Fears are growing that a Covid testing centre at an industrial estate could cause businesses to close.

The centre opened on Saturday in portable structures behind Hexham’s former fire station, in the area of the Tyne Mills Industrial Estate.

But while a local test centre has been welcomed, traders and a prominent councillor have questioned its location.

Business owners fear people with symptoms of Covid could come into close contact with staff, putting their safety at risk, and also triggering track and trace alerts.

One trader who did not wish to be named said: “This could close us. It could discourage people from visiting us and potentially force staff to self isolate.”

The trader said that until signage was improved on Wednesday morning, concerns were growing that people would wander onto business premises searching for the Covid site.

Hexham town councillor Derek Kennedy, who also represents Hexham West on Northumberland County Council, said: “I welcome a Covid test centre in Hexham, it’s necessary as cases start to rise. However, traders have legitimate concerns that they are operating their business in close proximity to the site.”

Coun. Kennedy said other, more suitable sites, should have been considered.

Coun. Richard Dodd, deputy leader with responsibility for public health at Northumberland County Council, said the site had to be accessible to residential areas so people could visit on foot rather than by car, and also had to avoid taking up town centre parking spaces.

He added: “Given the tight timeframes involved in identifying, approving and installing the sites to help increase access to testing for track and trace purposes, unfortunately it has not been possible to consult more widely on this.”

Coun. Dodd said the layout of the site had been carefully designed to enable people to move around safely, social distancing was maintained throughout the testing process, while people attending the centre were given rules to minimise risk – including the need to avoid contact with others and wear face coverings.

On-site parking, and an overflow car park is available. Coun. Dodd said ‘parking for customers only’ signs had gone up to prevent inappropriate parking, while signage would be constantly reviewed.

He added: “All testing sites in Northumberland have been risk assessed, to ensure they do not pose any health and safety risks to the surrounding areas – including homes and businesses.”