THE easing of lockdown restrictions brought about a considerable buzz in Hexham.

The reopening of shops, pubs and restaurants, boosted by the Government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme, has helped the local economy get back on its feet.

Even Facemask Friday, the sun-kissed day in July when the wearing of face coverings in shops became mandatory, gave both customers and traders more confidence about sharing indoor space.

But the feel-good factor took a hit two weeks ago, when major changes introduced in Hexham town centre divided opinion.

In a bid to create a safer environment, and make more space for social distancing, Northumberland County Council put in place a temporary one-way traffic system, with vehicles travelling north along Beaumont Street, before linking up with Market Street and Gilesgate.

The measures, which saw Hallstile Bank completely closed to traffic, have not been well received by traders, who claimed they had not been consulted on the scheme, which was supported by the Mayor of Hexham, Coun. Bob Hull, and fellow Hexham town councillors, Cath Homer and Trevor Cessford.

Regardless of how and why it was implemented, it is sad to see such a major scheme, designed to create a safer environment, cause such division in the town.

There’s no doubt that improvements could be made to signage on the one-way system, with numerous sightings of confused motorists performing u-turns, while one lorry was pictured after somehow driving the wrong way up Gilesgate, and causing a backlog of traffic on Market Street.

The county council’s director of local services, Paul Jones, attended last week’s meeting of Hexham Town Council, where he admitted there had been teething problems, which included motorists removing the road closure cones at the top of Hallstile Bank, in order to gain access.

But is there a bigger issue to be addressed? Similar schemes have been attempted in the past, and have never come to fruition.

That doesn’t necessarily that mean the long-established two-way traffic system, with motorists giving way at the pinch point on Market Street, is the answer.

However, it’s clear that any new scheme requires extensive consultation with the community. Traders have admitted they are not necessarily against change, they just want to be listened to and make a valued contribution to the decision making process.

After all, they are the lifeblood of the town, facilitating local residents and tourists who visit Hexham’s historic attractions.

Town centre traders want an environment where pedestrians have sufficient space to navigate their way between shops and other businesses. It was no surprise therefore that the other part of the new temporary scheme, received a better reception.

The Market Place is now closed to traffic on Saturdays, and people who attended Hexham Farmers’ Market, on August 8, were full of praise for the ease at which they could move about stalls, and sit outside cafes.

Many shoppers rely on their car, however, and need to drive into the town centre because of mobility issues, while vans and lorries need the freedom to access shops for deliveries. The existing 12-month scheme will be reviewed, but any long term change would need to take into account the views of traders, motorists, and the wider community.