Southend seafront traders urge council to reconsider cancelling annual fireworks display

Seafront traders are calling for the decision to cancel Southend’s popular autumn fireworks display to be reviewed, arguing there is little risk from Covid-19 in an open-air environment and that cancelling could mean more people losing jobs.

Paul Thompson, business owner and former chair of the Seafront Trader Association, asked the council’s chief executive to consider making the first fireworks night a “pilot” which can be monitored and reviewed before a decision is made on whether to cancel the season entirely.

Mr Thompson argues that Southend’s infection rate for Covid-19 is “miniscule” and the risk of it spreading in an open-air environment would be “extremely low”.

In a letter to chief executive Allison Griffin, he wrote: “It is essential to find the correct balance between risk management of the virus spreading against the impact on the local economy. To date the town has done this incredibly well.

“The decision taken to cancel the fireworks has unnecessarily forsaken this balance, and in my view seems to have been made in haste.”

He explained the two-week heatwave in August saw “tens of thousands of visitors” come to Southend’s beaches and yet the council’s public health chief Krishna Ramkhelawon has confirmed there has been no outbreaks associated with the seafront.

It is for this reason he believes “visitors to the seafront in the open air, have had little or no negative effect at all on the coronavirus rate”.

Furthermore, he claims the risk of the virus impacting fireworks spectators would be even lower than it would have been for beachgoers as most people would be spread out from Thorpe Bay along to Chalkwell.

Rather than cancel, the council should use the first Saturday in October as a ‘pilot’ for the fireworks which can be reviewed, monitored and be used as the basis for a final decision on whether to cancel.

He added: “The fireworks are vital to seafront businesses, the high street and the wider local economy.

“Even more so given the disruption to trade throughout the lockdown. They also provide something for the community to do at no cost, to get out of the house for a short while in the open air.”

John Remblance, owner of a number of seafront arcades on Marine Parade including Electric Avenue, New York New York and Stardust, called the cancellation of the fireworks “disastrous” for trade.

He said: “It ends our season instantly. We’ve already missed Easter and the May Day Bank Holiday.

“To have it not start, then to end the season so abruptly is disastrous and it will affect jobs.

“The Government is asking us to keep people on but we can’t if we don’t make money.”

He added there appeared little logic in stopping fireworks that involve people being spread out across open beaches, yet people are allowed to get onto airplanes to go on holiday or cram into stadiums to watch sports from October 1.

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter