WINCHESTER civic chiefs are working hard to rebuild the High Street as the lockdown eases.

City councillors on the town forum heard that council officers are helping the High Street back on its feet.

In recent weeks the Hampshire Farmers' Market and street market have returned, with non-essential shops able to reopen from Monday June 15 and pubs and restaurant set to trade again from July 4.

Signs have been put up in the city centre to help with social distancing and these would be finessed and the number increased, said Susan Robbins, head of engagement.

The council was working with the BID to help business maximise outdoor spaces, such as The Square where there are several cafes and pubs.

'Task Teams' from the council are out on streets to meet and greet people are encourage them to walk on the left.

Cllr Paula Ferguson, cabinet member for Local Economy, said the county council had suggested red plastic barriers to divide up the High Street into a one-way system. "We rejected that because it would be pretty ugly and not fit with the character of the city aesthetic, and secondly it would take up too much space. I understand concerns that if the weather turns inclement how can people queue. My concern is around space. If we erect structures do we leave enough space to socially distance? We have to think about that.

"The signs are part of 'nudge' theory. We are asking people to do the right thing but we can't enforce them to do the right thing."

Council leader Lucille Thompson said the shops appeared to be doing well as there is a lot of pent-up demand from shoppers.

Ms Robbins told the forum that the key thing was to restore the confidence of people in the city centre. "We see this as very critical. It is great that businesses have reopened but it will be vital we give confidence to residents and visitors to come back into the High Street, have messaging around, what the measures are, what changes they might see and the sort of behaviour they might see."

Cllr Jamie Scott asked when the councillors would return to the Guildhall for meetings. "If the shops can open, the Guildhall could open. We should be in meetings. What impressions are we giving that it's OK for shops to open but not the Guildhall? The Guildhall has spacious rooms. We have the large Bapsy Hall. We are not having wedding receptions there at the moment. We have room to space ourselves out."

Ms Robbins told the forum that 2,000 small business in the district had been helped with £25.7m worth of emergency Government loans.

The council had applied for a grant of £93,000 from the Enterprise M3 agency's Supporting Town Centres Fund. A decision was due to be heard on June 23.

It was considering 272 applications from local businesses for discretionary grants.