By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
The eleventh-hour closure of a Christmas market in Broadstairs has been defended by local authority chiefs for being in the “public interest” amid the pandemic.
Kent County Council’s (KCC) scrutiny committee met yesterday (January 22) to review the decision to shut the market over safety fears last month. At the time Thanet was one of the UK Covid hotspots.
Cllr Clair Bell (Con), KCC’s cabinet member for public health, told the panel: “I think this was the right decision to take and was in the public interest.”
However, Broadstairs Christmas Market co-founder Paul Kennedy slammed the shutdown as “harsh” saying it had originally been approved by Thanet District Council.
At the time, KCC said the market posed a “serious” and “imminent” threat to life. More than 500 visitors, some from outside of Kent, were expected to browse the 28 food and drink market stalls.
County Hall public health chiefs ordered the event’s closure on December 11 after a site visit was carried out involving Trading Standards. Organisers were said to have had “insufficient” resources to make the event Covid-secure.
Broadstairs county councillor Rosalind Binks (Con) said she was “dismayed” that the “dangerous” event was allowed to run after she turned it down as chairman of Broadstairs Town Council finance committee.
Speaking to her council colleagues in the virtual meeting, she said: “It was approved by Thanet council officers in a fairly depleted department. Whilst they had worries it dragged on and on until the council realised it had to do something.”
She added: “I applaud KCC’s actions because it was generally accepted as the right decision.”
In response, Thanet District Council leader Cllr Rick Everitt (Lab) described the comments as “disappointing”.
At the online debate, KCC’s Labour leader, Cllr Dara Farrell questioned why similar actions were not taken against other companies, citing the huge queues outside Primark in Bluewater Shopping Centre, near Greenhithe.
He added: “Someone taking a cursory look at this might think KCC is happy to go around shutting down small Christmas markets, in parts of the county, because people were travelling to it and not social distancing.
“Yet, half the region were turning up at Bluewater on those afternoons.”
Following the ruling, KCC’s scrutiny committee has requested a review to be undertaken over the coronavirus legal powers that the county council has at its disposal.
Market boss Mr Kennedy said: “This was a small outdoor Christmas market consisting of outdoor retail only, with no bars or children’s entertainment where visitors might congregate.
“An outdoor market of this nature, with managed visitor numbers, social distancing, and, extra sanitation measures in place, was much safer than visiting indoor shops and supermarkets for some pre-Christmas shopping.”
On November 27, KCC public chiefs also faced scrutiny over their handling of the chaotic closure of Circus Zyair in Paddock Wood during the October half-term. Dozens of disappointed families were turned away at the last minute.