Reopening Harrogate - business leaders on challenge of easing lockdown
For many it's as much a matter of "how" as of "when" the town centre reopens, in particular when it comes to the town's food and drink, hospitality and retail sectors.
But several recurring themes about the challenges to come over the next few months did crop up when the Harrogate Advertiser talked to Harrogate's leaders.
Among the main concerns expressed are:
Safe social distancing for customers will not be easy for many businesses.
Re-opening will mean different practices to different businesses.
Not all businesses will be sustainable at all in the ‘new normal’ in the early stages of easing lockdown.
What will the trading landscape for Harrogate businesses look like once we do start to reopen?
The trickiest sector to reopen safely will be bars, cafes and restaurants.
All Harrogate businessed need to be aware of the risks to life from an overly-hasty approach to easing lockdown.
Comments by Harrogate leaders on reopening the economy/retail sector/hospitality sector
Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce
Chamber president Steve Scarre said: "it will not be easy to put safe social distancing in place in our hospitality businesses. All premises are different, and some will find it easier than others.
"Again, we all need to work together to help wherever we can.
"Signage will be important and maybe that is something that the agencies can help with.
"Policing it will be difficult and staff and customers will need to patient, particularly in the early days.
"Our businesses and, in particular, those in the retail trade will be sceptical, until they see the effect on footfall in the town centre following the easing.
"That to me is the biggest issue we have to address in a safe way.
"The use of face masks and safe distancing is vital to ensure that we do not have a second surge, and just how the safe distancing will work in different premises is a difficult issue to get to grips with.
"But I am sure that our individual and independent businesses will be thinking hard about that.
"Restaurants, bars and cafes will have been closed for over three months by the time we reach July. That’s a quarter of the year.
"There is no doubt that they are really suffering and will continue to suffer, if we are still operating a two-metre safe distancing rule then.
"Some food and restaurant businesses have managed to adapt and make deliveries to their customers, and there are some wonderful stories of the lengths that they have gone to, but some haven’t been able to make that step change for various reasons."
Chamber chief executive Sandra Doherty said: "I think we all understand the enormous pressure from industry and commerce to be able to trade again to try and limit or at least shorten the damage being done to the economy.
"This has to be carefully balanced by the overwhelming need to be aware for the risks to life from a hasty approach.
"Harrogate’s food and drink sector in many cases has been doing a roaring trade in takeaways for which I applaud the commercialism of the owners.
"Others have been in lockdown and will be itching to open. The limitations of social distancing make these more challenging than retailors for instance.
"Sadly, for many of the Hospitality sector such as Hotels and Guesthouses the stage 3 or perhaps 4 of the easing of lockdown will come too late for this season's trade and for many who make their money over a few short months of the year it will prove too much to cope with.
"Many, even those who benefited from the initial grant will have either had to borrow, albeit on very low or zero interest rates to see them through till next spring and hope for a good year in 2021
"These loans although welcome will have to be paid back eventually and will no doubt effect pricing in the future.
"For many of the businesses the furlough scheme has enables them to retain their staff and at least be in a position to grasp the opportunity to reopen when able."
Harrogate Borough Council leader Richard Cooper
Coun Cooper said: "Opening up of businesses and the community organisations must be done in a safe way and within government guidelines which are following the advice of the top medical brains in the country.
"If we all stick to the guidelines then we will get back to normal more quickly.
“Whilst our attention has been on responding to the pandemic and ensuring plans were in place to support our businesses, community and business critical service we have begun to work on recovery plans.
"These will be based around our economic recovery and also our community recovery.
"Having distributed more than £45m to over 3,300 local businesses since lockdown the top priority of all at the council is to support those businesses as they begin to open up again. "We have a highly-respected economic development team who will provide help and advice about how to achieve this, we will continue to work with the Harrogate BID and Chambers of Trade across the whole district.
"We need to ensure too that our community life recovers quickly. There are many charities and voluntary groups that have seen donations and fund-raising almost completely dry up. "We need to look at how we can best support them."
Harrogate’s HRH Hotel Group whose portfolio includes The Yorkshire Hotel, The White Hart Hotel and The Fat Badger.
Harrogate’s HRH Hotel Group managing director Simon Cotton said: "Whilst we’d like to be allowed to open sooner, the hospitality industry has been well briefed that we’d be at the back of the queue to any easing of lockdown rules and some businesses have gone as far as not expecting to even open again this year; so talk of July is very positive.
"We will wait and continue to monitor what we need to do to be able to open up safely and under what restrictions we may be placed under before making our final decisions. "Inevitably, it will mean different practices to different businesses depending on their particular premises and how they may be able to operate that successfully.
"At The Fat Badger for instance, we have the Beer Garden which we don’t have at Scran and, therefore, expect to be able to open that first with the comments about letting people socialise outside before inside for instance.
"The Government help schemes are a lifeline and as long as we can see some light at the end of the tunnel we can then manage the finances accordingly.
"The worry, of course, is what the trading landscape will look like once we do start to reopen.
"Will we go back to a summer of high occupancy in hotels? We doubt this very much; will people want to go to restaurants, pubs or have leisure breaks, so much is unknown."
"it will come down to each and every business to have to look sensibly at what their individual offering is; how many staff they have, what is the set up of the building and premises they operate?
"Only when the guidelines are fully published will any of us be able to run financial models to see which of our businesses can be sustainable when open under the ‘new normal’.
"While I appreciate they’ll be many people itching to get their doors open, I would urge business owners and operators to act responsibly and only open when the time is right for them, their staff and of course, the public."
Independent Harrogate was formed in July 2019 to give voice to the interests and fears of the town’s indie traders.
Independent Harrogate said: “There are signs that outdoor hospitality with social distancing may be the first level of relaxation on the cards, but there are a lot of very worried Independent Harrogate traders in town.
“Harrogate businesses obviously want to get the local economy moving again as soon as practically possible but there is a very fine line to tread between easing the lockdown and the risk of a flare up of the coronavirus.
“One very simple step which the local authorities could carry out to support and give hope to the local traders, but which comes with a price tag, would be for them to now announce that, when distancing rules allow, they will introduce a generous level of on-street free parking in the town centre. The future is dependent on there being adequate footfall.”
Chamber welcomes reduced parking in Harrogate town centre to bring back shoppers safelyA message from the Editor
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