Published: 06:00, 06 June 2020
A one-way system for shoppers should be introduced as a way to maintain social distancing on Whitstable's narrow streets.
That's the view of one councillor, who says residents are worried about the potential for huge crowds when non-essential businesses reopen this month.
The government is allowing retailers to welcome customers, including fashion stores, charity shops and retail art galleries, from Monday, June 15.
But Cllr Neil Baker (Con) has concerns about how this could work in the town's small streets, and has pitched the idea of a one-way system for vehicles and pedestrians.
"There are some areas where you can temporarily widen the road with cones, but of course in Whitstable, that would stop vehicle movement," he said.
"Given when there are roadworks in the town, Cromwell Road is used as a one-way loop - it is at least something which has happened in the past."
His particular concern is Harbour Street, which is home to a number of retailers but has narrow paths and a road wide enough for just one vehicle.
Cllr Baker said it is an option he knows works - but admitted some residents and business owners had complained about it in the past.
"What other alternatives would there be?" he added.
"I think they are severely limited with Whitstable not being built for the motor vehicle at the best of times.
"Like supermarkets have operated one-way shopping with arrows on the floor, I think there is an argument to have people walking in the same direction.
"I think it could work but you wouldn’t want any business to be disadvantaged by this."
He also said if people have to walk or drive in a different direction, it could be a "sacrifice" that needs to be made to keep companies running.
But others believe it could be bad for business.
Kim Foster, owner of Copperfields in the high street, has suggested closing on-street parking in the town centre instead and using those spaces for people to queue.
"Whenever we have had a one-way system in the town, I would say on average we lose 30% to 40% of our customers," he said.
"People change their shopping habits and we lose people from Tankerton and Chestfield.
"Members of the public have a responsibility to social distance and to queue two metres apart.
"I am not convinced a one-way system helps in any way because you are still going to have queuing outside shops."
Cllr Chris Cornell (Lab) is also not convinced such a scheme would work.
"Residents are rightly concerned about the problems with social distancing along the high street," he said.
"However, it is only one way to protect yourself.
"A one-way system along Harbour Street has a substantial effect on businesses at the top-end of town. These would need to be considered on any plans going forward."
A Kent County Council spokesman said it is considering a number of options and working with Canterbury City Council to "devise schemes".
Meanwhile, a one-way pedestrian system could also be introduced in Sevenoaks town centre.
Supporters say the proposal would enable businesses to reopen safely while also ensuring visitors can maintain social distancing rules.
However, concerns have been raised by the Sevenoaks Town Partnership, which is made up of several local councillors, residents and businesses, around the "workability" and "practicality" of the idea.
Cllr Tony Clayton (Lib Dem), who spoke with the partnership on Thursday, said: "The immediate proposals that the district council has put together has filled everybody, councillors, residents and retailers, with some horror."
His comments came during a virtual cabinet meeting held by Sevenoaks council on Thursday night.
However, Sevenoaks council has dismissed the accusation that the idea came from the district authority. After the virtual meeting, a spokesman said: “The proposal for a pedestrian one-way system did not come from us.
"It was included as a question in a Sevenoaks Town Council and Partnership document published recently. It was not something that was discussed with us prior to publishing.”
Sevenoaks council leader Peter Fleming (Con) said in the virtual meeting:"I think it would be unfair to call them district council proposals, they were part of a discussion that was had with Sevenoaks Town Council, the town partnership, Kent County Council (KCC) and us."
"If the one-way system is in place when the restaurants and cafes open, which I assume will be two or three weeks after the shops, they will cause serious harm."
He added: "It was a proposal put forward for debate by the town team and the town council."
Cllr Clayton said there would need to be a large increase in the number of pedestrian crossing points around Sevenoaks town centre, at a minimum.
Cllr Clayton added: "If the one-way system is in place when the restaurants and cafes open, which I assume will be two or three weeks after the shops, they will cause serious harm."
But, Cllr Fleming said that any final decision on a potential one-way system would be taken by KCC, as the local highways authority.
The Sevenoaks council virtual meeting comes seven days after County Hall received a £8million boost from the Department for Transport to invest in walking and cycling projects in the 12 districts.
Sevenoaks council's main opposition leader, Cllr Elizabeth Purves (Lib Dem), said the district authority should consider applying for the KCC cash to introduce a 20mph zone around the town centre.
The aim would to provide greater road safety from the likely influx of pedestrians, which could include 1,800 students from Sevenoaks School and Walthamstow Hall, with pupils not returning for their studies until September.
Other measures being considered by Sevenoaks council include a phased return of council-owned car parking fees, which will remain free of charge until at least June 22.