Cheltenham is open! I am delighted that many more of Cheltenham’s shops have welcomed customers back this week.
From Monday, all non-essential outlets, department stores and shopping centres are able to reopen their doors provided they meet robust safety guidelines, keeping staff and customers safe.
This has been an incredibly tough time for our local traders. Even in normal circumstances it requires guts, energy and determination to set up a business and then make a go of it. But it's that entrepreneurial spirit which makes Cheltenham’s street-scene the vibrant place that it is.
Even with the massive injection of Government support, over £24m for Cheltenham businesses at the last count plus the £30m waiver of business rates, the position is far from easy. So let’s all offer our support if we can, and get back to our favourite stores. It’s safe to do so.
Local government needs to play its part too. I’m aware of draft proposals to slash the availability of street parking across Cheltenham, in a claimed bid to aid the economic recovery. In some parts of Montpellier, Rodney Road, Winchcombe Street and the Lower High Street up to 50% of car parking spaces would be removed.
This would be a major error. No one is more enthusiastic about active travel than me, and I travel to the overwhelming majority of my appointments by bike. But very often you need a car to carry home your purchases. It’s also a fact that many parents who want to shop with young children are simply never going to feel safe enough to put six-year olds onto the town’s roads. And what about people with disabilities?
Being pro-bike doesn’t mean being anti-car. It’s not a zero-sum game. Getting Cheltenham back up and running means focusing on the basics - promoting safety and encouraging shoppers back. Now is not the time for hasty and misconceived policies.