Traders’ anger after Worthing road reopened to traffic

The sudden reopening of a Worthing road closed to traffic since last summer has been criticised by several businesses.

Kevin Foreman owner of the Wax Cactus Cafe, Labour councillor Jim Deen and Boris Gelebeshev, owner of Sofia cafe/restaurant

The sudden reopening of a Worthing road closed to traffic since last summer has been criticised by several businesses.

A section of Montague Street West was one of a number of streets pedestrianised temporarily last summer as part of efforts to reopen the town centre safely after the first lockdown ended.

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But Worthing Borough Council decided to lift the closure at the start of June saying businesses were rarely using the street for trading, while residents had raised concerns it was leading to increased traffic and rat running in neighbouring roads.

However several traders, who have been taking advantage of the recent good weather to use the pavement and road to put out tables and chairs, have expressed frustration about the road reopening to traffic and a perceived lack of consultation.

Kevin Foreman, owner of the Wax Cactus Café, has been laying out artificial grass in the road outside for customers using his tables and chairs.

He said: “After the long period of closures and not being able to run the business, we had started to develop a vibrant atmosphere in the road and we were just beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“Now it has been snatched away again and, with distancing restrictions still applying to the inside area, I’m back to only being able to serve a handful of customers.”

His views are shared by Boris Gelebeshev, owner of Sofia, who opened his traditional Bulgarian cafe and restaurant at the start of this year and has had tables in the street from April.

He is particularly angry that the decision to reopen the road was taken without consulting businesses, adding: ““They [the council] don’t realise just how tough it has been for us trying to run a business in the pandemic.”

Labour councillor Jim Deen, who has spoke up in support of the businesses, said it was made clear last year how this was an opportunity to trial pedestrianisation and if it was successful would become permanent.

He explained: “I’m particularly concerned that no-one seems to have been consulted at all. If, as we were told, this was a trial to see whether a more permanent pedestrianisation would work, then surely the council should have been talking to businesses and residents to assess whether the trial was a success.”

Although there were some initial teething problems, he felt people had come to understand the system while businesses, shoppers and residents had ‘started to feel the real benefits of having the road pedestrianised’.

He also questioned why the reopening had taken place before the end of Covid restrictions and with social distancing guidelines still in place.

Cllr Deen also called on the council to pay more attention to improving areas on the fringes of the town centre such as Montague Street West and Rowlands Road.

A spokesman for the council said the closures have been regularly reviewed to make sure they meet the needs of residents, visitors and local businesses, adding: “We understand the challenges that many businesses are facing in these unprecedented times and remain committed to working with them to invest in and improve the town centre as a whole.”