Wendy Payton, the owner of Wendy's Pet Salon on Lawton Street, said that the parking bays outside her shop were not yet closed off.
She said: “This is one of the only spaces to park now so it gets taken up quickly.
“The measures were supposed to be from today (Monday) but I don't have any barriers yet. I don't know if someone is going to come and put them up.
“One of the reasons I took on this shop is because you can park directly outside it. That's the beauty of the access and that's why I like being in the town.”
Later on Monday, Ms Payton told the Chronicle that she had a “personal visit” to reassure her that the parking restrictions wouldn't affect her customers and that the councillors in Congleton understood the difficulties that would have arisen otherwise.
Ms Payton said she wanted to thank her customers for their “fantastic” support.
During the lockdown, 290 dogs missed their appointments at the salon and Ms Payton has been prioritising those most in need of a trim.
In the Chronicle last week, Congleton Town Council expressed disappointment to Cheshire East, saying that the time and effort that it put into considering traffic management for the town had been “largely ignored for a blanket approach”.
The town hall said: “Congleton Town Council spent many hours considering the needs of traders, safety of the public and travel needs of residents at a variety of meetings which included the Covid-19 Emergency Committee, the Integrated Transport Working Group and a lengthy debate at a full council meeting.”
The town council added that feeding into these meetings was the opinions and concerns raised by many of the high street traders.
It said: “This led the town council to believe that solutions would be tailored to individual towns and a great deal of thought, discussion and evidence was put into what would best work for Congleton.”
Responding this week, Coun Crane said: “We are implementing a number of temporary measures and proposals in response to the Government's easing of the lockdown.
“We have engaged with town and parish councils and local ward councillors to devise 16 temporary and experimental high street plans. In order to develop the initial proposals, we requested ideas for consideration from all town and parish councils, including Congleton.
“Some of these ideas have been used in this initial proposal (being implemented on 15th June), others are to be considered as the council moves on to the next phase which will focus on measures to promote active travel.
“All these measures will be closely monitored, and we are listening to any feedback.
“Changes to each town's proposal will be made where improvements can be made, and, if needs be, measures will be removed.”
Coun Crane said Cheshire East was “delivering a two-stage process in the borough”, which comprises:
* Stage one: schemes introduced by 15th June to support social distancing in high streets to encourage people back to shops and businesses in a safer environment; and
* Stage two: schemes for delivery up to 31st July to improve access into major town centres and places of employment, focusing on walking and cycling.
She added: “Stage two measures will focus on schemes to improve facilities for walking and cycling, in particular, to improve travel choices and contribute to public health. We will continue to work with town and parish councils to ensure these measures meet the needs of local people.
“The Government has provided a range of funding for the borough for stage one and stage two, measures of £320,000 and £155,000 respectively, as part of the emergency financial support to help re-start the economy. We are aligning this investment in active travel with the proposals made by town and parish councils, and our wider transport strategy.
“The Government announced a £5bn investment into walking, cycling and bus travel in the March budget and once Government has confirmed our settlement from this budget, we will decide how this can also be used to boost walking, cycling and bus travel across the borough; building upon the temporary and experimental measures we are introducing in June and July.”