PUBLIC criticism and a relaxing of social distancing has forced Cumbria County Council to take a fresh look at the controversial emergency traffic measures introduced in Penrith.

The council confirmed its change of stance on Wednesday after having several meetings with stakeholders and receiving some strong feedback.

Its highways department closed the town’s main thoroughfare to most traffic on Saturday with barely 48 hours notice, a move that prompted a protest of 300 people and the launch of a petition when an emergency ambulance was blocked and retail trade fell.

A council spokesman thanked the public's patience and said: “This feedback, along with the revised government guidance which the Prime Minister announced on Tuesday, stating that social distancing can be reduced to one metre plus, provides us with the opportunity to improve the current scheme and look at alternative options for the town centre.

“It was always the intention, as is the case with all temporary traffic orders, to carry out regular reviews and make changes as necessary.

“In response to feedback, we have already improved the signage around the area to give greater clarity on access arrangements, diversion routes and directions to car parking. Our message to the public remains that Penrith is very much open for business and people are encouraged to visit while complying with safe social distancing guidance and in line with Public Health England advice.”

Stephen Macaulay, of Penrith Chamber of Trade, said: “We opposed the road closure from day one as we anticipated the negative impact to local businesses. Cumbria County Council had different priorities and no doubt considered their approach to be the most appropriate solution from a Public Health perspective.

"We welcome the decision to reconsider the proposal and work with us and the other members of Penrith Working Group to come up with a more appropriate solution. We’d like to see business back to normal as soon as possible, encourage a return to the High Street and avoid any further roadblocks to recovery.”

Mary Robinson, of Eden District Council, said: “This has created so much unnecessary anxiety and Penrith’s businesses have my total support.”