'Hard hit' Sidmouth business recovery plan in the works

Old Fore Street, Sidmouth. Ref shs 9244-25-15AW

Old Fore Street, Sidmouth. Ref shs 9244-25-15AW - Credit: Alex Walton

Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce writes for the Herald

As lockdown drags on, and we seem to be residing in a dark tunnel, there are a few glimmers of light: the vaccination programme seems to be going well, and a large proportion of the vulnerable and elderly amongst the local population have received their first jab.    

Cases both locally and nationally are declining, and the combination of vaccine and lockdown is having an effect.    

This cannot happen quickly enough, because there is no doubt that the NHS, in particular, is under unprecedented strain.  

It goes without saying that we are all under a clear obligation to abide by the rules that have been laid down.  

No 400-strong weddings in Sidmouth, please!

Attention is beginning to turn to how we ensure that our local economy and services prosper as the vaccine increasingly takes effect.    

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There are reasons to feel tentatively confident that Sidmouth’s badly damaged businesses can recover, especially in the hospitality sector:   foreign travel is severely curtailed and this may mean that staycations will be popular.  

Our members report that enquiries are coming in, but people are waiting for better Covid news.    

And there is no doubt that there is pent up demand - the stock market is high for a reason:  business may well improve quickly as soon as circumstances allow.

But the devastation  to our tourism and retail businesses, and so many in our service sectors, cannot be over-estimated.  

We cannot expect things to return to normal, and sadly, some of our businesses will not have survived.  

It is, after all, the biggest economic contraction in 300 years.

So it comes as a considerable surprise that the District Council is proposing to increase parking charges by 20% in the middle of the pandemic.   This extraordinarily insensitive and damaging move seems inexplicable at this time.  What on earth are they thinking?    

There is no point in looking for an explanation for the decision in any of the Cabinet paperwork:  there is none.    The only good news is that the price hike has to be confirmed at Full Council, and common sense may prevail.

The Chamber is presently working on a series of proposals to be brought together as a Recovery Plan;  

it could also form  the basis for an application  to the £4 billion Levelling Up Fund that the Government has recently announced.    

Sidmouth struggles to get grant aid, but we have been particularly badly hit, with our dependence upon tourism and our elderly population, so perhaps we can, for once, be recognised.    

The Chamber Plan will comprise a suite of measures designed to give our local economy a measurable boost, and which are modest and deliverable.    There is so much that we can do if the money can be found.

One of the small scale proposals in the Chamber Plan will be a survey of signage in and around the town.  

A recent House of Lords Select Committee suggested that 30-35% of all road signs were not required, and that excessive signage brings only ugliness and confusion. Our Esplanade in particular has become particularly cluttered  in recent years.    

There was a great deal of publicity given last year to a letter written to Dawlish Town Council by a visitor: he said that he found a number of signs in the town to be hostile and unnecessary.  and to be fair to the Dawlish authorities, they immediately took his comments on board, and took down a lot of the signs.  

We forget that signs are costly:  the average road sign costs £350 and needs to be replaced every 15 years. It is time for an overhaul of our signage, to see whether it can be reduced and improved.’

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