Alnwick traders give mixed reaction to Narrowgate pedestrianisation as council chiefs agree to launch survey of town centre businesses
Businesses in Alnwick have blamed a partial pedestrianisation of the town centre for a drop in trade.
Concerns about the impact of the 12-month trial scheme on Narrowgate were raised at a well attended meeting of Alnwick Chamber of Trade on Wednesday night.
However, there are mixed views with several Narrowgate businesses having seen an upturn in trade and welcoming the more pleasant shopping environment.
Chairman Lisa Aynsley, who owns menswear shop Hotspur 1364, said: “There has been a detrimental impact on some businesses, although we also recognise there have been some positives.
“Some of the business losses are running into thousands of pounds and there doesn’t seem to have been any acknowledgement of the negative feedback that they have given.
“My losses, personally, would mean there is not going to be a business there in 12 months’ time at this rate. I’ve got four years of positive growth but it stopped the day those (barriers) went down.
“We’re six weeks into the scheme and lots of assurances we were given, such as signage, just haven’t happened.
“What is the council going to do to help us? We need people to listen, understand and take on board that not everyone is having a great time.”
Yvonne Williams, owner of Narrowgate business World of Difference said: “I’ve got 14 years of spreadsheets with my takings. Everything up to July was fantastic, but in August all that growth over years and years has stalled.
“I think the problem is that anything that’s put on the road as a barricade makes it look to visitors like there’s nothing else further down the street that’s worth bothering to see.”
Another trader, who works for a national retailer on Bondgate, said takings and footfall were down. She also pointed out the difficulties it has caused refuse and delivery wagons.
“People aren’t popping into the shops now like they used to, they’re just not coming in,” she said. “The tourists I’ve spoken to say it’s diabolical.”
Jane Atkin, owner of The Beauty Box on Bondgate Within, added: “My business is mainly local and the feedback I’m getting is that they hate it.
“The traffic now is so dangerous. There are big delivery wagons backing up the road. Somebody there is going to get hit. And on Fenkle Street, at the bottom of Narrowgate, the cars are flying around there.
“There is no parking to compensate. If you are going to pedestrianise you have to have parking. You can’t attract more people if there’s nowhere to park so I don’t understand the point of it.
“It’s going to become a dead end corner of the town and it will die.”
Traders also complained that they had never voted in favour of the scheme. They were under the impression that plans for a one-way system with a wider path would be drawn up.
However, Coun Gordon Castle, county councillor, said the pedestrianisation scheme had received lots of prior publicity.
“I don’t see what more we could have done,” he said. “We had an event in the Northumberland Hall which 400 people attended. I remember the options given were to do nothing, one-way and pedestrianisation. 115 people were in favour of pedestrianisation, 24 in favour of one-way, 12 the other and four leave it alone.“I’ve been around the town and, in principle, the people I speak to have been 60:40 in favour. The main criticism has been the standard of the scheme. We got that wrong. It could and should have been much better.
“We do need to do a proper survey but I think you’d be surprised how many say it has made no difference or has actually been better.
“I’ve spoken to every single business facing on to the pedestrianisation and, without exception, every single one has reported good business and likes it. I don’t logically see how it could have negatively effected other parts of the same street.”
Speaking after the meeting, Fiona Nelson van Loon, who owns Ruby Tuesday on Narrowgate, said: “I am very happy with the pedestrianisation. My trade is up so it’s had a positive impact.
“I see a difference in the pace of shopping on the street with people wandering around rather than rushing. I’ve only been here two years so I can’t specifically say the upturn is down to pedestrianisation but there have certainly been no negatives.
“The businesses who have seen a positive benefit perhaps need to have a louder voice. Unfortunately those who have been negatively impacted have been shouting louder than us. I think there are a few people who feel a bit intimidated about putting their head above the parapet.”
Other businesses including Beehive, Marilyn and Melrose, Grannies and Oxfam have also welcomed the change.
The Chamber of Trade agreed to ask Northumberland County Council to carry out a survey of all town centre businesses.
Paul Jones, the council’s director of local services, said: “We will happily undertake some survey work to get a sample of how businesses are getting on.
“That will feed into consideration on how the scheme is going and what we can do to try and tackle some of those issues.
“Then, if it’s going horribly wrong there is a decision to be taken on how long we continue with it.”
He also called for businesses to present firm evidence of any changes in their circumstances to the authority.
However, he felt it was too early to make a fundamental change.
“We need to allow it to bed in before making changes,” he said.
He added: “Because it’s such a fundamental change to what has been a very busy thoroughfare for such a long time it was necessary to have lots of signage there so road users were made clearly aware that there was a change.
“We have reviewed that now that we are several weeks into the trial. People who live and work around the area are now familiar with it so we have been able to reduce the signs to make it less imposing and more welcoming. Likewise, the street furniture items which were placed in Narrowgate will be reviewed to tidy it up and make it look more attractive.
“A lot of the feedback to date has been generally welcoming, although I know there are some issues from the traders. They have generally welcomed the improved pedestrian environment but with some criticism of the signage and street furniture. That’s something we are addressing moving forward.”
Traffic surveys are being undertaken during the trial and video survey equipment will be installed over the next few days at the Fenkle Street junction and at the Bondgate/Narrowgate turning area.
“We want to see, now people are more familiar with it, what people are doing in terms of traffic movements and the interface with pedestrians,” said Mr Jones.
“We are also looking at possibly changing the white lining in that turning area because that is very low cost,” he added. “We will also look at extending the double yellow lines at the other end of Narrowgate so it’s clearer where the road sweeps around.”