Uckfield opinion is still split between people who welcome current ongoing improvements to the town and those who fear it will spell death to the High Street.
On the one hand some traders fear the imminent removal of on-street parking spaces means people will simply switch their shopping allegiances to other towns. But supporters continue to say ‘bear with us’ promising a more attractive, accessible and pedestrian-friendly centre than before.
Charles Mears-Lamb, boss of popular off-licence Noble Wines, told the Express: “To buy cases of wine or beer, people need to be able to park outside. If this goes ahead, I will be forced to close. Eighty per cent of my trade is walk-in from people parking on the street. What’s going to happen to all the other little shops such as takeaways?”
He described the first public consultation on town centre improvement where people could choose between a series of different schemes such a rail link, new bridge, ring road or High Street changes. He went on: “They had this money to spend and went for the one that was the least painful - people didn’t know what would be involved. At the next consultation, more people said ‘no’ than ‘yes’ to the High Street changes. Regarding parking there was a five-to-one ‘no’ vote. We are so lucky here to have free and accessible parking in the High Street but that’s set to change.”
Charles has counted between 4-600 car movements per day between 9am and 5pm. “This is what people wanted - now they are not getting what they wanted.”
His petition already has 2,000 signatures and there are 650 on-line: “That’s 20 per cent of Uckfield’s population.”
But Town Centre Regeneration Committee Chairman cllr Mick Harker takes pains to allay people’s fears. He said: “At the consultation, most people said they wanted a better High Street - one that keeps them safe from traffic and is accessible to buggies or disabled scooters. The new scheme will give us wider pavements but also improve traffic flow. There will be still be loading and unloading bays plus disabled spaces. Although 35 parking spaces will go, another 174 are being brought in (including the new station car park) ensuring there are 877 places for people to park in the town centre.”
Cllr Harker explained there are plenty of shops where people can’t park at present, including takeaways, and they are very successful. “If the offer is what they want, they will come to shop.”