We must get our town back into business. It’s going to be tough. We must move into unknown territory as a socially distanced town. Every business will need to adjust the way they work. We must allow cafes and pubs to spill into our streets. Allow businesses to sell their wares from tables on their frontage. Some streets should be closed at weekends and public holidays. The market must reopen.
A lot of decisions need to be made. First up will be new signage. A street meeting of officers and councillors on Tuesday afternoon will look at locations for up to 155 new signs around the town ordering people to keep apart. That is a huge number of signs for Ludlow. It is a lot of clutter. It could feel intimidating in a town known for its friendliness.
A better model would be gateway signs, with a small number of repeaters. We need signs telling people they are welcome in a socially distanced town. And carefully placed reminders emphasising this is a socially distanced town.
We won’t be back to ordinary life for a long time to come. We will have to live with social distancing for the rest of Ludlow’s high season. It could last longer.
We must declare that Ludlow is a “socially distanced town”. That means new signs on the gateways into Ludlow that welcome visitors and shoppers to our socially distanced town. Ludlow Town Council is the body best placed to organise and finance this.
We can make some easy social distance gains. Top of my list is closing King Street and Market Street on Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 4pm. There is a downside is access to car parking spaces in Castle Square from the closure of King Street but we are not expecting a huge influx of people over the summer. Many would like this weekend closure to be permanent. Some would like the road to be closed seven days a week, 10 until 4. I am not sure that is viable. It could reduce footfall and prevent shops getting deliveries. We need to allow service buses into the town centre at least five days a week.
Council officers are struggling to design Covid-19 signage for The Narrows. One proposal is for A-Boards at both ends. But adding street furniture at a time when we are trying to create more social space is a non-starter.
But if we going to do something about The Narrows on King Street, now seems a good time to do it. An Experimental Traffic Order can be put in place with the consent of secretary of state Grant Shapps. Legislation restricts the length of an order for less than 18 months. That would give us enough time to assess how well a closure works.
We should make the top on Mill Street one way – downhill from the market to Bell Lane. That would free up the west side of the street for pedestrians, tables, etc. The downside is the loss of disabled parking spaces.
We need to allow pubs and cafes to spill out further into the highway without unnecessary form filling and expense. Pedestrian access must be maintained, including for people with mobility and sight impairments. But we can be flexible and creative. We should allow a degree of spontaneity. It is time to relax in a very tense world.
We will need new signs on the highway. But Shropshire Council’s proposals sent to councillors on Friday afternoon came as shock. Do we really need up to 155 signs to maintain social distancing in Ludlow?
We councillors only have a spreadsheet to work from. Here is my provisional map and it shows the scale of the work proposed.
The proposals will be discussed a socially distanced meeting with town and unitary councillors along with Shropshire Council officers next Tuesday. On Thursday, an extraordinary meeting of Ludlow Town Council’s Representational Committee will meet at 7pm, with the sole item a discussion the proposed signage (agenda and joining instructions).
The current proposal from Shropshire Council involves an extraordinary number of signs. Officers indicate that some will be more important than others. But 108 signs are on Shropshire Council’s priority list (red rated).
My initial reaction is that this is an overreaction. We don’t need to remind people every few metres that they need to socially distance. We just need to tell them that social distancing is the norm in Ludlow.
Distancing has become a way of life for almost everybody. We are a town where for the most part people obey the rules. Those that don’t obey rules won’t pay any attention to signs anyway.
We must be a welcoming town during the age of coronavirus. We must be open for business and visitors. We cannot shut our town until Easter 2021. That could be even longer if there is a second Covid-19 wave.
We must be safe but we must also be sociable in our socially distanced world. It’s a hard balance. But I think we need a different approach to that being proposed by Shropshire Council.
Department for Transport guidance on Covid-19 signage.