Relaxing Covid restrictions 'critical' for tourism hotspot Alnwick

A trade group in Northumberland has told ITV News it is 'critical' the government relaxes Covid lockdown next week, claiming if it does not, "in some circumstances it’s the difference between (businesses) surviving and dying".

The Prime Minister is due to set out his plans on how the country will come out of the third lockdown in an announcement on Monday February 22.

The calls come as the Labour Party released new analysis, based on Office for National Statistics figures, which suggests high streets reliant on tourism, hospitality and culture could be "hollowed out" if businesses are not given more support.

The figures put York, North Yorkshire and Northumberland in the top twenty areas most at risk of businesses going bust.

Alnwick Gardens Credit: ITV News

In 2019, more than 10 million tourists visited Northumberland, contributing around £1 billion to the local economy.

For a county that employs 13,000 workers in the tourism sector, it is vital that it can benefit from anyone wanting to opt for staycation this summer as opposed to going abroad due to Covid restrictions.

The chairman of Alnwick Chamber of Trade, Lisa Aynsley, told ITV News Tyne Tees the town needed a boost after months of lockdown.

We’re coming into what, month three now of being locked down. We need that uplift that the tourists bring. It’s critical, I can’t emphasise it enough, we need to be opening back up... in some circumstances it’s the difference between surviving and dying.

Lisa Aynsley, Alnwick Chamber of Trade

Alnwick's streets are quiet in lockdown Credit: ITV News

Alnwick Garden is usually a hive of activity, with visitors from across the world enjoying the gardens, trees, flowers and open spaces.

Its gates are currently closed to the public and its staff are furloughed.

Bosses at the garden have introduced many safety procedures to enable a Covid safe experience and say if the restrictions are not lifted it is "going to be tough".

For us, if people can’t come, then it’s going to be tough. We’ve had a year where we’ve been mostly closed. We opened for a few months in the summer and at Christmas and we’re back closed again, staff are furloughed.

For security for the staff it’s going to be massive, but we’re also a charity, so a lot of our elderberries, who are over-55’s, haven’t been able to benefit from any of the programmes we’ve been running. Plus they’re isolated and they’re lonely, so for them as well to get out, is going to be huge.

Ian McAllister, Alnwick Garden

Everything but the diners at The Cookie Jar Credit: ITV News

The Penn Gallery benefited from relaxations to the first lockdown last summer. 

Owner of the gallery, Gavin Penn, said It was really busy with plenty of tourists.

Sales were good so if it does get relaxed then that would be, hopefully it would be as good as last summer and you never know, with people not going abroad then the season might extend a bit more so, hopefully, fingers crossed that’ll be the case.

Gavin Penn, Penn Gallery

For The Cookie Jar hotel, based in the centre of the town, they have already had a lot of bookings for the spring and summer months.

Not just people booking for a few nights, but for several days with the prospect of holidays abroad this year seemingly slim.

Everything is uncertain. It depends on furlough again. It finishes at the end of April. You know, if that doesn’t extend and we’re still closed it’s a massive impact financially business-wise. I wouldn’t like to think what could happen, but it’s worrying, really worrying. So it’s really, fingers crossed, whenever it’s safe to do so, open when we can.

Mick Holland, The Cookie Jar