SWINDON Borough Council sought to ease concerns about town centre footfall falling as lockdown restrictions tighten again.

A chamber of commerce that supports businesses around the borough and beyond has seen bosses adapt well to working remotely and returning to pre-lockdown arrangements.

But with working from home now becoming a priority again, there are fears that this could have a knock-on effect on retailers that rely on passing trade from neighbouring firms.

Director of Business West’s Swindon and Wiltshire Initiative Ian Larrard said: “Footfall in Swindon town centre has been rising steadily since the reopening of non-essential businesses, due in part to a gradual return to work at nearby offices.

“Take away this vital passing trade while creating nervousness for residents means our town centre retailers could find the positive footfall movement regressing.

“Government has indicated its willingness to extend financial support packages such as CBILS as fears of a second spike mount and this is welcome. But I urge the Treasury to consider more targeted support for businesses who stand to lose out as a result of lockdown restrictions tightening.”

The council’s cabinet member for the town centre Dale Heenan said: “Visitors to town centre shops are now at about 75 per cent of pre-Covid levels, which is above the national average.

“Swindon’s other 25 per cent largely comprises office workers and people moving to online shopping so the new restrictions shouldn’t change much during the day.

“Council leader David Renard and I have visited many businesses and they are telling us very positive things. If people don’t use their local shops then there is a risk they will close, especially with so many national chains struggling and going bankrupt.

“Places like Bristol and Oxford have managed footfall of around 50 per cent, while Birmingham has dropped 10 per cent in the last month, so Swindon is bouncing back, as it has done in the face of other economic challenges.

“The town centre is virtually all privately-owned, but the council and its partners like inSwindon, are trying to support retailers however we can, including providing over £15m in grants. We will continue work to encourage people back into the town centre through inSwindon’s Shine on Swindon campaign and our scheme to encourage people to take on empty retail units.

“The early 10pm closing time is going to affect bars and restaurants, but they will remain safe as long as everyone follows the guidance.”

Boris Johnson explained his reasoning for the new measures: “In the last fortnight, daily hospital admissions in England have more than doubled.

“Tens of thousands of daily infections in October would lead to hundreds of daily deaths in November and those numbers would continue to grow unless we act.

“We will spare no effort in developing vaccines, treatments, new forms of mass-testing but unless we palpably make progress we should assume that the restrictions will remain in place for months.

“For the time being, this virus is a fact of our lives and I must tell the country that our fight against it will continue.”