Published: 15:33, 21 August 2020
| Updated: 13:57, 25 August 2020
High Street traders are making a stand against a council's decision to close the road to cars on the busiest day of the week , claiming it is threatening their businesses.
Nine shops in Deal including Maxted's pet shop and Jenkins fishmongers have spoken out against the measure which was implemented for the first time last Saturday.
Deal Town Council (DTC) voted unanimously for Dover District Council and Kent County Council to close its High Street to traffic between Stanhope Road and Union Road between 10am and 2pm, on Saturdays.
They state that it is a Covid-19 measure to promote social distancing that will only run for 10 weeks and is based on the Pedestrianisation Consultation conducted earlier this year, which indicated removal of cars would encourage people to visit and spend more.
But traders say the consultation was not formal and have raised concerns over the impact on small businesses and a potential increase in CO2 emissions due to congestion elsewhere in the town. They have also asked for evidence that businesses supported the move.
Richard-Taylor Jones says his art store experienced poor sales and has questioned how his customers - many which are visiting the town for only one day - are to collect larger purchases.
He said: "I had my worst Saturday of sales in two months. It could have just been a coincidence but I'll be able to tell more by the end of October."
Directors of Merrygardens Charles and Caroline Jubber said it is having a knock on effect on their florist delivery service.
Mrs Jubber said: "It's threatening our business. We rely on our delivery van coming to the door. This weekend we had 22 hand tied boxes. You can't carry these type of flowers across to another road in gales and rain."
Mr Jubber added: "We have to deliver on an hourly basis and we have no rear access unlike to traders in the main precinct."
Chris Howe of CJ Howe jewellers said: "It's sending out the wrong message. The signs say 'High Street closed'. I had a woman call me on Tuesday to ask when the High Street was reopening. People are just baffled by it."
Jason Down of Allsorts said: "It will affect deliveries. They say to have them before 9am but that's not always feasible."
The traders affected are all small independent businesses within the north end of the town which has flourished in recent years, and which contributed to the town being named High Street of the Year in 2014.
They fear that the measure will continue beyond 10 weeks and could result in the relocation of the Saturday Market to the High Street, giving the council more opportunity to claim revenue from Union Road car park.
Mr Taylor-Jones said: "We want to be clear that if this is just a Covid related measure we totally understand but we're worried it's that there is a long term plan because they've been trying to get this for several years.
"We need an absolute guarantee from Deal Town Council that, whether they move the Union Road Car Park Market or not, no market stalls are going to be allowed to open up in the High Street.
"All the shops pay rent and rents way above what a market stall costs and to have a stall appear outside our shops on Saturday, by far the most profitable day of the week, blocking our windows, downgrading the quality of The High Street offers would be totally unacceptable.
"Yes, it is a busy place but there have been no accidents, it has worked for years like this. Why try and fix something that isn’t broken?
"Deal Town Council endanger killing the thing so many people love and what for?"
Others against the car ban include Rajh newsagents, Teresa Hair Fashions and Will & Yates home furnishings.
A statement from Deal Town Council says it wants to maintain a dialogue and work collaboratively with all businesses in the best interests of the town.
The statement said: “The experience of many residents was very positive, but it is understood that the measures aren’t supported by everyone.
“Some businesses have been inconvenienced, which the council regrets. The council is seeking to work with business owners who express concerns and will do what they can to help, provided this does not counteract the COVID 19 safety measures put in place.”
The temporary scheme runs for ten Saturdays and is being monitored weekly. Improvements are being made where required including the provision of ‘cyclists dismount’ signs and a review of additional measures for disabled/push chair access.
The council says: No decisions have been made regarding a permanent arrangement. The Transport and Infrastructure Committee will assess the impactas the scheme provides practical experience and information of the pros and cons of pedestrianisation.
There is no truth to the rumour that the market will be moved from Union Road car park to the High Street
“Regarding the economic impact of the COVID crisis there is further work to do on the recovery of the High Street and the Council is in contact with both KCC and DDC about this.
“Deal Town Council declared a Climate Emergency in 2019 and are supporting the Government’s plan to encourage walking and cycling and reduce unnecessary car journeys.”
Cllr Sue Beer said: “I am concerned that misinformation is causing people unnecessary worry.
"Many of the things I have heard about from business owners are untrue, which is why the council has made a significant effort, with letters and personal visits, to keep people informed.”