Next week (15 June) we will reach another important milestone in the local recovery from the coronavirus crisis.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma confirmed earlier this week that non-essential retail can open as planned on Monday (15 June) as long as businesses comply with government guidance.
We have all spent the last few months getting used to what is being described as the ‘new normal’ as we make our regular trips to the supermarket and other essential shops, and I am sure people in Swindon will continue to observe the social distancing rules which are designed to keep us all safe from this terrible COVID-19 illness.
Reopening the Town Centre is a key part of the next phase of easing the lockdown restrictions and the Council has had an important part to play in ensuring the necessary safety measures are in place so more shops can open.
We have been liaising closely with partners such as InSwindon, who work on behalf of many of the retail outlets in the Town Centre, as well as the Old Town Business Association and other agencies and organisations to support those firms who have been badly affected by the pandemic.
I would encourage people to support our local businesses in this difficult time. If you decide to venture to Swindon’s main shopping centres you will see clear floor markings and signage to ensure people continue to adhere to the social distancing guidelines they have become so accustomed to in recent months.
We have made arrangements for benches and other shared spaces to be regularly cleaned and we will be closing College Street near the Tesco Metro to traffic to provide an additional pedestrianised area so we create extra space for queuing.
Our car parks at Brunel North and Bristol Street will be reopened from next week, but our public toilets will unfortunately remain closed on the advice of the Government.
If you normally travel into the Town Centre by public transport there is good news for bus passengers with both our main operators Swindon’s Bus Company and Stagecoach West increasing the frequency of their services.
Social distancing rules for passengers are in place and it is important that people read and take note of the travel instructions issued by the bus companies. These can be found on the buses and at bus shelters.
From today (11 June), eligible businesses can also apply for the Discretionary Grant Fund provided by the Government in response to the pandemic. The funding will allow some small businesses in the town who have not previously qualified for other Government grant schemes to access critical support.
The eligibility criteria and guidance is available on the Council’s website and any business that believes it might be eligible for this discretionary funding should apply before 21 June.
Finally, I must end this week’s column by congratulating Swindon Town on their promotion from League 2 as champions. Hopefully it won’t be too long before the club’s fans can cheer on the players in League 1 at the County Ground.