Lights out! City centre business closing due to impact of road closures

Masters In Light is closing on August 31.

Masters In Light is closing on August 31. - Credit: Matt Adams

A retailer who has traded in St Albans for 15 years is shutting up shop because of the city centre road closures.

Mike Skinner, who owns Masters In Light in Market Place, said he has been plagued with delivery problems since High Street and Market Place were closed to traffic when the first lockdown restrictions were eased in May 2020, initially implemented by Herts county council to prevent crowded pavements in the vicinity.

Mike explained how the closures have impacted on him: "We now can't get overnight deliveries - which was a speciality of our service - because they don't leave the depot in Hemel until 11am and the High Street gates are locked at 11am.

"Delivery companies are limited to 20 minutes which is ridiculous if you are carrying an average of 20 deliveries. Our goods are heavy and drivers cannot be expected to handball goods from Verulam Road whilst on a tight schedule.

"Our customers cannot get near the shop to collect goods which has left me in a position of having to pay for heavy items to be delivered, or carry them to the customers' cars, usually in the car parks as there is no parking in St Peter's Street, and very little in Verulam Road."

Despite emailing Herts county council to explain his dilemma, Mike says he has never received a response from them or the BID, who he also contacted.

He says the BID markets also pose a problem when it comes to accessing his shop: "Not only is the road blocked but I'm often moved on by wardens because I do not have a commercial vehicle. They are not interested if I explain that my vehicle is insured to make deliveries, hence it is a commercial vehicle.

Most Read

"I am now left with access to my shop, if I'm lucky, on a Monday, Tuesday or Thursday morning, and as most of our deliveries are now arriving on a Thursday afternoon, it means the goods have to lie in the shop over the weekend."

With his turnover still down 25 per cent despite the end of lockdown, Mike is switching off the lights at his business on August 31. His landlord has demanded a 15 per cent increase on his lease, plus a repayment of 50 per cent rent reduction offered during lockdown.

"All in all, after 15 years trading, it has become too much of a struggle to continue in the town. I have spoken to other small independents who have congratulated me on 'escaping', and who have much the same problems.

"It's a great shame that we have councils who basically are not willing to listen to those who have tried to keep the High Street going by serving the local community as a small independent. 

"It's not the internet that is killing the High Street, as we so often hear, it's the councils and the greedy landlords."

Cllr Annie Brewster, district council chairman of the overview and scrutiny committee, said: “This is devastating news. Mike Skinner has lit up St Albans for over 15 years with his lighting and his personality.  I am most distressed to hear the road closures have driven his decision by destroying his business.

"The whole road closure issue needs detailed examination to understand consequential impacts. Views of other affected shops and businesses must be fully understood. St Albans is bouncing back after the pandemic in so many ways and we must not lose retailers like Mike who are highly regarded independent destination shops. The city will be such a duller place without Masters In Light.”

BID manager Denise Parsons said: "It’s a concern to lose Masters in Light - an established business that has been serving our community for so long. Since the road closures were put in place, as part of emergency COVID-19 measures, the BID has continued to share feedback from local businesses with HCC so they understand the impacts and opportunities.

"Our team has helped facilitate the access needs of businesses as best we can along with rallying the wider community to take part in the survey to ensure all voices and opinions are heard."