THE return of the safe zone in Cardigan and the reintroduction of car parking could spell ‘the final nail in the coffin’ for town centre businesses.

Ceredigion County Council has reintroduced the pedestrianised zone along the High Street and Pendre in an effort to combat a surge in coronavirus cases in the area.

The scheme had been suspended at the end of the national firebreak lockdown after being put in place to enforce social distancing rules with the large influx of visitors over the summer.

The council has also announced it will start charging again in its car parks from December 1 – with machines only accepting card payments, not cash.

But Cardigan Traders acting chairman Julian Beynon-Lewis said the two measures could have a devastating impact on a high street already struggling to cope.

Shops and businesses that have stayed open have already seen a huge drop in footfall as shoppers avoid the high street following the outbreak of a coronavirus cluster in the town.

“This week has been an absolute disaster. We cannot go back and change anything and we have to deal with it but the town has been like a morgue,” said Mr Beynon-Lewis, who is also chief executive of Menter Aberteifi.

“And now for the council to close the high street and then, worse still, to reintroduce car parking charges, we may as well pack up and go home.

“It is almost like the council wants us to fail and I cannot understand the logic behind the thinking.

“They are sat in their ivory tower and are oblivious to the facts that there is no-one on the streets in Cardigan. The street closure and parking charges are the final nail in the coffin.”

Mr Beynon-Lewis said the decisions were so disappointing given that traders were just starting to see business pick up following the firebreak lockdown.

“I have got people phoning me saying they do not know how they will pay the bills,” he said.

“Business have put a huge amount of effort into making the town as safe as possible for everyone and have done everything they have been asked to do.

“Then this happens with no consultation and no democratic accountability. It is like kicking a dog when it is down.

“We have tried to stay positive and talk the town up and then this happens. Christmas is the most important time of the year for many businesses, with as much as 30 to 40 per cent of trade done at this time.

“It is going to be a really tough time and you just wonder how many will keep going.

“At least during the national lockdowns, businesses could claim help but in this situation there is nothing we can do and nowhere to turn.”

A spokesperson for ‘We say no to Cardigan town traffic diversion’, whose lives have been blighted by the traffic going past their homes around the lower Mlwdan area, said: “While we understand we all must take the utmost care to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission, the current footfall in town does not warrant closing the High Street.

“Cardigan is actually very quiet but vehicles are now using Quay Street/Lower Mwldan/Greenfield Terrace as a through-road because they can't drive down the High Street.

“I realise we're in a crisis because of the local Covid outbreak but what CCC has done is not helping anyone.”

A spokesperson for Ceredigion council said: “As the number of coronavirus cases in Cardigan and surrounding areas continue to rise, Ceredigion County Council is taking every step to help stop the virus from spreading further in our communities.

“One of these steps includes reintroducing road closures in Cardigan’s safe zone temporarily in order to ensure people can keep the required social distance when roaming the streets.

“Protecting people’s health and wellbeing remains our main priority.

“In light of the recent surge in cases in the Cardigan locality, the safe zone is one way to ensure people are able maintain a two metre social distance at all times.”

On the return of parking charges, it said: “Cashless parking charges are being introduced in Ceredigion to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission associated with cash transactions.

“Charging was suspended at Ceredigion County Council pay and display car parks at the beginning of the national Covid-19 lockdown in late March 2020.

“Cashless charging will be introduced at most council pay and display car parks from December 1. This way of charging will reduce the travelling required to service and regularly empty cash machines whilst also reducing the risks of Covid-19 transmission associated with cash transactions.”