Harrogate businesses gearing up for a ‘crucial’ summer as lockdown eases

The end of lockdown may finally be in sight but there is fear as well as hope within Harrogate’s business community this week.

Friday, 26th February 2021, 3:57 pm

If all goes to plan in Boris’s roadmap back to a normal world, it is now less than seven weeks until the shops in town reopen and 12 weeks until the hospitality and tourism sector is properly back in business.

Harrogate Borough Council is convinced the town and district is ideally placed this summer to capitalise on an expected boom in tourism.

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The question now is how can Harrogate businesses recover once lockdown is eased over the coming weeks.

Council leader Coun Richard Cooper said: “North Yorkshire is ideally placed to benefit from an increase in domestic holidays as the continent is behind the United Kingdom in its vaccination programme.

“Working with local and regional tourist bodies, I hope we can boost our guest houses and hotels by supporting safe holidays in our area.”

But warnings at a national level by business leaders of the economy desperately needing continued or increased support if it is to bounce back are being echoed in Harrogate,too.

The chair of Harrogate Business Improvement District, Sara Ferguson, said she has been hoping for an earlier reopening of the economy but businesses in the town could at least start planning for the future at last.

She said: “Speaking as the owner of two town centre businesses, I was hoping that a mixture of the current restrictions and the rollout of the vaccination would have seen businesses opening sooner.

“However, that said we now have certainty and a clear timetable to work towards and businesses can begin putting in place plans to reopen safely for staff and customers.”

After Monday’s announcement of a roadmap back to normality, the head of the British Chambers of Commerce warned that the future of thousands of firms and millions of jobs still hung by a thread.

Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce says it can - for the first time - see “green shoots of full recovery” coming as early as May.

But there is clearly a long way to go, and chief executive Sandra Doherty warns the town’s hospitality sector, in particular, is far from out of the woods yet.

She said: “It’s good to see the framework for the coming months but I wonder if we will achieve the June goal for going back to some normality?

“I’m hoping May does see the green shoots of recovery, with the full opening of the hospitality and entertainment sectors, and sporting events take place not behind closed doors. But it does seem like a long time before we can socialise in any meaningful way.”

Under the new roadmap, even pubs will be able to reopen shortly after Easter, albeit for customers outdoors.

But the optimism of the Prime Minister’s announcement earlier this week of a four-stage timetable” for easing Covid restrictions in England with the hope of an end to them all by June was balanced by the latest unemployment figures showing the number of jobless rose to 5.1% in the three months to December - the highest rate for five years.

With the furloughing of millions of workers scheduled to end, pressure is also building on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to extend existing measures in next week’s Budget.

Armed with its own Covid-19 Economic Recovery plan Harrogate Borough Council says it is ready to help the town centre bounce back.

Council leader Coun Richard Cooper revealed the authority was ready to work with North Yorkshire County Council to enable Harrogate traders to utilise outdoor spaces to attract customers.

Coun Cooper said: “I am pleased that we have a roadmap that seems realistic. That means businesses can plan and the borough and county councils can help them with that.

“It seems to me that the need for outdoor spaces for the hospitality industry is going to be more urgent than ever. I hope planning for that with the county council as highways authority can start as soon as possible.”

Should the data on the virus and vaccination contine in the right direction, the Prime Minister says that stage four of the roadmap will spell the end of all legal limits on social contact from June 21 - with even nightclubs being allowed to reopen.

To many businesses in Harorgate that still sounds like a long and tricky road to safety.

Harrogate BID says it will offer practical help and it believes there are opportunities for the town centre to start bouncing back as early as stage three, onMay 17.

“Harrogate BID will continue to offer match-funding grants to help businesses in the BID district cover any reopening costs,” said Sara Ferguson. “This will ensure they can welcome back customers as soon as permitted to do so in what will be the ‘new trading norm’, which I’m sure will include some form of social distancing.

“Hospitality businesses can once again make use of the outdoor tables and chairs BID purchased last summer, and existing pavement licences remain valid until October.

“BID is also working to ensure Harrogate town centre will be looking at its best as we welcome back customers to shop, eat and drink.”

Roadmap out of lockdown: the four stages to normality

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was very keen to stress that the four stages of his roadmap to normality by June would only happen if the data on the pandemic allowed it.

If the months ahead do pan out in a smooth way, this is what will happen next.

Stage one - March 8:

* The reopening of all schools;

* Recreation in an outdoor public space - such as a park - will be allowed between two people, meaning they would be allowed to sit down for a coffee, drink or picnic;

* Plus, from March 29 , outdoor gatherings of either six people or two households will be allowed;

* Outdoor sports facilities such as tennis or basketball courts will reopen and organised adult and children’s sport, such as grassroots football, will also return.

Stage two - April 12:

* Reopening of non-essential shops, outdoor restaurants and pub gardens;

* UK domestic holidays away from home permitted, with self-contained accommodation able to reopen for use by members of the same household;

* Gyms and spas can reopen for individuals and households;

* Hairdressers, beauty salons and other “close contact services” can reopen;

* But wider social contact rules will continue to apply in all settings - meaning no indoor mixing between different households will be allowed.

Stage three - May 17:

* Pubs, restaurants and other hospitality venues can seat customers indoors;

* Indoor entertainment such as museums, theatres, cinemas and children’s play areas can open, though performances/ events will be subject to strict capacity limits;

* Hotels, hostels and B&Bs can reopen to household groups;

* The “rule of six” will be abolished for outdoor gatherings to be replaced with a limit of 30 people;

* Up to 30 people will be able to attend weddings, funerals and wakes.

Stage 4 - June 21:

* The end of all legal limits on social contact - even nightclubs will be allowed to reopen as the country finally returns to some kind of normality.