As we step into 2021, we do so with trepidation as do many local authorities as they navigate the challenges of a new lockdown looking likely to be in place until at least mid-February. This period of time is crucial in terms of taking stock and finding innovative ways to support businesses and the local economy after restrictions are eased, while also keeping people safe and restoring public confidence as we transition to the next phase of our new normal.
The legacy of 2020 has followed us into the New Year. There are some chinks of light, however, not only in the vaccine roll-out but in what has been learned from the creative thinking applied by many local authorities. Much of that learning process and creativity has been founded on the potential to reap some positive benefits from the hardship and tragedy. The role of the public realm in supporting improved mental health and wellbeing, local businesses, environmental improvement and traffic management has never been clearer.
Local authorities across the country have repurposed roads for pedestrianisation or outdoor seating areas for local businesses to enable them to trade. The imperative now is to consider how this can be done safely and become part of a long-term strategy for encouraging safe local footfall and driving economic recovery. As well as playing into the government’s ambitions for carbon-neutral city centres by 2030.
The long road to recovery
Many of the businesses that adapted to enable customers to return safely when lockdown was lifted found themselves having to close again as restrictions were tightened. For now, even outdoor dining has ceased to be an option. However, now is the time to plan ahead for when restrictions are eased again and consider how hospitality businesses can be supported with increased potential for outdoor covers, and how footfall can be improved.
A clear solution to this is pedestrianisation. It’s a solution that has already been trialled successfully by a number of local authorities and one that enables councils to dovetail economic, public health and environmental goals. Moreover, as we look forward to a renewed relaxation of COVID restrictions we are also heading into the warmer weather and longer daylight hours of spring when businesses can really benefit from increased outdoor facilities and an enhanced public realm.
It’s also important to consider that the return to ‘normal’ trading will be gradual. While many people will be keen to return to pubs, shops and restaurants, others will look for options to enjoy their leisure time outdoors until they are confident that the risk of infection has truly passed.
The risk from vehicles
For both local communities and local authorities, safety from the virus is not the only consideration when it comes to pedestrianisation of towns and cities; safety from vehicles is also a key concern. Public consciousness has been focused on the threat of COVID infection over the past year but, during the pandemic, the terror threat level has been raised to severe and increased pedestrianisation carries with it an integral vulnerability to vehicle as a weapon (VAW) attacks.
The risk to pedestrians from hostile vehicles is not the only potential hazard. Any alterations to the road layout involves the potential for drivers to take a wrong turn because they do not know that the right of way has changed, so it’s important to ensure that a mistake of this kind does not become a tragedy. Added to this is the potential for drunk or drugged drivers to veer into newly pedestrianised areas.
The good news is that all of these safety hazards can be managed to enable the use of roads as pedestrianised areas without any permanent changes or risk of damage to the carriageway. Conventional traffic cones or portable barriers will not protect pedestrians from vehicles, but a surface-mounted hostile vehicle mitigation (HVM) system enables a visible barrier to be erected to control access for emergency and delivery vehicles, while enabling free access for pedestrians. Local authorities can even opt to include extension plates that allow roads to be opened to traffic during restricted periods.
Local counter-terrorism safety advisors (CTSAs) can advise on the safety requirements for specific locations and suitable solutions for both safety and flexibility. We are entering a period of continued uncertainty but it is also a time when there is an opportunity to trial new ideas for positive change, and safe, temporary pedestrianisation is amongst the ideas that has the potential to transform our local centres.
With the dismal winter weather and fatigue from complying with so many restrictions and rule changes for so many months, businesses and communities alike are finding the second lockdown even more challenging than the first. But funding is available that can help local authorities to implement measures that will help improve consumer confidence and safely increase high street footfall when lockdown is eased.
The Reopening High Streets Safely Fund is a £50 million European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) supported pot, designed to help the safe reopening of streets and commercial areas in England when Government guidance allows. But time is running out for local authorities that want to apply for a share of the cash, with the deadline for applications currently fixed for the end of March 2021.
Pedestrianization Encourages Economic Activity
One of the successful strategies that many local authorities implemented to enhance safety and encourage economic activity when the restrictions of the first lockdown were eased was pedestrianization of town centre streets. This not only allowed people to social distance more effectively by preventing congested pavements but also enabled bars, cafes and restaurants to provide more outdoor seating, without the safety risks associated with traffic. This offered them a valuable boost in the numbers of customers they could serve.
Many of the areas that trialled pedestrianization of local high street areas found that there was a positive response from local residents and businesses too, along with environmental and traffic management benefits which could form part of a wider strategy.
This type of initiative is one of four areas targeted by the Reopening High Streets Safely Fund to enable local authorities in England to support businesses and encourage a safe return to the local high street for consumers. Temporary public realm changes to ensure that reopening of local economies can be handled safely and successfully is encouraged by the fund, and these should complement the public realm improvements already being carried out by local authorities aligned to the Government’s Safer Public Spaces – Urban Centres and Green Spaces guidance.
Public realm changes should increase the level of safety measures, improve the attractiveness of public realm areas, and ensure consistency across individual or multiple public spaces, including the high street. While planters are not rated and can be vulnerable from anti-social behaviour, Crowdguard’s award-winning ATG Surface Guard hostile vehicle mitigation (HVM) system is, providing an aesthetically appealing solution for Reopening High Streets Safely initiatives.
What Makes Surface Guard Ideal for Local Authorities?
A winning product at the 2019 Counter Terror Awards, the Surface Guard surface-mounted HVM system offers rated protected pedestrian access to streets while preventing vehicles from accessing the area. This means that local authorities can pedestrianize streets safely, protecting people from vehicle as a weapon (VAW) attacks and errant drivers, while providing a more spacious public realm with the potential for protected outdoor seating for hospitality businesses.
Suitable for rapid deployment, with no need for any road fixings, the modular system can be designed around the specific needs of the location, including the option to install a vehicle access point for emergency service and delivery vehicles, which can be manually lowered in less than 30 seconds. To accommodate outside dining, there is an option to install extension plates which will enable roads to be opened and closed to allow for traffic.
Public realm improvements installed thanks to Reopening High Streets Safely funding have to be branded to show that they have been supported by the initiative. We can vinyl wrap the Surface Guard system with the ERDF HM Government logos to comply with this condition.
Helping people and businesses to benefit from improved public spaces is both an immediate priority and a long-term goal for local authorities so, whether as part of the Reopening High Streets Safely initiative or not, trialling pedestrianization with ATG Surface Guard is a popular choice.
To find out more about how ATG Surface Guard could help you safely open streets to pedestrians and allow outdoor hospitality seating, get in touch.
Tel: 0161 5073434
Address: 16 Kingsway, Altrincham WA14 1PJ
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