Let's all support shops and businesses hardest hit by pandemic as we take first steps back to normality| Mark Townsend

The Easter break brought with it some relief from the lockdown as were able to use the holiday to meet loved ones and friends again.

Thursday, 8th April 2021, 3:45 pm
Updated Thursday, 8th April 2021, 8:24 pm
Burnley Council leader Mark Townsend is relieved that the first steps to normality can be taken next week, but he is dismayed by the government's announcement that council meetings cannot be held remotely after May 7th

I took the opportunity to meet up again with friends I had only seen through a screen for months, bringing with it a sense of normality, even though we did have to wrap up in blankets to keep out the chill of an early April evening in the garden.

Hopefully this is the start of moving towards the normality of unrestricted social interaction.

Next week also brings further opening up of the local economy with non-essential retail and leisure and hospitality set to burst back into life.

Aswell as looking forward to a desperately needed haircut I am also looking forward to a pint at my local.

It seems unthinkable that when the pubs were closed last October it would be six long months before they would be open again, although this will initially be outside service only.

The leisure and hospitality businesses have been badly affected by this horrendous pandemic and this wasn’t helped by the government's botched implementation last Autumn of a tier system of restrictions.

In late 2020 the leisure and hospitality sector were, unfairly in my view, targeted by government for closure as they were deemed as a major source of the rising infections but there was little evidence available to actually substantiate this.

They have been closed for far too long so let's give these businesses our support and help them to bounce back quickly.

Next week also will also see our town centres in Burnley and Padiham return to a degree of normality as non-essential retail reopens.

Unfortunately the pandemic has taken its toll on our high streets with some big name chains having succumbed to the economic fallout of the forced closures, shoppers resorting to online purchasing and town centre offices being closed.

There is no doubt that the town centres will remain challenged as shopping patterns continue to change and the council will be focused on providing what support it can to help keep foot fall as high as possible.

‘Free after Three’ car parking will be introduced to coincide with the town centre reopening. This will, hopefully not just attract more shoppers to our town centre but will spread them more evenly throughout the day to help with social distancing.

While we all want to get back to some form of normality as quickly as possible the Government announcement that council meetings cannot be held remotely after May 7th came as a surprise to council leaders of all colours right across the country.

Vaccination still has a long way to go so to compel 45 Burnley councillors, officials, and members of the public who wish to attend, all into one room when the health advice is still to social distance and work from home if you can is reckless.

The majority of local parties oppose the government plan and four group Leaders have written to the Minister requesting that he reconsider his decision and allow local councils to decide for themselves how best to carry out meetings in their local area based on the prevailing pandemic conditions.

Enjoy the return to shopping, the pub or the gyms, or whatever it is that reopens for you, over the coming days.