As more businesses look to reopen their doors from 4 July, Dorset Council is working with town and parish councils, and alongside Dorset Police, to ensure the safety of residents and visitors across the county while social distancing measures remain in place.
To support the reopening of pubs, cafes and restaurants, the Government has issued guidance recommending additional sitting out areas for hospitality businesses and asking highways authorities to control the use of available space effectively and safely.
As a priority, Dorset Council has been working with town and parish councils to identify areas with a concentration of bars and restaurants that have sitting-out licences, as well as being heavily used by pedestrians and vehicles.
Such mixed-use areas will present a significant challenge for maintaining health and safety and social distancing, even with restrictions reducing to 1m-plus.
Cllr Ray Bryan, Portfolio Holder for Highways, Travel and Environment, told KeeP 106: “Although large social gatherings are still not permitted, it is anticipated that residents and visitors will take advantage of the opportunity to dine-out and socialise more widely.
“We also expect more businesses will be applying for sitting-out licences and the Government has made this process much more streamlined.
“This is not a licence to party, but a small, positive step for the hospitality industry to start welcoming customers back safely. We will be carefully monitoring any temporary highway measures that we put in place to provide additional space for social distancing and we won’t hesitate to change them if problems start to arise.”
The first set of temporary measures to support the safe return of hospitality businesses will be introduced along Weymouth harbourside.
Custom House Quay and Trinity Road, which run along the harbour, provide access to the working harbour, are home to many residents and host many hospitality-based businesses.
Working with Weymouth Town Council and harbourside businesses, Dorset Council has agreed a temporary 12-week period where Custom House Quay will be closed to traffic each day from 10.30am to 9pm. Parking will be suspended within the closure – between East Street and Town Bridge – to provide the additional space needed to maintain social distancing within the sitting-out areas and busy pedestrian environment. The closure will be manned to allow access by the land train, at walking pace, through the area. Residents with parking permits will be able to park around Alexandra Gardens and on Pilgrims Way.
Access to the fish loading quay and businesses east of East Street is unaffected by these temporary measures. The southern end of Maiden Street will become two-way to facilitate deliveries at the other end of the closure. Trinity Road will see a similar set of temporary measures put in place, including the road becoming closed for access only for residents, businesses and the RNLI. Parking bays will mainly be for residents-only parking with some provided for loading/unloading. Cove Street through to Hope Square will be closed from 10.30am to 9pm each day to provide the space needed for social distancing within the sitting-out areas and busy pedestrian environment.
Cllr Kate Wheller, Chair of Dorset Council Harbours Committee, told KeeP 106: “With visitors able to stay overnight, the number of hospitality and fishing industry businesses in this area, as well as the attraction of the harbour itself, more space will be needed to ensure social distancing can be maintained.
“It has been very challenging to meet the needs of every individual business that uses this busy area, as well as take into consideration the views of residents and the potential increase of sitting-out space.
“These temporary measures represent a compromise and is the best fit for this mixed-use area. It’s based on conversations with many businesses and organisations as well as past experiences, including annual events such as the Seafood Festival and traffic measures put in place during the London Olympics.”
Neighbourhood Chief Inspector Jamie Clark said: “Dorset Police is working with partners in the council and local businesses. We will have additional officers on duty and will proactively patrol the town centre to ensure the safety of our community. We would ask everyone to observe the current Government guidelines.”