Published: 19:11, 17 May 2021
| Updated: 08:46, 18 May 2021
Fed-up shopkeepers say they will not give up after staging a peaceful protest against a town's pedestrianisation scheme.
Police blocked the entrance to Sheerness High Street as business owners gathered at 10am this morning to try and stop the barriers being put in place at the junction with Millennium Way.
Three officers attended after Swale council warned police and its contractors about the protest. The officers spoke to traders for about half-an-hour before enabling wardens to put the barriers in place. No arrests were made.
The High Street has been closed to traffic six days a week since last June as part of the government's anti-Covid regulations, but shopkeepers who have seen their incomes plummet say enough is enough.
David Schwab, who runs Bitz and Bobs in Sheerness Broadway, said: "As we are coming out of lockdown and today is the day when everything opens, the road should open with it.
"The road was originally closed for Covid and social distancing, so as the restrictions are easing, this should be reopened.
"I also believe that by having the High Street closed, you're just sending people to Neats Court where there is no social distancing in place - it's not fair.
"Why aren't both of the other ends of the High Street cordoned off, or Neats Court, or Leysdown, or anywhere else on the Island for that matter? We are a small town and we will go out of business very slowly if this doesn't change.
"The big shops are going already. There's not enough footfall to keep us all going. We are all hanging on at the moment by a string."
Kerry Parker, part-owner of W.K. at 140 High Street, which offers a key cutting service, shoe repairing, engraving and more, said: "We are 40% down in business.
"It should be open like it was before. The reasons given for closure are ludicrous.
"The entire country is opening today, yet our High Street is staying shut."
She added: "All of the London High Streets have never closed and they're far busier than our town.
"Every single place you go shopping, there are scores of people - it just doesn't make sense."
Ricardo Aroujo, who works for RJA Electrical Services, launched the 'Sheerness High Street Against Road Closure' campaign group on Facebook and called for supporters to join him in today's protest.
Speaking afterwards, he said: "We will not give up. We are hoping to stage a protest every week until someone comes out to talk to us.
"We will do it again next Tuesday at 10am and, hopefully, even more people will turn up. We are not there to make lives difficult, we are just trying to make our voices heard."
He added: "Everyone says their takings are down. We were told originally that the road closure was due to Covid and we agreed with that, but we would have thought with today and the restrictions easing across the country that the road would have been reopened.
"If Swale council is going to keep it closed and they are not giving incentives for people to come here, it's going to be a lot harder for people to continue trading."
The campaign coincides with the start of a consultation by Swale council to decide exactly what to do with the High Street when Covid restrictions are finally eased.
Some shoppers say the closures from 10am to 4pm Monday to Saturday has made it easier to stroll along the road and has cut vehicle emissions.
But others, mainly the elderly and disabled, have complained because buses can no longer enter the town during the restricted times and motorists have lost 20 minutes of free parking.