TOWN centre footfall reached the highest point in more than a year as shops reopened, council figures confirm - with more than ten per cent of the borough heading out on one day.

With non-essential retailers opening for the first time since January, visitors to Barnsley eagerly returned to catch up on clothes shopping and hair and beauty appointments.

And statistics collected by Barnsley Council show they did so at higher levels than in pre-lockdown months, the Chronicle can reveal.

On Saturday, the authority said 30,603 people flocked into town - on the same date in 2019, that figure stood at 25,381.

Friday saw 23,350 shoppers make the trip, more than the combined total of 15,194 from both Friday April 9 and Saturday April 10.

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Environment and tranport service director Paul Castle told last week’s meeting of the local authority’s audit and governance committee that daily figures since last Monday had surpassed the previous single-day high point from December 23, 2019.

Mr Castle deemed the reopening a ‘very notable day’ as the borough eases out of lockdown with its own localised roadmap complementing national guidelines.

He said officers have a range of 42 measures at their disposal to monitor exit strategy’s success - with the authority modelling ‘best-case’ and ‘worst-case’ scenarios based on vaccine roll-out, infection rates and hospitals, care homes and schools operating at more normal capacity.

“We are still in a major incident situation so we still have government arrangements to be able support that here in Barnsley and South Yorkshire cognizant of the national picture,” said Mr Castle.

“We are moving further towards step three, on May 17.

“We will see a change as we move through this.

“Then, we will see areas open in terms of maximum numbers of 30 outdoors, and the rule of six or two households indoors - obviously subject to data - and indoor hospitality will open.

“So, another big step in terms of where we’re going.

“We need to keep these indicators under measure so that we can then develop plans for the best and worst cases going forward.”

Mr Castle said footfall at the transport interchange was ‘predictably’ down on pre-Covid levels - from 411,659 in January last year to around 152,000 in February.

Visitor numbers at council-managed culture and heritage sites are within touching distance of what they were when restrictions were eased last year - with 105,000 counted compared 150,000 in August.

Matthew Gladstone, executive director for place at Barnsley Council, added: "As we move through the recovery roadmap people will start to return to town centres and high streets and Barnsley businesses are ready to welcome them back.

“It was great to see people using the town centre on the day of the reopening, with higher footfall figures than seen on Mondays during December in the run up to Christmas 2019, pre-Covid times.”

The council’s ‘Let’s Get Barnsley Back In Business’ campaign features digital adverts on billboards and vans, and on bus shelters, that highlight safety measures put in place - while the authority is also featuring videos from local independent traders on its social media channels.

"It's crucial that we continue our journey out of lockdown in a safe and well-managed way,” added Mr Gladstone.

“That's why it's so important for everyone to follow all the guidance in place and carry on with the basics of wearing a face covering when required, keeping a safe distance apart from people we do not live with, and continuing to regularly wash or sanitise our hands, to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

“We’d like to thank everyone in Barnsley for playing their part, and ask them to continue to follow the guidance so that together we can stay safe, protect others and get Barnsley back in business.”