STRUGGLING indepedent business owners working on a “forgotten street” fear they have been “walled off” from customers due to barriers put in place to enforce social distancing.

The row of barriers and accompanying partial road closure in St John’s Street, Colchester, were put in place in early June, and traders say it was a move made “without consultation”.

They say the barriers are unsightly and have left the road too narrow, while their shops are shut off from potential customers.

Len Oakes, 60, who has run Island Dry Cleaning for around 40 years called the road “the forgotten street”.

“Many think the road is closed so don’t bother walking down. ‘St John’s Street is closed’ is what it says on a sign at the top of the road,” he said.

“We’re now behind a wall. We’re told it’s for social distancing but that’s a load of rubbish as we now hardly get anyone come down here as they will all walk on the other side of the road.

“Worse still, I used to be able to pull in my van for loading and unloading about four or five times a week but it’s impossible now.

“I nearly got decapitated by a van the other day. I got out my van to unload and it nearly took my head off.”


Busy - buses clog up St John's Street

Colin Aston, owner of Alphamarque, which sells mobility equipment, said the barriers are having a “massive” impact on his business.

He said: “It’s madness, the council is supposed to be supporting businesses but it is not.

“All the shops on this side of the street are independents, we haven’t got a lot of money and we’re down to our last few thousand to survive.”

Mr Aston said businesses had received an email explaining the barriers will eventually be replaced with bollards.

“They’re putting in semi-permanent, pinned down bollards with gaps in,” he said.

“The main point is it has restricted our loading and we need a dedicated loading area aside from the small one we currently have at the bottom of the road.

“I have to carry recliner chairs and scooters and used to be able to park outside the shop.

“My disabled customers used to be able to park out there to unload an individual to get goods and go, now that has been denied and they can’t pull up anywhere.”

Pauline Nickerson, owner of Bumbles Cafe, said her staff must now carry large cases of supplies from the nearby multi-storey car park.

“We can’t our get our deliveries here anymore,” she said.

“In the afternoons this side of the street is now completely empty – no-one walks along here.

“We opened up before lockdown finished as a takeaway and these barriers weren’t here.

“We were steady and it paid some of the bills – but as soon as they put this up, it was like turning a light switch off.”

Essex Highways defended the one way traffic system and the widening of a footpath in St John's Street.

The authority said it is in place to accommodate social distancing, “ensuring public safety” during the coroanvirus pandemic.


Wall - St John's Street traders by the barriers

Responding traders' concerns, an Essex Highways spokeswoman said: “The temporary measures currently in place in Colchester and other urban areas of Essex are to ensure public safety during this global health pandemic.

“Responding to government guidelines to encourage walking or cycling, as well as supporting social distancing has been challenging given the legislation we have to work within and competing pressures.

“We want to encourage people back to our towns and cities but this must be done safely.”

She confirmed changes are planned for the barrier system in place in St John’s Street, which will allow pedestrians to “cross the road freely”.

She added: “The official loading bay provision has been maintained to enable loading and unloading, without blocking the carriageway, but we have to restrict space at the kerb to allow for safe social distancing.

“We are working with the Colchester BID and a councillor-led monitoring board, set up to consider safety measures."