READING town centre reopens next week and residents are being encouraged to stay safe and respect changes being introduced in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Many town centre shops are expected to reopen on the morning of Monday June 15th after the Government said ‘non-essential’ shops could trade from that date, with Reading Borough Council and Reading UK urging people to make their journey count by checking in advance if the shops they wish to visit will be open.
Reading Borough Council, Reading UK and Thames Valley Police are all keen to welcome people back into Reading town centre, and are asking residents to help make it a success by paying special attention to changes introduced to help with social distancing guidelines, which remain in place at this time.
Social Distancing in the Town Centre
A package of new measures is being introduced to help visitors access and navigate the town centre easily and safely, whilst respecting social distancing. These include:
· A number of pedestrian one-way systems, including on Union Street, Oxford Road by Broad Street Mall, Station Road and the station subway
· Barriers to direct pedestrians at pinch points, especially busy bus stops
· Painted lines in public areas to help shoppers with maintaining social distancing
Relevant signage is being put in place across the town centre, reminding people of social distancing restrictions and asking them to remain vigilant and respectful of all shop staff and other visitors to the town centre.
Hygiene in the Town Centre
Visitors are encouraged to be proactive and look after themselves by bringing their own hand sanitiser when they come. This is to complement those being provided by a number of businesses at the entrance to their shops.
People bringing their own hand sanitiser and using it regularly will help reinforce the increased hygiene measures being introduced by Reading Borough Council and Reading UK. This will include a disinfectant clean in June of over 39,000 square feet of public space. There will also be cleaning teams out every day to ensure the town centre remains as clean and hygienic as possible.
Hand washing facilities will be available across Reading’s public toilets, which will be open in St Martin’s Precinct, Caversham Court, Meadway Precinct (disabled toilet only), Cemetery Junction and Albert Road, Town Hall Uri lift which will now be left open in the daytime as well as through the evening / night with toilet facilities also available in some shops and in the Oracle shopping centre.
Help at Hand
For visitors who need assistance whilst visiting Reading in these unprecedented times, help is at hand.
Two Reading BID (Business Improvement District) wardens will be on duty during business hours, three or more pastors will be in attendance between 10am and 2pm on weekdays and Thames Valley Police will have a presence around the town centre as part of a co-ordinated team approach between Reading Borough Council, Reading UK and Thames Valley Police to assist the public.
All three groups will be on the move, offering a welcome, reassurance and advice to help facilitate a safe visit.
Travelling Around Reading
In recognition that Government advice is to avoid using public transport where possible due to social distancing guidelines, Reading Borough Council is particularly encouraging people to walk or cycle when travelling around town, to help maintain the positive environmental impact that has been observed recently due to reduced emissions from a decline in car journeys.
A number of changes are being made to help pedestrians and cyclist get around town safely. These include making some roads one-way to increase space available for walking, and creating more cycle lanes. One part of the work, creating a cycle lane over Reading Bridge, will begin on Wednesday and be finalised on Friday so it is complete in time for the reopening of the town centre. Details of where and when the changes will go live can be found here: http://news.reading.gov.uk/more-space-for-walking-cycling/
Bus services have increased since 1st June for those without alternative travel means, but with reduced capacity on each bus to observe social distancing. Passengers are advised to use contactless payment. Train services are increasing to Saturday levels. It has also been announced by the Government that wearing face coverings will be compulsory on public transport from 15th June.
New Town Centre Red Route
The town centre section of Reading’s first ever red route will also go live from Monday 15th June. The new section of the ‘no stopping’ restriction was due to become operational on March 23rd, but Government restrictions in response to Covid 19 meant its introduction was delayed.
The town centre red route is located entirely inside the IDR. When operational, red route restrictions will run along the far east section of the Oxford Road, before its junction with Broad Street, south along St Mary’s Butts and on to Castle Street, Gun Street and Minster Street, north along West Street and then east along Friar Street. The route also includes Market Place and King Street and Kings Road, where it will link with the eastern section of the route.
A red route is a ‘no stopping’ restriction successfully used on major bus routes in London for many years, helping to keep key public transport moving. Importantly, it also improves safety for pedestrians and cyclists by preventing dangerous or illegal parking, particularly important at a time when social distancing remains in place.
In the longer term and when social distancing restrictions are fully lifted, keeping buses moving and punctual encourages more people to swap private car journeys for public transport, which improves the town’s air quality and public health and feeds into the Council’s Climate Emergency Declaration which is aiming for a net zero carbon Reading by 2030.
Reading’s red route runs along the length of the ‘purple’ 17 bus route – the town’s busiest and best used bus service – with nearly five million individual trips every year and nearly 100,000 trips per week. Eastern and western sections went live in 2018. Sample journey times for the ‘purple 17’ taken on the eastern and western sections already show an average quicker journey time of two minutes.
Following extensive public consultation, parking, loading and disabled bays along the route have been retained where it has been possible. Enforcement of the red route is carried out by a combination of Civil Enforcement Officers and the Council’s mobile CCTV van at this time.
Warning notices, rather than fines, will be issued for a short period of time following the initial implementation of the new Town Centre restrictions. This is to ensure people are completely clear about the new restriction, and that they can be fined in the future if they ignore them. Fines will then replace the warning notices.
Hosier Street Market
The Council has continued to manage the operation of Hosier Street Market since the news in August 2019 that operators Town and Country Markets had gone into administration. At the time the Council said it was is in the process of reviewing options for the future operation of the market and identifying a new operator.
The Council is now working with existing stall holders to reopen the market and recommence trading within the issued Government guidelines on social distancing. This arrangement will continue until a new market operator is ready to take on the management of the existing market, anticipated to be later this year. Plans are also being developed to reopen the food markets in Market Square next week as well.
Reading Borough Council Leader Jason Brock said:
I am sure that there will be a sense of relief that residents can once again visit and shop in the Town Centre, but it is essential everybody pays close attention to the guidance being given, which is there to help keep residents and shop staff safe.
“It is important people take some time to familiarise themselves with the changes, plan their journeys into town and think about their journeys across the town centre. We would ask everybody to be respectful of other people and the social distancing guidelines which remain in place.
“These are the first few steps to some sort of normality, but we need everybody to keep safe and respect the limitations at this time.”
Nigel Horton-Baker of Reading UK added:
“Many key workers have been working in Reading town centre’s essential retail businesses such as banks and pharmacies throughout lockdown. As our other shops prepare to reopen on 15 June, we would like to publicly thank those key workers and to recognise the vital but often unrecognised work they do.
“As shoppers return to Reading town centre over the next few weeks, we urge them respect the safety of our colleagues and other customers by following the guidelines for social distancing, hand washing and moving around town. Help us return Reading town centre to the vibrant, safe and welcoming place it has always been. We look forward to welcoming you back, safely.”