Town centre traders have criticised the district council’s decision to install planters on both sides of Reepham’s Market Place, claiming they have not been consulted.
The plant beds appeared on Friday 21 August – more than two months after the reopening of non-essential retail outlets – as part of plans to protect queuing shoppers from vehicles in certain areas of the Market Place.
Eight planters have been positioned outside the pharmacy and butchers, with a further six opposite the entrance to the Bircham Centre. It is understood their funding came from a European rural development fund.
Pharmacist Guppy Kular of Motts Pharmacy said the planters, which take up several car parking spaces, were an “unhelpful and unwelcome addition” to the Market Place.
He added that the “obstruction” was put in place without any consultation with traders or residents and “would have covered two-thirds of the Market Place if traders hadn’t intervened.
“We have coped for nearly five months, keeping the staff and public safe, with no input from the [district] council, and now they come up with a plan that will keep our customers away.”
Shop-keepers say the reduction of parking spaces will make it difficult for elderly and disabled customers to access their shops.
Mr Kular also noted that delivery vans cannot now park safely outside the pharmacy, while Vanessa Hillard of Diane’s Pantry pointed out that the planters arrived much too late.
Meanwhile, local residents and shoppers on social media have been virtually unanimous in condemning the move, saying that “all this eyesore achieves is the reduction of useful space for both parking and queuing” and that the planters are a “complete waste of money”.
One resident added: “For the past five months the people of Reepham have queued patiently, at least two metres apart, not because of any council directive, but because of the desire to keep ourselves and our community safe.”
Reepham Town Council chairman Les Paterson pointed out that, despite the adverse remarks, several positive comments on the planters had been received from passers-by.
He said that at the end of May, a Broadland District Council representative met with the town council to discuss options for creating safe spaces, and it was agreed that planters offered the best option, both in terms of aesthetics and in providing robust, semi-permanent barriers.
Mr Paterson said Broadland’s final proposal, which differed slightly from the initial plan following representations from one of the town centre traders, was presented to the town council, which agreed to support the plan, including the installation of hand-sanitising stations and social distancing signage as part of the district council’s Shop with Confidence initiative.
Road closures and traffic restrictions put in place to help social distancing in other market towns across the county have caused controversy, with claims of a detrimental impact on local trade.
Broadland District Council has been approached for comment.