Harpenden retailers call on county to end town centre road closures
- Credit: Matt Adams
Harpenden retailers have launched a campaign to oppose the permanent pedestrianisation of the High Street.
As part of measures designed to enforce social distancing last June, Lower High Street and Bowers Parade were partially closed off, around 40 car parking places were replaced by planters and a new gate was installed to prevent access.
But although retailers were assured this was a temporary Covid measure, there are suggestions the closures may now become permanent.
Herts county council is conducting an online survey entitled 'High Street Recovery' which moots extending the restrictions for an 18-month trial period.
Harpenden's independent retailers say they understand and appreciate all sides of the debate, but the vast majority are opposed to the survey and extension.
They argue that the survey is biased and misleading, suggesting it will be good for local businesses despite grassroots opposition, and that a loss of road access and parking spaces has resulted in a significant drop in footfall.
Lara Wares, owner of Threads, said: "I have spoken to several horrified customers and friends who filled in the survey, agreeing with the proposals, because they were falsely under the impression that they were supporting local businesses.
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"Pre-Covid, in periods when the road was closed for short periods, we saw takings of shops on that stretch of road reduce by between 20-35 per cent. No retailer is in a position to cope with turnover reductions of that magnitude, particularly on the back of eight months of Covid closures."
She says a lack of road access makes receiving deliveries and shopkeepers moving stock difficult, and being able to park close to shops or get dropped off directly outside is vital for elderly and less mobile customers, who are the least likely to shop online or make their views known in a website survey.
"The arguments in favour of the restrictions such as a nicer environment for pedestrians and making the town more environmentally friendly are all things that retailers would absolutely support, but any changes also need to take into account how shops will be affected, as the financial viability of shops is absolutely key to the viability of the town centre.
"Like pubs and restaurants, we have endured an incredibly tough year, and we are all hanging on, desperate for things to get back to normal. Harpenden retailers have called upon the county council to withdraw the unfair and biased survey, and to work with local retailers to find a way forward.
"Right now at a time when they should be supporting us and working with us to help the town centre recover, it feels more like they are kicking us when we are down."
Mary Durkin of Serena Hart said: "I am totally opposed to the pedestrianisation of Bowers Parade, primarily because there is no provision to replace the lost parking spaces, which is critical to maintain a vibrant retail offering on the High Street.
"Pedestrianisation is all well and good, giving a lovely continental feel with businesses spilling on to the pavement but people still need to be able to park, you can’t have one without the other.
"I have been a retailer in Harpenden for the past 14 years and lack of parking has always been an issue. Like it or not, most shoppers want to park in the town centre otherwise they go elsewhere, so to reduce the amount of available parking, in order to provide essentially a wider pavement is in my opinion, barmy!"
Fiona Thomas of OUI added: "When Harpenden High Street roads have been temporarily closed previously, the retail footfall dropped by 35 per cent. A drop of this magnitude just isn’t sustainable for retailers to survive.
"In addition, with the restrictions in place it has become very difficult for the less mobile and elderly to park close to the shops they wish to visit.
"We are going to fight for all the restrictions to be lifted when the government releases social distancing measures."
County councillor Teresa Heritage said: "The current restrictions were put in place under emergency regulations to assist with social distancing and provide space for businesses to operate in outdoor spaces.
"No disabled parking has been lost due to these measures and there is adequate parking in town in the car parks. We all need to be mindful of climate change and the ability to change our habits to help with the reduction of carbon.
"I would not want to do anything in the town that would cause businesses to close down or lose trade."
The survey closes on Sunday July 11 and can be found here: https://surveys.hertfordshire.gov.uk/s/HighStreetsHarpenden/