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Gravesend shop keepers fear impact of town centre road closures on trade recovery

If Covid-19 doesn't kill their trade off, new road closures will, disgruntled business owners have claimed.

Extended hours banning traffic from Gravesend town centre came into effect last month in a bid to make roads safer for shoppers.

Windmill Street in Gravesend is deserted. (37996269)
Windmill Street in Gravesend is deserted. (37996269)

It means all traffic is now prohibited from Bank Street, High Street, Jury Street, King Street and sections of New Road and Windmill Street between 8am to 8pm, seven days a week.

Before the new Temporary Traffic Regulation Order (TTRO) came into force on June 26, those areas were vehicle-free between 10am and 6pm.

Council bosses say the move is an important one to ensure shoppers have safer access to the town centre when accessing essential services such as banking.

But disgruntled business owners have hit out at the new measures which they say are harming their trade at a time when they need it most.

Martin Allen has been running his carpet and flooring business from premises in Windmill Street for the past 25 years.

Long term business owners James Munns, left and Martin Allen from Allen Carpets are both concerned about the recent changes
Long term business owners James Munns, left and Martin Allen from Allen Carpets are both concerned about the recent changes

The recent changes mean he now has to get up earlier each morning to leave his home in Walderslade and ensure he does not miss deliveries which must now arrive before the 8am cut off.

"My wife is in tears," he said. "I work 12 hour days and it means I have to get up even earlier to work around it.

"I have lost a supplier who won't deliver to me. My fitters won't go and do certain jobs now, so I have to myself.

Martin's shop recently reopened following a three-month coronavirus-enforced hiatus and despite a busy few weeks he claims his trade is now being severely impacted by the changes.

"We are trying to get our business up and running and then they do this," he said.

"There are no queues outside the banks, there is no one down here.

Windmill Street in Gravesend town centre is a vehicle access point for many of the businesses
Windmill Street in Gravesend town centre is a vehicle access point for many of the businesses

"Now things have settled down there is no need for this – it is a massive inconvenience."

A few doors down, arts and crafts shop Munns of Gravesend, which has been trading in the town for more than 100 years, has also been feeling the financial pinch of the pandemic.

Store owner James Munns, 72, said it was too early to say how much the extended pedestrian-only hours would impact on them, but added "it will not make life any easier".

"The nearest loading bay is at the Civic Centre which is quite a long way," he said.

Mr Munns accepted the council's need to make the area safe but added perhaps "more leeway" could be afforded to local businesses through a relaxation of parking restrictions, which he says in turn could incentivise more shoppers.

The shopkeeper went on to explain they were not expecting too many deliveries at the moment but if the scheme was still in place later in the year, it could make things more tricky.

Debbie Hellier runs the Crumbs cafe in King Street
Debbie Hellier runs the Crumbs cafe in King Street

"We are not in normal times so it is difficult to tell," he said. "The time will come when we start to get busier."

Access to suppliers has proven a particular issue for Debbie Hellier, who runs sandwich shop Crumbs in King Street.

The 57-year-old said: "I can't get all my suppliers in so I have not had any milk delivered for the past few days.

"It's been a week since they have been shutting the gates and I can't always unload that early in the morning."

It means Debbie has had to lock up her cafe soon after opening each morning to run across to big supermarkets and stock up on supplies.

But with not all of these opening early – and those which do sometimes having queues – it can prove difficult to get everything she needs on time.

Scott Cassettari of Danslow Butchers in Windmill Street, believes the rules should be applied fairly.
Scott Cassettari of Danslow Butchers in Windmill Street, believes the rules should be applied fairly.

Another trader who claims to have lost out over the changes is butcher Scott Cassettari.

The 52-year-old, who works at Danslow Butchers, has had to make longer trips to get deliveries which are no longer able to park outside in Windmill Street during the same hours as before.

He said: "Sometimes we have 50 to 60 cages coming in and they can't park outside the shop.

"Last week it was raining really hard and the boxes all got soaked."

The butcher also felt it was unfair dustbin lorries and other utility vehicles were exempt from the rules while his suppliers and disabled customers are not.

"It is either one rule for one, or one rule for everyone," he said. "Why are some people allowed to park and not others?"

The Sukhothai in Windmill Street has seen a reduction in footfall Photo: Google
The Sukhothai in Windmill Street has seen a reduction in footfall Photo: Google

A Thai restaurant owner claims the timetable changes for vehicle access and parking are impacting on her ability to serve customers at key times in the evening.

Sasita Chabchit runs Sukhothai which serves primarily as a sit-in eatery for diners with takeaway options for collection only.

But the Windmill Street restaurant owner says customers are unable to access the shop between 6pm and 8pm in the evening because of the restrictions.

She said: "Two weeks before the gate time change, my customers could drive to pick up the food in front of my restaurant and a lot of my customers came to support us.

"But now my customers do not feel comfortable at all. People are not willing to park and walk from far away.

"I don't make any money from them if they don't have easy access to us."

"The business in Gravesend is dying. They are just killing us."

With parking restrictions in place, Sasita claims she is only getting around a third of the custom she had prior to lockdown and the rule change.

"I'm trying my best to survive," she said. "The business in Gravesend is dying. They are just killing us.

"If the government wants business to survive, local authorities like Gravesend need to support businesses."

Gravesham council said it had taken the decision to introduce the measures, which have been implemented in other parts of the county, for safety reasons.

It said the order had been put in place with pedestrian safety at the forefront of its mind given the large volumes of people seen queuing for shops and services.

Leader of Gravesham council Cllr John Burden said: “The reopening of the majority of businesses in the town centre has seen a real upsurge in visitors to the town, which is good to see and something we want to continue to help our local traders get back on their feet.

Leader of Gravesham council, John Burden said the decision had been made with pedestrian safety in mind
Leader of Gravesham council, John Burden said the decision had been made with pedestrian safety in mind

“With social distancing measures still in place, inevitably there have been some long queues for the most popular shops and pubs, while restaurants and cafes now have outside seating areas where there were none before.

“While we understand the temporary changes we have made to the times vehicles can access certain town centre streets has meant some businesses have had to adapt their arrangements for deliveries, the safety of visitors and supporting our local economy are our primary concerns.

"The extension of the time these key areas are pedestrianised for helps achieve that."

The council added the TTRO, which can remain in place for 18 months, would be kept under review and encouraged those with specific concerns to bring them to its attention.

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