Following a meeting with Bridgwater town centre traders, Westover ward councillors were alerted to a serious downturn in trade due to the effect of the roadworks being carried out since February 2015 by EDF/SCC on the Taunton road and Broadway Junctions and impinging on St Mary street.
A subsequent meeting with ward councillors Brian Smedley, Kathy Pearce and Leigh Redman, town traders and EDF representatives plus contractors came to the following conclusions.
1. Works were effectively blocking entrance and access to the town centre and customers were being deterred from coming to Bridgwater to shop
2. If this continued long term, shopping patterns could change and the town centre would suffer considerable damage as a shoppers destination.
3. Town centre traders were suffering in the short term and some were in danger of being forced out of business in the interim
4. EDF said that they had paid £7million into a fund to mitigate against whatever the local authorities believed it should be used for.
5. Ward councillors undertook to quantify the scale of the problem and draw up a plan to access the mitigation funds available from EDF to try to address the problem.
Traders Impact Survey
From 13-15 April 2015 Cllr Brian Smedley visited and interviewed 50 town centre traders in their premises in the Westover ward.
20 of these businesses (40%) said that whilst they were inconvenienced by the road works, they had seen no tangible impact or that their business was not likely to be affected due to the nature of their trading.
Some believed that temporary inconvenience of the road works would in the end bring long term benefits from the incoming EDF workforce .
However, 30 of these businesses (60%) said they were being seriously impacted by the road works and had seen a noticeable, considerable or dramatic down turn in footfall during the period in question.
60% of Town Centre businesses had therefore suffered some definable loss in turnover from the same period last year ranging from 5% to 50% and averaging at 28%.
If we included all 50 businesses surveyed it still shows an overall average downturn of 17% or almost 1/5th of town centre trade.
120 Town centre businesses were not surveyed due to lack of time or unavailability. However, 50 of 170 remains a sound statistical base consisting 30% of all businesses and provides a usable indicative figure.
The survey was conducted in the Westover ward which comprises 90% of the town centre and we would conclude that the proportions statistically matched the Eastover section.
There are several steps that need to be urgently taken to resolve this
1. EDF/SCC need to bring forward the completion date of these roadworks and take urgent measures such as relocating the welfare and drop-off compound currently located actually ON St Mary street and causing one of the key lanes out of the town centre to be blocked off. Negotiations should be entered into immediately with SDC for use of the Holy Trinity grounds or with BTC for use of the hardstanding and other facilities in the Trinity Hall
2. Individual traders who can demonstrate direct impact should be encouraged to contact the Valuation Office to get a reduction in their business rates .
3. Bridgwater Town Council should submit an urgent and sizeable bid to the CIM fund on behalf of traders to help mitigate against the effect by promoting the town centre as a shoppers destination ‘open for business’ and that this bid should include;-
i) A costed 6 month free parking for shoppers car parks including the town centre SDC car parks and the Angel Place car park, which could take the form of the purchase of parking space by BTC from SDC with the aid of CIM funds, possibly in conjunction with a scheme tied to individual retailer incentives.
ii) A ‘Bridgwater is open for business’ advertising and publicity package to advertise this and the range of retail available based on the model supported by similar events in Watchet.
iii) Support further CIM bids to enhance the streetscape in the town centre in consultation with traders and shoppers
iv) Support further CIM bids to provide town centre attractions and amenities to draw and retain people to the town centre building on similar themes provided during the Carnival weekend and snowflakes and shopping.
We are urgently submitting this bid for approval in principal to the Bridgwater Town Council meeting of 16.4.2015 to be actioned and taken forward to the incoming Town Council
Long Term measures
1. Considering the growth of Bridgwater over the next few years strategic planners need to encourage key stores into the town such as Marks and Spencers, Primark, BHS and clothes shops-specifically men’s, a quality bookshop
2. Town Centre planners should use all endeavours to moderate the influx of betting shops and fast food chains into key retail areas.
3. The Friday Market needs to be re-looked at in terms of content to avoid duplication with existing traders, location and timing. General feeling was that Friday was in conflict with better trading days and traditional markets were more suited to a Wednesday.
4. Consideration should be given to strategic parking facility in the Town centre such as possible multi-storey options at key entrance points.
5. Town Centre leisure attractions to draw people into the town should be a key objective
6. A circular ‘shoppers shuttle’ bus service at a subsidised price could be considered to open up the town centre and connect with the edge of town stores and park and ride facilities.
7. A Traders Forum working with the Local authorities, and the Town Team to jointly promote the town centre as a trading zone.
Cllr Brian Smedley (Westover Town & District Councillor)
Cllr Leigh Redman (Dunwear Town & District councillor + Bridgwater South County Councillor)
Cllr Kathy Pearce (Westover District councillor) 15.04.2015