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'It's like the Berlin Wall': Harleston businesses divided over social distancing measures in town centre

Social distancing measures introduced in Harleston town centre have divided opinion among business owners, with some saying the restrictions will cripple them.

South Norfolk Council’s ‘Confidence Campaign’ has seen £200,000 set aside for the purpose of transforming the area’s market towns, introducing signage and road closures to stem the spread of coronavirus and encourage safe shopping.

A survey carried out by the council revealed more than a third of businesses opposed some of the new measures, with many concerned they will see reduced footfall as a result.

Business owners come out in force to show their disapproval of the new measures
Business owners come out in force to show their disapproval of the new measures

Certain bones of contention were the partial or entire closures of The Thoroughfare, Church Street and Swan Lane – some of which have been adjusted following a consultation with affected business owners.

Andrew Lawrence, who runs Budgens in London Road – which had seen a drop in customers due to the closure of The Thoroughfare and Church Street – likened the measures to the Berlin Wall.

The 67-year-old, from Beeston, said: “We’re very concerned about the road system. You can’t split a town in two – it’s like having a Berlin Wall through the middle.

“We understand and sympathise with what the council has to do, but it’s been very rushed and without any forethought.”

Following an online consultation with business owners last week, the council released a revised plan, including the reopening of Church Street, allowing significantly more traffic to run through the town.

Julia Gilby, who runs GM Auto Accessories in Union Street, however, said that she will not be happy until the entire scheme is reversed.

“I want the whole lot gone,” she said. “It’s totally bonkers – this awful enclosure the council has imposed on the town is crippling businesses. If they had wanted to keep people apart, they could have had people walk up one side and walk down the other – surely it’s not that difficult?”

In repose to the criticism, South Norfolk Council conducted its own independent survey, speaking to 43 business owners in the area. In total, 51 per cent of respondents said they were positive about the scheme, while 40 per cent were negative, and nine per cent said they were neutral.

Andy Orford, who runs DA Browne and Son Butchers in The Thoroughfare, said he sympathised with the council, while also understanding the frustration of owners.

“I think the council has just tried its best – it had to do something fairly sharpish and came up with an idea,” said the 41-year-old.

“It’s hard times for everyone – the Government has told the council what it needs to do. But you’re talking about people’s businesses they have had for years, so you can understand where all the emotion is coming from.”

Trevor Graham, vice-chairman of Redenhall with Harleston Town Council, which had helped South Norfolk implement the new measures, said: “It’s been done to make people feel safe, to come out of isolation, and to shop.

“I recognise there were some problems with communication. We should have made it more clear and said why we were doing it.”

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