The future for a socially distant high street

By Molly Gray |

Plans are being put in place to ensure that people can visit Falmouth but still be able to socially distance.

| Travellight / Shutterstock

On Sunday 10th May, Boris Johnson announced the government’s plan for easing the lockdown restrictions.

The current plan means that some retail businesses could open again from 1st June, and some hospitality businesses reopen from 4th July. However, these dates are subject to change as the government continue to monitor the spread of the coronavirus.

Social distancing will still be necessary as restrictions are eased and Cornwall Council are now beginning to think of how this will work in Cornish towns.

If we can reclaim a little bit of our summer season back, it will help people get through the winter.

Jayne Kirkham, Cornwall Councillor for Falmouth Smithick, has said, “There are certain bits of Church Street and Arwenack Street where it’s very, very difficult to social distance if there are cars going up and down it. Because the pavements are so narrow, so it’s working out solutions that would mean we could use the town to the best advantage.”

One idea to improve social distancing is to pedestrianise the high street, something which Councillor Kirkham says ‘Falmouth has been thinking about for a long time’.

The main reason this hasn’t been implemented already is due to the location of Church Street car park, which means that cars drive through the centre of town. Not only will pedestrianising the high street help people to socially distance, it will also allow businesses to reopen and ensure that they can respect the measures.

Ms. Kirkham continued, “That’s why we’re looking at those kind of measures that we’ve been talking about, like spilling out onto the roads and using the pavements to increase the number of covers that cafes can have; maybe retail in the streets as well; maybe looking at other areas outside, like the quayside and even bits of the car parks and spilling out, using the roads to social distance, and maybe having bits where there aren’t cars for a little bit longer.

“There are lots of things that we’re thinking about doing and hoping that in doing some of those things we can keep those businesses alive and going and use the BIDs (Business Improvement Districts) to make it, so that where as far as possible, they can come back into action.”

The BIDs are business-led and funded schemes that are set up to improve a commercial area. There are eight in Cornwall, including one in Falmouth. However, due to financial difficulties as a result of the pandemic, BIDs have been under threat. Some businesses were unable to pay their rates this year as the payment was due at the same time as the lockdown was imposed.

Julian German, leader of Cornwall Council, explained, “BID teams are not only offering key support to traders while their businesses are forced to close, they are vital to the recovery of our towns once restrictions on movement start to ease. The levy will still be due from the businesses but this gives necessary leeway to ensure vital investment continues.”

Following the announcement, Richard Wilcox, Falmouth BID manager and Co-Chair of the Cornwall BIDs group said, “We are pleased to be working alongside Cornwall Council to provide extensive further support to our Cornish businesses and towns at this crucial time. A collaborative approach is what’s needed and this news acknowledges the integral part that BIDs will play in the extensive recovery and revitalisation plans that are being formulated for our communities. I’d like to also highlight the work of my colleagues across Cornwall; a really good example of the town management industry in the region working productively together to help secure this funding boost.” 

The funding will be taken from the council’s £4 million Town Centre Regeneration budget. It has also been agreed that the money is to be paid back by the BIDs by 2022. Falmouth BID run several events throughout the year, but sadly many of these have had to be cancelled due to the on-going nature of the pandemic.

Councillor Kirkham said, “Of course the problem in Falmouth is that winter is the time when people don’t make the money. It’s the summer when we have all our events and all the stuff that the BID and the town team put on, like Falmouth Week, which we’re probably going to miss this year, and the Sea Shanty Festival, which had to be cancelled. That’s when we get the people in and make the money. If we can reclaim some of it at the end and just get a little bit of our summer season back, then it would help people get through the winter.”

Falmouth International Sea Shanty Festival was due to take place over the weekend of 11th June, but organisers have now set up a virtual festival that will be held on 12th June between 6pm and 9pm. All profits from the event will be going to the Royal Cornwall Hospital Covid-19 Fund.