SHOP owners fear proposed temporary changes to town centres across Herefordshire will hurt trade as the county comes out of the coronavirus lockdown.

The Government has made £250m available for local councils to create a safe environment for walking and cycling.

Whitehall sees this as a ‘window of opportunity’ to ‘embed’ walking and cycling as part of new long-term commuting habits and reap the associated health, air quality and congestion benefits.

Herefordshire Council is expected to receive some £200,000 from central government to implement these changes.

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And council leaders are considering using reducing speed limits to 20mph in Hereford city centre and the market towns and introduce timed road closures.

But local traders who have seen an increase in footfall during the pandemic fear this may turn shoppers away.

Martin Peek, of the Grapevine in Kington, believes the proposed timed closure of High Street is the wrong thing to do.

“Since the pandemic started, we’ve had an increase of 30 per cent to 40 per cent of new people coming to us from a radius of 10 miles. These are the people we want to keep hold of. If we can hang on to 20 per cent of it, that’s great.

“I’ve been here 35 years and I’ve seen road closures like the gas board digging up the High Street for months on end and all sorts of things. I know what it’ll be, Balfour Beatty will come along, place road signs saying it’s closed all around Kington and it won’t do us any help whatsoever.

“We would love to see a 10mph or 20mph speed restrictions during those times and it would be cost effective compared to what they are thinking of.

“The whole thing seems to be being steam rolled with no proper consultation.”

Alex Clive, of Tinsmiths in Ledbury, says the changes would make trading more difficult.

“We had a long to-do a year or two ago to do with the public realm proposals put forward for Ledbury.

“And this is really a similar plan, slightly less ambitious, being pushed out again under the guise of Covid.

“It doesn’t relate to Covid measures for cycling and walking at all. It’s not going to improve anything for them, in fact it’s going to make the market more difficult.

“And the only proposal they’ve got for Ledbury pavement-wise is to widen one of the widest bits of pavement in the town. And it doesn’t address any of the other narrower pavement issues.”

Councillor Barry Durkin raised concerns about the effect these changes will have at last week’s cabinet meeting. He also criticised the limited nature of the council’s consultation over the plans.

Infrastructure and transport cabinet member John Harrington said there was no legal requirement for the council consult the public about the proposed changes.

However, he said they felt they should try and consult as much as possible in the short time they had to do so.

“Many authorities have not consulted and that is a matter for the other authorities,” he said.

“In relation to what we are trying to do, we are required by the Government to do this or they will come in and do it for us.

“So, it comes down to that classic tension between trying to do something as quickly as possible in the best way as possible against trying to please everyone.

“We will continue to talk to any traders and retailers that come and address this to us and any parish councils we’ve consulted with or any that come forward at this stage.”