Up to 30 per cent of businesses in Penrith Town Centre could be at risk of closing if the new traffic restrictions are not removed immediately, several business leaders have warned.

Business chiefs have been left in uproar and have come together to fight the current measures put in place by Cumbria County Council’s highways department with strong concerns of the economic harm it could do at a critical time when local retailers were trying to get back on their feet from the coronavirus pandemic lockdown.

There are also fears that the “mismanagement and poor communication” of the scheme, which is a partial but not a full road closure, allowing emergency service vehicles, buses and delivery vans access, is posing a safety risk to unsuspecting pedestrians.

Stephen Macaulay, chair of the Penrith Chamber of Trade and Commerce, is one of a number of people who have spoken out against what some are calling “just a road block”.

Mr Macaulay was fearful that the current measure were a red herring and that the county council could use pedestrianizing of the town in an attempt to secure finance through the Government’s £1.2m emergency active travel funding scheme.

He said: “Safety has been put as the reason behind these changes but it doesn’t make the area safe, it's less safe now than not having anything at all. I do not know what they are trying to do.

“There have been a few near misses, I had to stop a vehicle myself from trying to enter the road closure from Burrowgate as he was about to collide with some children cycling who just wouldn’t of expected a car with what is going on. If someone doesn’t get hit or a child injured I will be amazed, it is that serious.

“For me the partial road closures are dangerous and not safe. There was no adequate conversations or planning. I propose that they leave the closures for a week or two and measure footfall and trade to help give the council a direct comparison of the impact when they bring the closures in. But they would not listen.

“There is the £1.2m emergency active travel funding into town centres by the Government post-lockdown to help with pedestrianisation that I’m aware the county council has applied for and this would appear to be phase one of that, but if so they haven’t met the statutory guidance and done the necessary proper consultation.

“Businesses have taken a significant hammering over this roadblock, it is a real risk that we could lose businesses, at least 30 per cent are on the cusp from Covid and this could push them over the edge. At this time, we should be doing what we can to get businesses back up and running, like in Kirkby Stephen, not people playing with political ambitions.”

Finesse has confirmed it is closing its two bridal and jewellery shops until further notice due to the road closures and other stores like town stalwarts N Arnison and Sons and big chains Burton’s and The Works were reviewing the situation with redundancies and shop closures a serious risk. Tim Lorton of Tattie Tim’s stated “there was real excited that trade was picking up last week then this happened. It feels like a nightmare. I’ve lost around 75 per cent of my trade”.

Karen Radcliffe of the Caffeine Rush stall in Penrith’s Market Square has set up a petition to ‘stop the pedestrianisation’ of the town centre online, with over 3,000 signatures in under a week. Dan Harding, deputy chair of Penrith BID, confirmed it had a paper petition with another 2,000 signatures.

Dan Harding, aged 32 and owner of food establishments Foundry 34 and Angel Lane Chippie, confirmed they have engaged with other businesses since Saturday to monitor opinion, footfall and retail takings.

He said: “Most businesses are saying their takings are 50 per cent down from the week before. It is very clear that the road closure is having a seriously negative impact on the town and I would like to highlight it is not a pedestrianisation, just a roadblock as some traffic are still allowed to get through.

“This is clearly a hindrance and not a help to any businesses. They have done it in the guise of post-lockdown safety but there are so many other things they could have done, like made the big wide pavements we have one-way and no other town in Cumbria has had to do this.

“We had a meeting with the county council on Tuesday and they admitted communication around it had been poor while the signs put out make it look like the town is closed. They could have gone public with it two weeks before when officers made the decision but only did last minute 48 hours before, and more concerning is it appears blue-light services were also left in the dark.

“If Covid wasn’t a big enough kick in the teeth for businesses, then this is.”

Cumbria County Council said: “The temporary measures are required to maintain the Government’s social distancing guidance, manage road space and limit risk to the public by reducing traffic in the town.”

Helen Fearon, councillor for Penrith West, was initially quoted calling the measures “important” but has since made it clear she wants them “removed immediately”.

She said: “I’m disappointed and frustrated with the council sticking to its guns in the face of mounting concern.”