Published: 06:00, 11 September 2020
| Updated: 10:59, 11 September 2020
Traders and disabled people have hit out at the way the council has dealt with reopening a town centre following the Covid-19 lockdown.
They say the blanket closure of key Faversham streets, designed to make it easier for pedestrians to maintain social distancing, are preventing shops from receiving vital deliveries - with some saying they may not survive the upheaval.
Swale Borough Council was allocated £134,000 from the government’s Reopening High Streets Safely Fund, to be spent on “supporting business communities with measures that enable safe trading in public places”.
But it has emerged the authority has so far spent just £3,000 in Faversham - amounting to just over 2% of the budget - where it has been used on items including signage and barriers.
The entirety of Market Place and Middle Row has also been closed to traffic between 10am and 4pm from Monday to Thursday, to improve social distancing. Sections of Court Street and West Street have been shut from where they meet Market Place.
This is in addition to existing market day closures, which see the area shut to traffic on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday.
But shopkeepers say the measures are causing problems.
Tim Brown, chair of Faversham Traders’ Association, said: “The traders aren’t happy. They are struggling to get deliveries in. One shop has been told by its suppliers that they can’t deliver to them any more.
“Disabled access is also a huge problem. There are some shops that have said if something isn’t done, it won’t be possible for them to continue in the town.”
Mr Brown feels the new closures should be scrapped.
“They could go back to just being closed on market days - that’s the only time the roads are really busy,” he said.
“The council could spend some of this grant on barriers to widen the pavement to give pedestrians the feeling of safety.
“But it’s not a busy road anyway. It’s generally only used by disabled drivers and deliveries.”
Mr Brown says he has contacted SBC with his concerns and suggestions as to how the funding could be spent, but that his attempts have been ignored.
“Lots of traders and members of the public have emailed them about the difficulties everyone’s having,” he said. “They’ve had probably hundreds of emails.”
Among them is Sarah Williams, who has written to SBC saying: “As a disabled person, I used to be able to drive into town and park, using my blue badge, for a while to shop, visit my bank, go to the hairdressers or opticians, pick up parking vouchers from the council office, meet a friend for coffee.
“The current regulations have taken all that away from me.”
After listening to local concerns, Faversham Town Council debated the issue of road closures on July 24, and voted in favour of recommending to SBC that timings of the closures be reduced, but the changes were not adopted by SBC.
Faversham MP Helen Whately has also criticised the lack of funding allocated to the town.
“I’m shocked that so little money from this fund has been spent in Faversham so far,” she said. “We need to be doing everything possible to support local businesses through these tough times.
“The money was allocated to Swale by the government three months ago, and back in June the Borough Council assured me Faversham would get its fair share. The council must follow through on their commitment and make sure the town gets the support available to help it get back on its feet.”
But SBC confirmed this week it had only allocated £32,000 of the funding so far across the whole borough.
A spokesman said: “Due to the strict criteria attached to the funding, we are only able to use it for specific purposes - short term, temporary safety improvements related to coronavirus.
“We are more than happy to work with any town centre business or user on any suggestions for how the remainder of this funding could help.
“We will also be looking at how we can use our own funding to improve the town centres in the longer term. Pedestrianisation makes it easier for people to visit and support local shops safely. The road closures are not in place all day - only during peak times when the streets are busier with shoppers - and those with disabilities can make use of free blue badge parking close to the pedestrianised areas.
“We know it has been an extremely tough time for residents and local businesses, but things are simply not back to normal yet.
“We are continuously monitoring the situation and listening to the feedback, but our number one priority is, and will remain, keeping people safe.”