A RALLYING cry has come from a New Forest MP for shoppers to dig deep as non-essential stores across the district reopened their doors this week after nearly three months.
Following the government go-ahead for high street trading to resume from Monday, businesses have been welcoming back customers with safety measures to ensure hygiene and social distancing.
Town centres will also see changes, and the county council has announced New Milton will be the first to see the “implementation of measures to assist with social distancing and cycling and walking”. Other towns, including Totton and Lymington, will follow.
New Forest West MP Sir Desmond Swayne tweeted a video from Lymington High Street during Saturday’s market in which he urged people to help boost the economy.
He said: “Time to get out to the shops again and start spending money.
“The economy is tanking. It’s time for you to do your bit now by coming out from the lock-down and spending some money to get the economy going again.”
Shoppers returning to Station Road in New Milton on Monday found controlled entry to stores and signage encouraging social distancing on the pavements.
Yellow-and-blue notices on the ground and on street furniture featured messages such as “Please keep left” and “Please remember social distancing”.
Manning the Station Road entrance to department store Bradbeers, manager Phil Adams was delighted to see shoppers crossing the threshold for the first time since March.
“I’m pleased with the amount of people who have come along today,” he said.
“We can have a maximum of 50 people in the store at one time, and I have colleagues telling me when people are going in and out.”
Sanitisation points are dotted around the store, screens fitted at the counters, and there is a separate exit onto Elm Avenue as well as one-way systems. Fitting rooms remain closed, but returns are still accepted, with clothes quarantined before being returned to sale.
One of Bradbeers’ customers, Rosie Coker, said: “It’s common sense, isn’t it, really? It’s
positive because you hope there will be some sort of normality.”
But one man, who wanted to remain anonymous, was concerned the government had been too eager to allow non-essential shops to reopen while the pandemic was still claiming lives.
“I think it’s too early,” said the man, who had a face mask hanging around his neck. “The signage is sensible, if everyone does what it says. But some people just think they’re not going to get the virus.”
The town council has applied to Hampshire County Council for permission to put additional safety measures in place, including closing vehicle access at the junction of Station and Old Milton roads.
Allowing pedestrians to spill onto a coned-off lane of Station Road by the traffic lights would address a particularly narrow section of pavement. Other measures include closing Old Milton Road between Station Road and the mini roundabout with Whitefield Road, with access only for businesses and homes.
A stretch of Osborne Road is also set to be closed between its junctions with Station and Spencer roads. Access to the Osborne Road car park would still be provided from the Spencer Road end.
Mayor Cllr Alvin Reid told the A&T on Wednesday that final permission from Hampshire County Council was still awaited.
“We are doing all we can to help our businesses and traders during this difficult transition period,” he said. “In doing so we want to make our streets as safe as possible within social distancing rules for our residents and visitors.”
The town council-run weekly market in Station Road, which had continued in a reduced state throughout lockdown, selling essential food, has expanded in recent weeks with measures in place.
Town development manager Suna King said the market had “never looked so good” with the addition of new stalls offering items such as artisan bread, bratwurst sausages and curry spices.
Councillor Rob Humby, deputy leader and executive member for economy, transport and environment at Hampshire County Council, said changes to 166 traffic signals across the area had already been made “to give pedestrians more space and time”.
Communities can also add their suggestions at: www.hants.gov.uk/transport/transportschemes/hantscovidtravel, as well as see which schemes are complete, due to start or in development.
“We’re committed to continual engagement with the community on local priorities, and we have set up an online platform for organisations and people to make their suggestions, and see what others think,” Cllr Humby said.
“We will then be ready to bid for further national funding later in the summer and continue to support the economic recovery of our county by giving Hampshire’s residents confidence they can return to the high street safely, and make healthier and greener journeys.”