The owner of a Londonderry car wash and tyre business has said he cannot understand why police told him he was breaching Covid regulations after visiting his premises a day after the latest lockdown came into force.
onnor Thornton is contracted by a number of other businesses – including Parcel Force, River Ridge, Tayto and NIE – to keep their vehicles clean.
He also sells tyres – which is deemed an essential business.
He has been allowed to continue this aspect of his business.
Mr Thornton said his contact with motorists using his car washing business is minimal and in no way breaches the Government guidelines of social distancing.
He said: “I have letters from a whole host of other companies that I have been contracted to clean, stating that it is important their vehicles are kept washed – but the police have told me if I open I will be fined.
“No motorist coming here to get their vehicle washed gets out of their car and we operate a contactless payment facility so there is no actual contact between us and the motorist so there is no breach of social distancing guidelines.
“We have a tyre depot on site and a MoT wash on site – which are considered essential as far as I know – but I don’t understand why we cannot keep our business open.”
Mr Thornton’s confusion was mirrored by Conor Gillespie, who owns Tamlaght Car Care in Omagh. He was also told by the PSNI last Saturday to shut, also for breaching coronavirus regulations.
Mr Gillespie, however, challenged the police on why he was forced to close. He was later informed by police the following Tuesday he could in fact reopen his business as he operates a garage which includes a car wash.
Police sought clarification from the Executive regarding what businesses are required to close under the current Health Protection Regulations and confirmed that if a mechanic or garage owner runs a car wash as part of their main business they are permitted to stay open as these are classed as essential businesses.
Mr Gillespie said: “We have complied with all Covid regulations and requirements by keeping our social distance, wearing face coverings and asking customers to remain in their vehicles.
“It is a difficult time for every one but especially small businesses. I am not looking for special treatment but I didn’t see why we should be closed as most of our business is done outside.
“At this time of year, we need to ensure our vehicles are clean with windscreens, number plates and lights all visible.
“It is also very important that the underside of vehicles are clean for mechanics or MoT inspectors to inspect it properly,” he added.
SDLP Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan said he is seeking clarity on the matter on behalf of Mr Thornton and others in a similar position.
He said: “It is important that clarity is provided to business owners in this sector who are largely small businesses but who are providing employment and where there is minimal risk of transmission because people do not even leave their cars.”