Road works scheme ruinous for Uckfield traders

I have been letting and selling shops in Uckfield for over 25 years so I know something about the Uckfield retail market.

Free car parking is essential for the health and prosperity of our retailers. The council’s plans to remove car parking from the High Street, replacing it with paid parking on the old railway station site are disastrous and will do damage to many retailers.

A few years ago, Heathfield Regeneration Partnership embarked upon a series of improvements to Heathfield High Street to bring back more shoppers. Part of that project involved removing the double yellow lines in the High Street and bringing back free car parking. It has been judged a success. So why are we removing car parking from Uckfield High Street? Why is free car parking in the High Street good for Heathfield but not Uckfield?

I have spoken to a number of independent retailers in Uckfield and all have seen a decline in turnover since the works commenced, some in excess of 75%. Large retailers such as Boots, Tesco and Waitrose can probably ride out the drop in trade but it is far more difficult for the independents. That lost turnover will not be replaced. Already one shop keeper has decided not to renew his lease when it expires at Christmas.

He has seen a dramatic drop in turnover and is not prepared to endure a further 30 weeks of disruption in 2015.

The traffic chaos is horrendous. Which clown thought it was a good idea to stop traffic travelling south out of the High Street? The council is seriously at fault for not calculating the flows and numbers of vehicles properly. This traffic chaos has caused significant damage to all the businesses in the Bell Lane and Bellbrook Business Park.

It can take up to 40 minutes to get from the Business Park/Industrial Estate onto the bypass at certain peak times of the day. This is simply not acceptable and it puts people off coming to the town.

Shoppers are already voting with their feet by not coming to the town hence the fall in turnover in our shops.

If shoppers find the experience in other Sussex towns better, they may never return.

One shopper I know has discovered that items she buys regularly in the supermarket are cheaper in the Lewes Tesco than the Uckfield one.

Will she return to Uckfield for her shopping? I suspect not.

Why was there no proper consultation about the pavement works? Why didn’t the council produce a leaflet and plan detailing their proposals and deliver it to every High Street shop seeking their views? How were the retailers supposed to find out about this awful scheme, particularly if they don’t live in Uckfield or read the local paper?

I fully support Charlie Mears-Lamb of Noble Wines with his ‘Save Our Street’ campaign and petition.

The council must not restart the scheme after Christmas. It should be completely reappraised in the light of what has occurred. There are a couple of parts of the High Street which would benefit from wider pavements but the bulk of the parking should remain.

Talk to any retailer and they will tell you that the ability for a shopper to pop into the High Street, park and then buy a few items leaving again is hugely beneficial. If you remove that facility, people will simply go somewhere else. It is not my view, it is a retailer’s view.

These works have the potential to create a very nice street vista with wide pavements, attractive street furniture but potentially with a larger number of empty retail premises and no shoppers.

C I Lawson