Published: 17:28, 24 January 2021
| Updated: 17:31, 24 January 2021
The eleventh-hour closure of a Christmas market has been defended by local authority chiefs for being in the "public interest" amid the pandemic.
Kent County Council's (KCC) scrutiny committee met earlier today to review the controversial decision to shut Broadstairs Market, Thanet, over safety fears last month. The east Kent district was one of the UK Covid hotspots.
Cllr Clair Bell (Con), KCC's cabinet member for public health, told the panel: "I think this was the right decision to take and was in the public interest."
However, Broadstairs Christmas Market co-founder Paul Kennedy slammed the shutdown as "harsh" after it was originally approved by Thanet District Council in December.
At the time, KCC said the market posed a "serious" and "imminent" threat to life. More than 500 visitors, some from outside of Kent, were expected to browse the 28 food and drink market stalls.
But, County Hall public health chiefs ordered the event's closure on December 11 after a site visit was carried out involving Trading Standards. Organisers were said to have "insufficient" resources to make the event Covid-secure.
At the time Thanet had an infection rate of 422 cases per 100,000 people , which means almost 1 in 250 residents had the virus.
"An outdoor market of this nature...was much safer than visiting indoor shops and supermarkets for some pre-Christmas shopping..."
Broadstairs county councillor Rosalind Binks (Con) said she was "dismayed" that the "dangerous" event was allowed to run after she turned it down as chairman of Broadstair's Town Council finance committee.
Speaking to her council colleagues in today's virtual meeting, she said: "It was approved by Thanet council officers in a fairly depleted department.
"Whilst they had worries it dragged on and on until the council realised it had to do something."
She added: "I applaud KCC's actions because it was generally accepted as the right decision."
In response, Thanet District Council leader Cllr Rick Everitt (Lab) described the comments as “disappointing”.
He said: “In the context of a global pandemic we are doing all we can to protect our residents, support local business and ensure that we continue to deliver key local services to the community.
“Placing blame on one organisation within this context is unnecessary and unhelpful."
Meanwhile, KCC's Labour leader, Cllr Dara Farrell questioned why similar actions were not taken against other companies during the scrutiny meeting.
He cited the huge queues outside Primark in Bluewater Shopping Centre, near Greenhithe.
Following the market ruling, KCC's scrutiny committee has requested for a review to be undertaken over the coronavirus legal powers that the county council has at its disposal.
After the meeting, Mr Kennedy said: "This was a small outdoor Christmas market consisting of outdoor retail only, with no bars or children’s entertainment where visitors might congregate.
"An outdoor market of this nature, with managed visitor numbers, social distancing, and, extra sanitation measures in place, was much safer than visiting indoor shops and supermarkets for some pre-Christmas shopping."
On November 27, KCC public chiefs also faced scrutiny over their handling of the chaotic closure of Circus Zyair in Paddock Wood during the October half-term. Dozens of disappointed families were turned away at the last minute.