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The first passengers, suitably equipped with face masks, take the West Hill Lift on its return to operation (photo: Kevin Boorman).

Hastings begins to open up

Hastings took an important step towards reopening on Saturday as step three of the government’s relaxation of lockdown restrictions came into effect. The council issued a cautious welcome but was pleased to see the West Hill Lift back in operation. New support measures for local businesses were announced by the government today. Nick Terdre reports.

It was a significant moment for many in town as hairdressers and pubs reopened, cafes and restaurants were able to serve customers inside, accommodation providers and campsites could welcome guests again and some of the town’s tourist attractions were back in business, including the West Hill Lift.

Had the weather been hot and sunny, there might have been greater numbers making for the beach or crowding into pubs; but it was cool for the time of year, somewhat rainy and overcast, which gave a rather muted feeling to the occasion.

The council, which has been keen not to move too hastily for fear of encouraging the spread of coronavirus, has started to cautiously welcome visitors again.

Punters enjoying a first post-lockdown pint outside The Havelock.

“Saturday was a big day for the town’s visitor economy, which supports over 6,000 jobs normally and generates around £360m annually,” said Cllr Colin Fitzgerald, deputy leader and lead councillor for tourism at Hastings Borough Council.

“Amongst the attractions to reopen was our own West Hill Lift, now 129 years old. It had been closed since July 2019 because it needed work on its main drive wheel. This was carried out over the winter, and was returned in time for Easter, but then Covid-19 struck of course, and we weren’t able to reopen it then.

“But it opened on Saturday, and it was great to see it being used again.

Business steady

“But not everything is open yet, and it is only right that we are cautious. The attractions that were open have reported that business was steady, rather than really busy, which I think is good. It most definitely isn’t business as usual, and we’re asking visitors to respect, protect, and enjoy.

“Respect our local communities, any specific guidelines we and our partners have put in place; protect yourself and others, by taking sensible precautions; and enjoy your visit by going off the beaten track – if everyone heads to the same hotspot it is impossible to stay socially distanced.”

Quite a crowd turned up however for the reopening of the pier on Monday, at times making it impossible to maintain the recommended two-metre distancing. Mayor Nigel Sinden who attended the event later issued an apology for not being able to stick to the rule. “We did try to keep apart, but at times people crowded in and it wasn’t possible to maintain the 2m distance at all times. I accept that I should lead by example, and I am very sorry that I didn’t on this occasion.

“I will not attend any more events in person until it is safe to do so. We have done very well to keep Covid-19 levels low in Hastings, and I obviously want it to stay that way.”

A beer garden with 70 tables has been set up on the pier in expectation of good weather and plenty of customers.

Chancellor’s new measures

The need for social distancing reduces the capacity of the hospitality sector, threatening their ability to run a viable business, as was recognised by Chancellor Rishi Sunak who proposed a number of measures in his summer statement today.

VAT on the cost of meals and non alcoholic drinks in restaurants, cafes and pubs, and for take-away meals, will be cut from 20% to 5% until mid-January, while August will be ‘eat out to help out’ month, with a 50% discount for every diner up to £10 a head on Mondays to Wednesdays.

The VAT cut also applies to hotels and B&Bs and on entertainments such as theme parks and cinemas. All employers can also benefit from a one-off payment of £1,000 offered for each furloughed member of staff retained until the end of next January.

These form part of a package of measures aimed at preventing widespread unemployment as the government’s current support packages begin to be phased out. They were welcomed by MP Sally-Ann Hart, who said up to 655 local businesses could benefit from them.

 

Posted 09:46 Thursday, Jul 9, 2020 In: Shops & Things

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