Businesses fume over overly strict Covid traffic measures

BUSINESSES in a Powys town are concerned about the impact that continued strict Covid-19 measures are going to have on them and their customers.

Despite the easing of restrictions in recent weeks, several roads in Hay-on-Wye town centre are closed to vehicles during the coronavirus pandemic to help residents and visitors socially distance.

Bollards have been installed to stop cars driving through areas including Castle Street or from Broad Street into Lion Street and parking spaces have been removed and a one-way system put in place.

Almost 50 businesses are opposed to the measures, which they believe are heavy-handed – especially with Wales having gone from Alert Level 4 to 1 in just over a month. Despite this, the traffic measures, which came into force in May, are set to last until September and will be in place for seven days a week from mid-July.

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The biggest concern for local businesses is that these measures prohibit blue badge holders and delivery drivers from driving through the centre of Hay between 12noon-5pm. Following discussions between Hay Town Council and Powys County Council those timings have been amended slightly, to now cover 12-4pm and on Thursdays and Saturdays only until July 16. However, that is when the school summer holidays begin and from that day restrictions will be in force once again every day of the week.

“Many of us businesses are still not happy with the pedestrianisation timings as, during the summer holidays, they are seven days a week, 12-4pm,” said Becka Jones, who helps run the family pharmacy R.M. Jones Pharmacy in Hay.

“We proposed that the roads should be closed on Thursday and Saturday only during the summer holidays as we believe it will negatively impact businesses in the areas within the road closures.

“During the temporary measures last year, blue badge holders and delivery drivers were allowed through during road closure times.

“We understood the need for temporary measures last summer when Covid rates were high, but now that the majority of at-risk people are vaccinated and rates have dropped 92 per cent since January, is this really necessary?

“The ‘consultation’ for the scheme was by way of a survey which had only 228 respondents out of 1,900 surveys distributed. This accounts for 15 per cent of the population.”

Becka said she and her family, as well as other businesses, put forward their concerns to mayoress Trudy Stedman and the town council. Tweaks mean that measures are only enforced currently for two days a week, but Becka envisions that becoming much more of a problem once schools break up. The town council has confirmed that from July 17-August 31, closures will be in effect every day from 12-4pm and Memorial Square Car Park will be closed during this time – further restricting access.

“The big problem we have with these measures is that they are prohibiting access to essential goods and services to elderly and disabled people who are unable to walk from the main car park into town,” added Becka.

“We are also concerned that people who shop in Hay from the surrounding areas will be put off coming to Hay if they are unable to park in the town centre to pick up their shopping.

“We have put forward our concerns about the reduced access to medical services for more vulnerable people or people with acute prescriptions. Many people with chronic respiratory conditions, for example, will be unable to walk from the main car park to the pharmacy to collect prescriptions/access medical services.

“I attended a chamber of commerce meeting and was told by town council representatives that Powys had rejected their request for patients with acute prescriptions/blue badge holders to have access to the codes to the barrier that allow access to the centre of Hay.

“My sister Emily is taking legal advice from the National Pharmacy Association and Community Pharmacy Wales as we believe that due processes have not been followed such as an equality impact assessment – the Powys traffic officer told us that Covid legislation trumps everything so it wasn’t necessary for them to do one.”

The local authority says the temporary road closures introduced in towns across Powys, including Hay, are not permanent.

A spokesman said: “The part-time measures allows enough space during the afternoon to ensure safe social distancing can be adhered to on the street and the opportunity for businesses to utilise the space outside their premises, whilst still allowing time in the mornings and after 5pm (4pm in Hay) for deliveries and other vehicles to use the road.

“These measures are supported by Hay Town Council and the Hay on Wye Chamber of Commerce and the businesses they represent.

“There is no quick fix to recover from this global pandemic and we must accept that social distancing and the need for personal protection measures will be with us for some time. To ensure local businesses remain viable we must do our best to keep everyone safe, allowing pedestrians and shoppers the space they need to stay safe and visit the town centres with confidence.

“To make sure our town centres remain both resilient and safe during the pandemic, it has been necessary to find practical solutions to allow businesses to trade whilst ensuring social distancing measures can be maintained.

“If, in the future, the town wanted to introduce similar types of measures on a more permanent or seasonal basis, there would first be a formal consultation to ensure all stakeholders were able to contribute before a decision was made.

“We understand that these temporary Covid-19 related road closures are a divisive issue and it is a balancing act taking into account the opinions and needs for all the different business and residents within the town.

“Together with the local councillors, our town centre liaison officers have been working with the town council, local businesses and communities throughout this process. Their cooperation has been invaluable and very much appreciated.”

South Wales Argus | Business