A group has gathered at the harbourside this morning to oppose impending pedestrianisation.

A mixture of residents and boat owners have met near quayside pub The Old Rooms.

It comes after Dorset Council announced streets around Weymouth harbour will be pedestrianised in the hope it will encourage effective social distancing once lockdown eases.

More businesses, including the hospitality trade, are looking to reopen their doors from July 4.

Working with Weymouth Town Council, Dorset Council has agreed a temporary 12-week period where Custom House Quay will be closed to traffic each day from 10.30am to 9pm.

Parking will be suspended within the closure – between East Street and Town Bridge – to provide the additional space needed to maintain social distancing within the sitting-out areas and busy pedestrian environment.

The council says access to the fish loading quay and businesses east of East Street will be unaffected by these temporary measures. The southern end of Maiden Street will become two-way to facilitate deliveries at the other end of the closure.

Cllr Kate Wheller, chairman of Dorset Council harbours committee, says it has been 'very challenging' to meet the needs of every individual business that uses the area, as well as take into consideration the views of residents and the potential increase of sitting-out space.

“With visitors able to stay overnight, the number of hospitality and fishing industry businesses in this area, as well as the attraction of the harbour itself, more space will be needed to ensure social distancing can be maintained," she said.

Last month, the Dorset Echo reported how boat operators and some residents ‘vehemently opposed’ the plans, saying it would 'kill the harbour’s lifeblood marine industry overnight' if given the go-ahead. 

Boat operators said they feared the measures would become permanent, and others were worried they would turn the harbour into a 'magnet' for people who want to 'drink the day away.'

Other concerns included the huge amount of businesses that rely on vehicular access.

At that point, no formal plan had been put forward.

Speaking at the time, Peter Vincent, owner of Old Harbour View B&B, said: “We don’t want it to turn it into a riot down here. The most outrageous thing is that all the residents have been kept out of the loop."

Councillor Ray Bryan, Dorset Council portfolio holder for highways, travel and environment, said due to the speed with which the council was dealing with the pandemic and emerging central government guidance, it was 'unlikely' the council would be able to launch a formal consultation and gather its results before any temporary measures could potentially be introduced.

He said at the time: "However, as portfolio holder, I for one will not be signing off on any plans until I am satisfied that harbour users and other associated businesses have been consulted and will not be adversely impacted.

"This is an unprecedented situation with no perfect solutions," he added. "There is a balance to be struck between allowing currently-open businesses to continue operating while making sure social distancing can be followed when cafes, restaurants, pubs and bars open in the coming weeks. Undoubtedly there will need to be some compromises made, but it is in no-one’s best interests for Dorset Council to impose changes to the detriment of public health or the local economy. We will continue to listen to concerns from local stakeholders and will take their views into account before we confirm any plans.”

There were people in favour of the plans.

Ward councillor Jon Orrell said: “As lockdown is relaxed the two metre social distancing rule and face masks are becoming more important. I support pavement and road changes that will save lives by stopping the spread.”

Steve Philpot, owner of new harbourside pizza restaurant, The Loft, said: “I think it would be great for Weymouth - there’s been talk for about a year or so of making the town a food destination – the council needs to support us by making it a better environment for people to visit.

“We were told that only restaurants with outside seating will be allowed to reopen in July, so that’s no use to us whatsoever – but this (pedestrianisation) would allow us to put tables outside.”