Published: 08:26, 16 July 2021
| Updated: 08:28, 16 July 2021
A temporary road closure which has lasted more than a year and described as ‘a nail in the coffin’ for small businesses will be lifted.
Swale council said the closure was put in place last summer to help encourage visitors back to the town centre after the first lockdown by creating space to safely social distance.
However, with restrictions coming to an end on Monday the closure will be removed, allowing traffic to use the high streets again.
Cllr Monique Bonney, cabinet member for economy and property at Swale council, said:“The government has taken the view that despite rising cases the restrictions can be eased, but we are urging people to remain cautious and behave sensibly.
“The vaccination programme is helping to reduce the impact of the pandemic, but we aren’t out of the woods yet. We all need to do what we can to keep each other safe, and to try to avoid restrictions being reimposed later in the year.
“If restrictions are reintroduced in future, we will consider using the temporary road closures again as an option to help people use the town centres safely.”
The Sheerness High Street closure, from 10am to 4pm Monday to Saturday, has caused uproar among business owners who have seen their incomes plummet over the past year.
But, the news it will soon be lifted has been welcomed.
David Schwab, who runs Bitz and Bobs in Sheerness Broadway, said it was the “best news ever”.
He said: “It’s absolutely brilliant news. The best decision the council could ever make because businesses were suffering very badly due to the closures.”
“It will make a huge difference to trade,” he added. “It’s been tough over the past year or so. But onwards and upwards.”
Ricardo Aroujo, who owns RJA Electrical Services, launched the ‘Sheerness High Street Against Road Closure’ campaign group on Facebook and called for supporters to join him in peaceful protests against the town’s pedestrianisation scheme.
Groups have since been gathering at the entrance to the High Street each week.
Mr Aroujo said: “We are here for one reason, we have got a small business and we want to carry on here with a small business, we don’t want to move somewhere else; so it’s good news.”
“It has been tough, without a doubt,” he added. “I am definitely pleased with the decision. We hope people continue to support us. It’s all about shopping locally.”
Sue Probert, who runs Daisy Chains florists, said it was good news for the town.
She said: “We had adjusted the way we needed to work and the way people were able to collect their orders, via a back access, so that has helped us tremendously. But there are people that haven’t been able to use the town, especially elderly and disabled shoppers.”
MP Gordon Henderson (Con), who represents Sittingbourne and Sheppey, previously said the closure of the town’s High Street was “stupid” and that any suggestion of it being made permanent “will be the final nail in the coffin of our high streets”.
Heather Ayers, who lives in Sheerness, has struggled with the road closure over the past year.
Speaking about it being lifted, she said: “It is certainly good news for a lot of disabled people who haven’t been able to get to the shops until after 4pm.”
The 79-year-old, who is disabled herself and cannot go anywhere without a taxi, said: “If I had wanted to go and have my hair or nails done, or to any shop, it would have to be after 4pm, so I could only go to one shop.
“It’s been difficult for all disabled people, who have had this problem, and it’s been a lot of stress.
“To go to the High Street, it would have to be a very valid reason. I can only walk a very few steps, so I can’t be dropped elsewhere.
“I understand why it was put in place. The restrictions were there for a reason, but the ends didn’t justify the means, I felt.”
She added: “I want to say thank you to all the shop holders who have worked through these difficult times.”
At the end of May, Swale council announced it was running a three-week public consultation on the controversial pedestrianisation of the town centre.
The council has confirmed it was lifted because the guidance had changed, although the consultation is set to be discussed in September.