As summer starts, something near normality is returning to Orpington's high street. It's buzzing with people eager to get out again and enjoy our fantastic local retail, hospitality, and leisure businesses. After months of lockdown, this is a welcome sight – and, I hope, a signal that this crisis is nearing its end even if the date for lifting the final restrictions has been delayed to July.
Although disappointing, this was done to give the NHS more time to fully vaccinate around two-thirds of people. By the time this article is published, the NHS will have administered more than 100,000 vaccine doses across the Orpington constituency. This colossal achievement - which couldn't have been achieved without the hard work of NHS staff and volunteers - will reduce the spread of the virus and protect people from developing a serious, potentially life-threatening illness. Once enough people are vaccinated, the government will be able to lift restrictions irreversibly. The Indian variant has moved the goalposts slightly - the evidence so far suggests that two doses are needed for the highest level of protection compared to one jab against the Kent variant. However, the NHS is winning the race against the virus. More than 50 per cent of adults are fully vaccinated - and soon the top priority groups most at risk will have received both their jabs. That's why I am optimistic that normality will return soon.
To end government restrictions for good it's vital we all play our part. That means getting a vaccine when offered and a second jab when invited. It also means testing yourself twice a week using the NHS rapid tests to identify those who are asymptomatic (1 in 3 people have no symptoms) to stop the spread of new variants while the NHS vaccinates the community. By doing this you can protect your family and friends, colleagues and community, and help end this crisis.
We can't restore normality by lifting government restrictions alone; people need to feel comfortable to return to normal. Once government restrictions are gone, it will be up to all of us to make one other feel safe. The vaccines will no doubt help and the excellent efforts by local businesses to keep their premises clean will also give people confidence. But we must also be respectful of one and another - for example, by keeping our distance - to give other people the confidence to get back out in our community and support our local businesses.
As normality returns, it's important we also look to the future of Orpington's high street. The developer Areli Real Estate is currently putting together its proposal to transform Orpington's Walnuts Shopping Centre. It is vital that the right plan is produced, one that can enhance our high street, provide excellent public spaces and new appropriate housing.
In my conversations with the developers, I've been clear that any proposal needs to respect Orpington's unique character. But to get this right, they need to hear from all of you. The Areli group will soon be submitting their planning application which will then go to a full public consultation. This will be your opportunity to have a say on their plans before the application is decided by Bromley Council. I encourage everyone to have their say to ensure we get the right plan for Orpington.
Article by Gareth Bacon MP first published by Orpington 1st.