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Council face criticism for town centre reopening

West Berkshire Council has faced criticism for the way it is handling the reopening of Newbury town centre.

Members of West Berkshire Liberal Democrats called on the Council to put more resources into ensuring that businesses are given the advice they need to have the best chance to succeed.

It was revealed last week during a Council Scrutiny meeting that one town centre cafe had waited three weeks without a response from West Berkshire Council in relation to reopening and that a number of pubs were also seeking clarification on outside seating.

Cllr Jeff Brooks said: “The use of outdoor space, sometimes using council land is going to be needed to help businesses recover. With an economic development team made up of only two people I worry that the Council isn’t giving the local businesses the focus and support it so desperately needs. Their latest strategy serves as a point in hand. No real adaptation because of Covid and approved as a tick box exercise.”

Cllr Lee Dillon commented: “Speedy advice and original thinking is needed. I know of businesses waiting three weeks for a response on the best way to re-open. We need the council to be fleet of foot during this phase making sure support is there when needed. We can do better than this and I hope the Administration takes on-board our call for more support to be put in place and quicker responses.”

Richard Somner, West Berkshire’s Executive Member for Transport and Countryside, said: "We are committed to helping our businesses make better use of outdoor space so that they can welcome customers back safely, soon.

"We very quickly recognised that using outdoor space would be the only way many of our pubs and cafes can do this so put into place our own local process to enable this quickly. Central Government has now acted on this issue and we have immediately updated our procedure accordingly. We have also ensured that Planning and Licencing officers are ready to offer advice on any other proposals businesses may put forward to support safe re-opening.

“Our message to local businesses is simple: if you need support to re-open, please get in touch. We will be as flexible as we possibly can to help you get back on your feet.”

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