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Herts and Essex councils under pressure to combat coronavirus during clampdown

Services provided by town, district and county councils are coming under increasing pressure as the Covid-19 contagion spreads.

In line with the prime minister Boris Johnson's statement to the nation on Monday night, Herts and Essex registrars are postponing all ceremonies except funerals and are only accepting new appointments to register a death.

The authorities have cut some provision to safeguard public health and concentrate resources on combatting the coronavirus and supporting services such as school places and meals for youngsters at risk and the children of key workers and enhanced adult social care for the elderly and vulnerable.

Causeway, Bishops Stortford.Floral displays. .Pic: Vikki Lince. (32290976)
Causeway, Bishops Stortford.Floral displays. .Pic: Vikki Lince. (32290976)

Meetings of members at all three tiers of local government are being cancelled or curtailed to ensure social distancing and on Monday, Bishop's Stortford's annual town meeting at the Rhodes Arts Complex was called off at the last minute and last night's (Tuesday, March 24) planning and development committee was also axed.

In East Herts, the district council said yesterday (Tuesday) that waste services were continuing as normal but "if collections become affected by reduced workforce then we will keep everyone updated with any delays and if required, revised collection dates".

Personal waste such as used tissues and disposable cleaning cloths can be stored securely within disposable rubbish bags. However, they should be placed into another bag, tied securely and kept separate from other waste and put aside for at least 72 hours before being put in the usual external household waste bin.

Bishops Stortford General Views...County Hall, Hertford. ..Pic: Vikki Lince. (32291004)
Bishops Stortford General Views...County Hall, Hertford. ..Pic: Vikki Lince. (32291004)

The authority has, like its Uttlesford neighbour, suspended all household bulky waste collections and Herts and Essex county councils have shut all their household waste recycling centres including at Woodside in Bishop's Stortford and Thaxted Road in Saffron Walden.

East Herts has also closed its leisure centres, including Grange Paddocks in Bishop's Stortford while Uttlesford has shut its Mountfitchet Romeera centre and other facilities and day centres across both districts are shut.

Play areas are closing across the Indie patch including those under the control of East Herts and Uttlesford district council while Essex has closed its country parks. Stansted Parish Council said: "We have decided that in order to protect public safety we will close our play equipment. We have padlocks on order which will be fitted along with appropriate notices as soon as they arrive, but this is likely to be on Tuesday, March 24. We appreciate that not everyone may agree with this approach but feel this is the right thing to do to keep our community safe."

Councillor Phil Bibby, Hertfordshire County Council's cabinet member for highways and environment, said: "In line with government advice, we are advising people not to visit our open spaces by car. If you do go out to exercise, you should follow the government's guidance on social distancing. The same applies to footpaths and bridleways, known as public rights of way, which remain open."

General Views, Bishops Stortford.Causeway Car Park..Pic: Vikki Lince. (32290951)
General Views, Bishops Stortford.Causeway Car Park..Pic: Vikki Lince. (32290951)

East Herts is keeping its car parks in Bishop's Stortford and Sawbridgeworth open as usual, but the Indie understands fee and enforcement procedures are under review.

Along with bars and restaurants, theatres have also closed, including the Rhodes Arts Complex, which is part-funded by Bishop's Stortford Town Council, and Herts and Essex have closed their libraries including branches in Stansted, Stortford and Sawbridgeworth.

All council are mobilising to provide extra support for those most affected by the pandemic. Although face-to-face meetings are banned, East Herts and Uttlesford are urging those facing difficulties paying their council tax to get in touch.

Bishops Stortford general views.Bishops Stortford Library..Pic: Vikki Lince. (32290911)
Bishops Stortford general views.Bishops Stortford Library..Pic: Vikki Lince. (32290911)

A hardship fund is also available. The government is providing local authorities in England with £500m of new grant funding to support economically vulnerable people and households and

expects most of this funding to be used to provide more council tax relief.

East Herts is also trying to help businesses and has suspended its normal payment terms of 30 days and is now paying invoices as soon as they have been approved.

The Government has pledged to provide £20 billion of business rates support and grant funding to help the most-affected firms manage their cash flow through the crisis. The measures include:

100% business rates holiday for 12 months for all retail, hospitality and leisure businesses

£25,000 grants to retail, hospitality and leisure businesses with a rateable value from £15,001 and up to £50,999

businesses eligible for Small Business Rate Relief (SBRR) will receive a one-off £10,000 cash payment

£5,000 business rates discount for public houses (increased from £1,000) Any business that currently receives retail relief will automatically receive an amended bill showing the adjustment.

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