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New five-point plan

Scottish lockdown tested as business plans for restart

Victoria Street

Victoria Street: closed to through traffic (pic: Terry Murden)

UPDATE 10 May: Shops and hotels across Britain are making preparations for a phased reopening in a move that may test the resolve of Scotland’s First Minister to stick with her lockdown measures.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to introduce a five-point plan which could see some of the social distancing guidelines and business closures relaxed south of the border. The Stay Home slogan is likely to be replaced by Stay Alert.

It is understood the system – with alerts ranging from green (level one) to red (level five) – will be similar to the one used to keep the public informed about the terror threat level.

Mr Johnson is expected to say England is currently at stage four but moving towards stage three.

A meeting of the government’s Cobra emergency committee involving the cabinet, devolved nations and the Mayor of London will be held before Mr Johnson’s televised address this evening, with the plans to be put before Parliament on Monday.

Boris Johnson addressing nation

Boris Johnson: televised address

Mr Johnson will acknowledge that areas of the UK may need to respond to the lockdown at a different pace. But any easing of the policy in England will put pressure on Nicola Sturgeon’s declaration that the lockdown will be maintained in Scotland until the end of May.

There is more traffic on the roads and incidents of people gathering in public parks, making it difficult to police the policy, which may be made more difficult when the public see others taking greater liberties.

In the meantime, businesses are making plans to reopen. Garden centres in England are expected to be given the go-ahead to reopen after the Welsh government allowed garden centres to restart and more construction sites will open in England and Wales.

David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “Retailers are working hard behind the scenes to get ready to safely re-open and help get the economy moving again. What is needed now in Scotland is visibility on the route out of lockdown.”

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One building firm in Scotland put part of the blame for its collapse on its inability to trade under the Holyrood clampdown.

Deep cleaning has taken place in city centres, hotels and stores across the UK. Queuing systems and safety screens have been introduced in shops and other customer-facing premises to meet health concerns.

Shops will be hoping consumers show a renewed enthusiasm for visiting high streets. The Scottish vacancy rate across all shopping locations for March was 12.9%, a slight easing from 13% in December. The permanent closure of Oasis, Warehouse and Cath Kidston and of some Debenhams stores spells a nervous few months for the sector.

Local authorities are widening pavements, closing roads and installing more bicycle racks to comply with social distancing guidelines and in the hope that it will entice people back into town and city centres.

Balmoral

Hotels such as the Balmoral are preparing for staycationers (pic: Terry Murden)

Hotels expect a phased opening with limited services and facilities that may include keeping alternate floors closed, not serving hot food, and no table service in restaurants.

Stephen Gow, general manager of The Chester Hotel Aberdeen and The Chester Residence in Edinburgh says there will be continued restrictions on events such as dinners, dances, weddings, awards ceremonies and conferences, with numbers of attendees limited and service changed.

Hotels expect ‘staycation’ visitors to account for the first phase of returning visitors. Property consultants Knight Frank and Colliers expect Edinburgh and London to recover more quickly than some destinations but not to achieve full recovery until 2022.

Business travel may be slower, with many companies encouraged by their ability to operate efficiently through remote working and seeing the cost benefits it brings. This could see the conference and events trade continue to be inactive for some time.

VisitScotland chief executive Malcolm Roughhead expects visitors to seek out rural locations, islands and self-catering accommodation. However, Highlands leaders have spent the past few weeks discouraging travellers and these tensions may persist for some months.

On prospects for overseas travellers returning, Mr Roughead suggests the government use the tax system to help the airlines and airports recover.

Highlands

Highlands leaders spent weeks telling visitors to stay away, but soon they will want them back

Edinburgh City Council is bringing forward some of its pedestrianisation proposals as well as introducing a number of temporary measures.

Changes include bus gates, extended bus lane hours and extra cycle lanes, partly to tackle a rise in complaints about cyclists using pavements.

Key proposals from the Edinburgh City Centre Transformation plan will see Bank Street, East Market Street and East Princes Street closed to car traffic while on Victoria Street and Cockburn Street through traffic would be eliminated and parking provision reduced.

Council leader Adam McVey said: “It’s no secret that we face many months of upheaval as we work to emerge from this crisis, and this will no doubt impact on the way we move around the city. As we return to a ‘new normal’, our citywide strategy will support people to make journeys by foot, bike or public transport while continuing to observe physical distancing.

“We’ve been working closely with the Scottish Government and Sustrans to make improvements such as these easier in the long term. By bringing forward more permanent plans to prioritise these modes of transport, we’re also looking to a cleaner, greener and more sustainable future for Edinburgh.”

Councillors will next week to apply for funding from the Scottish Government’s £10m ‘Spaces for People’ scheme supporting local authorities to deliver temporary improvements for walking and cycling.

Since the implementation of restrictions in March, it is estimated that cycling and walking has increased by 15% to 20%, while travel by car and public transport has dropped.

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However, the figures for cycling and walking will include those taking daily exercise during the lockdown and may fall back as people return to work. Scottish government figures show car use has risen 20% in some urban areas since the lockdown was imposed on 23 March.

Surveys also point to commuters and shoppers shunning public transport in the coming months as fears over coronavirus persist. An Ipsos MORI poll revealed that three in five (61%) Britons would feel uncomfortable about using public transport. But there is no extra provision, such as park and ride, to help motorists during the return to work phase.

Edinburgh council’s plans include the introduction of a bus lane on four-lane Queensferry Road which is already seriously congested at peak times. Without a radical shift in passengers from cars to buses commuters will be concerned that the current jams will get worse.

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