ROAD closures in New Milton designed to make space for social distancing are to be reviewed after high street businesses complained they were damaging trade.
Following the reopening of non-essential shops on 15th June, New Milton Town Council gained Hampshire County Council approval for restrictions to address safety concerns such as narrow areas of pavement.
Put in place on 28th June, these included a section of Old Milton Road closed from the traffic lights junction with Station Road to the Elm Avenue junction.
This involved the left-hand lane from Station Road south being blocked off at the traffic lights to allow pedestrians to spill out from a narrow section of pavement from Superdrug to Charles Nobel jewellers on the corner.
Traders argued potential customers were being put off, not wanting to spend extra time in their cars accessing Osborne Road car park via Spencer Road. It was also claimed the diversion was not clear for those visiting the town, including holidaymakers.
Now an extraordinary meeting of the full town council is due to be held virtually at 1pm today (Friday) for members to consider removing both closures.
Sameer Tarakhan, director of The Barbers at Number One in Osborne Road, told the A&T he had already been forced to let one of his five staff go.
“I’ve seen a lot of customers moving to Lymington and Highcliffe to use different hairdressers,” said Mr Tarakhan, who has run the business for nine years.
“Someone called me about it and I told them the car park was open, but there is no sign in the high street. This puts a lot of people off.
“What did it do, closing this road, apart from making a mess? They’ve closed New Milton down!”
Pointing out his wife is an NHS nurse, he added: “I’ve spent £2,000 on masks and visors, and I’ve spent £280 plus VAT on health and safety training for my staff. What did I get as a thank you? They close my bloody road and kill my business!”
Mr Tarakhan wrote a letter to the town council, supported by neighbouring businesses, calling for it to lift the Osborne Road closure to encourage more custom in Station Road north.
He also said that with face coverings in shops becoming mandatory from today (Friday), the need for road closures was greatly reduced.
Signatories to the letter included representatives from Greenfern Dental Care in Osborne Road, Café Mallard in Station Road, and Shoecare which is at the junction of the two roads.
Branding the closure a “disaster”, Jon Cooper, who co-owns Shoecare with his wife Lindsay, complained of a lack of consultation. The business had stayed open at reduced hours throughout the lockdown as they were classed as key workers.
“Business started picking up from 15th June. I’m not going to say it was back to normal, but it was picking up gradually,” Mr Cooper said.
“But now it has literally nose-dived because people are confused and locals don’t know what is going on.
“I’ve worked here 37 years and lived here all my life. I love this town for my shop, but it’s just a small town, and once we’re gone, we’re gone.”
Adding that he and his wife had still been unable to un-furlough their sole employee, who has worked for them for 27 years, Mr Cooper estimated trade was down by 45%.
Mike Miller, who owns DVD Plus in Whitefield Road opposite the Osborne Road junction, told the A&T he had lost about 80% of trade compared with the first two weeks from 15th June.
As well as the Osborne Road closure, he was “mystified” that the council had blocked off on-street car parking spaces in Whitefield Road.
He said: “It’s also the chaos it’s causing outside here – we’ve had lorries getting stuck, with a Morrisons lorry that couldn’t turn around. I think they’ve probably made this section of road more dangerous than it’s been before.”
A harmful effect on pedestrian safety at the northern end of Station Road was cited by some traders, along with an increase in pollution from vehicles.
Safety concerns had also been raised by Piers Bollard from Charles Nobel when he criticised the closure at Station Road’s junction with Old Milton Road during a recent virtual town council planning committee meeting.
Responding to the criticisms, New Milton mayor Cllr Alvin Reid said the town council’s executive committee had been gathering weekly on Zoom to discuss the closures.
“Given the information on the number of deaths in the New Forest, cases, and emerging government recommendations and regulations, we felt it was the time now to have a full meeting of the council so that everyone’s views can be recorded,” he told the A&T.
“We are mindful, obviously, of the impact on traders, and we do a lot to promote the town’s traders.
“We’ve also got to support the health of our residents walking down the street, so we are mindful of the conflicting views.”
Cllr Reid stressed the public was being invited to have its say at the start of the virtual meeting.
One Station Road business representative, who wanted to remain anonymous, spoke in support of the closures and even called for the high street to be pedestrianised.
He said: “When you see massive 42-tonne trucks coming down the road it becomes a death trap. Station Road really should be totally pedestrianised right down from Osborne Road to the Walker Arms at the bottom.”