Shoppers have returned to Stoke-on-Trent’s town centres and the city centre for the first time in three months as the unlocking of the High Street got under way across England.
Queues formed outside intu Potteries, Primark and TK Maxx in the city centre, while hundreds of people had lined up to get inside Sports Direct on the nearby Octagon Retail Park by 10am.
A range of measures had been introduced in town centres and the city centre to support the safe return of workers, shoppers and visitors. These included barriers to restrict entrances and exits to busy shops and stencil marks at 109 locations across the city centre, spacing out two metre distancing. Roads such as Huntbach Street in the city centre have also been narrowed to allow pavements to be widened.
Cllr Abi Brown, leader of the city council, said: “Many shops in our town centres and the city centre opened for the first time today since the end of March and it was great to see the public out and about once again. Retailers are going to need all our support to help them get through this difficult period and protect people’s jobs and we all have a part to play in that.
“It’s really important people don’t get complacent because we are not out of the woods yet with the virus. However, it’s also vital we get the economy moving again at a local and national level and today was really a step towards that. We’ve put in place several measures to enable social distancing and create a safe shopping environment for everyone.”
On Friday the city council announced parking would be free on all of its 42 car parks in towns and the city centre until the end of June, to support businesses, shoppers and visitors in the recovery from the coronavirus. It has now extended this to include all on-street pay-and-display parking spaces in the city.
Residents are being reminded indoor markets in Hanley, Longton and Tunstall will open from June 17. Stoke Indoor Market has remained open during lockdown for essential goods, and additional stalls will open there too from June 17. Outdoor markets are also back open as follows:
- Hanley outdoor market at Fountain Square, Hanley, open Monday to Saturday, 9am to 5pm. Sunday outdoor market and car boot sale at Birch Terrace next to Hanley bus station will remain closed until further notice
- Bentilee outdoor market at Bentilee Neighbourhood Centre car park, open Tuesdays 9am to 4pm.
- Fenton outdoor market at City Road, open Thursdays 8am to 3pm.
To support market traders, stalls which have been closed up to this point will not have to pay any rent for that period. Market traders that are still not permitted to open by law, such as hairdressers and beauticians, will still not be charged rent until there is a change in the Government’s position.
The markets will operate with restricted entrance and exit arrangements, with hand sanitisers in place and one-way systems for shoppers. Stoke City’s community trust team will be out in the markets, supporting shoppers, advising them on safety measures and guiding them round the one-way systems in place.
Cllr Brown said: “We are doing everything we can to support our shops and businesses. We’ve allocated £49.3 million in business support grants to more than 4,000 businesses, and the idea behind making it free to park is to make as easy as possible for people to return to the shops and our town centres. There are still two shopping weekends left this month for people to take advantage of the offer and I really can’t stress enough how it important it is for everyone to shop local and keep the Stoke-on-Trent pound in the city.”
Meanwhile, construction work on the Clayworks apartments and Hilton Garden Inn hotel at the Smithfield development in the city centre is now back up to good levels of productivity and numbers of operatives on site. Following the emergence of the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, main contractor Willmott Dixon reviewed the position on the site and concluded that it was safe to keep both developments open and operational while following Government and construction industry guidelines. Safety measures introduced include temperature testing on site, additional site cabins to facilitate social distancing among workers and rotated break times.
Construction works on both projects have progressed during the lockdown period, however, there has been delays to the proposed completion dates on both projects as a result of reduced workers on site and other supply chain challenges during this period. Remedial work is also taking place at Smithfield to improve existing paving and landscaping. Genr8 Developments has appointed a contractor to carry out the work, which will take around three months to complete and which will significantly improve the appearance of the area to coincide with the completion of the Clayworks apartments and Hilton Garden Inn hotel.
Cllr Brown said: “We’ve been able to maintain the momentum at Smithfield and with the city centre’s regeneration since the lockdown was introduced by following government and construction industry guidelines, to ensure work could be carried out in a safe way. With work on site now beginning to pick back up, it sends out a positive message that Stoke-on-Trent remains open for business and is not standing still. It’s also good news for the local supply chain involved in the construction and fitting out of these two buildings.
“The past few months have been incredibly difficult for businesses, and the months to come will undoubtedly be as well, but we are doing everything we can to help and we will bounce back together. These two developments will be key to boosting footfall and spend in the city centre, which will provide significant economic benefits for the wider area.”
For more information and advice on coronavirus (Covid-19) please visit Public Health England:
https://publichealthmatters.blog.gov.uk/2020/01/23/wuhan-novel-coronavirus-what-you-need-to-know/ and the NHS: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/.
All residents are reminded about the critical importance of regular handwashing with soap and hot water for 20 seconds. The significance of this action cannot be underestimated.
For more information on digital services, visit www.stoke.gov.uk, download the MyStoke App, or follow the city council’s social media channels.