Covid: Harrogate council sets out plans to reopen the district's economy on 12 April
A 'Buy Local By Bike' campaign, more pavement licences for hospitality businesses and stepped-up cleaning of public toilets have been revealed as part of Harrogate council's plans to reopen the economy in a fortnight.
After more than three months of coronavirus closures, non-essential retailers are due to reopen their doors on 12 April under the next stage of the planned easing of lockdown restrictions, with pubs, restaurants and cafes also set to make a return for outdoor service on that date.
Shoppers, diners and drinkers will be encouraged to get spending to help save Harrogate's high streets but borough council leader Richard Cooper has warned it will be "critical" that a cautious approach is taken to ensure infection rates remain low as the vaccine rollout continues.
Under the council's reopening plans, there will be the launch of a 'Buy Local By Bike' initiative with shoppers urged to get cycling and support local businesses using a digital London Underground-style map of routes around Harrogate and Knaresborough.
Pubs, restaurants and cafes with little or no room for outdoor service are also being urged to apply to the council for pavement licences where they can be given permission to set up tables and chairs outside of their premises.
These licences were introduced by the government last summer and recently extended to make it easier and cheaper for hospitality businesses to serve people outside until the planned return of indoor service on 17 May.
Harrogate council is also drafting in contract cleaners to step-up hygiene measures at public toilets, with a focus on the district's towns and main visitor locations during bank holidays when an influx of visitors is expected.
Furthermore, the council has received an extra £141,714 under the government's Reopening High Streets Safely Fund which it said could be used for publicity campaigns for street food markets and improvements to green spaces and seating areas to encourage people back to town centres.
Councillor Cooper said he is feeling optimistic about the lifting of lockdown restrictions but added it will be key that it is done "in a safe way so that we can ensure we remain open".
He said: "All the statistics we see show infections and hospitalisations heading in the right direction because of the effect the vaccine is having coupled with the lockdown.
“I know it has been the toughest year for business. We all know that. That is why we should all make that extra effort to shop locally where possible and to choose a local retailer where we can if we are shopping online.”
The government has already announced shops will be allowed to stay open until 10pm when the economy reopens on 12 April, as well as a Restart Grants scheme with non-essential businesses able to apply for up to £6,000 and hospitality and leisure firms up to £18,000.
Last summer, some Harrogate bars were given permission to set up tables and chairs on the Stray under the temporary pavement licences and the council is now in talks with the landowners over opening this up to more businesses.
It has yet to reach an agreement with the Duchy of Lancaster but it is hoped that this could happen before summer when all restrictions on social contacts are due to end on 21 June before council-backed events make a return.
Harrogate Carnival 2021 - organised by Harrogate International Festivals - has been scheduled for either the 4th or 5th of September and will involve street theatre, music, arts and food, although the event is not anticipated to include a parade in the same way it did in 2019.
The carnival will be backed by a £50,000 council grant with a further £25,000 going to a Fire Garden event which will include fire shows and sculptures, and is due to be held in either October or November this year, or February 2022.
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter