Battle for shoppers: Ipswich leads way

MORE must be done to help Colchester's struggling traders after the town's retail growth fell far behind that of Chelmsford and Ipswich, it has been claimed.

Elliot Furniss

MORE must be done to help Colchester's struggling traders after the town's retail growth fell far behind that of Chelmsford and Ipswich, it has been claimed.

Between 2006 and 2008 Chelmsford saw its retail turnover increase by 40% while during the same April to April period Ipswich experienced a 16% rise in the amount spent by consumers.

In contrast, Colchester's grew by just 1% according to industry analysts CACI, which calculates the amount shelled out by consumers in retail centres across the country.

Andrew Luban, spokesman for the Colchester Retail and Business Association (CORBA), said the borough council was “stifling” the local economy due to its high car parking rates and failure to provide a park and ride system.

Paul Smith, the council's head of resources and business, said he was “surprised” by the comments and that town centre parking price rises for the New Year were less than proposed under the previous administration.

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Mr Luban, who runs Artaisa in Colchester's Crouch Street which sells exotic furniture and houseware, said there were “grim” times ahead for Colchester.

He said: “Colchester Borough Council is stifling our local economy by insisting on high car parking charges in order to raise revenue at the expense of people who wish to visit the town centre.

“This not only dissuades shoppers and other visitors but also adversely affects the 'vibrancy' of the town centre businesses. Our town currently has around 50 shops empty in the central area and many of our members are feeling the pinch.

“We are at present in discussions with the council about drastically shaking up the way parking is provided in Colchester.

“We're now going to see a spate of independent stores closing - I know of about five who won't last until the summer and there will be more, without a doubt.”

But Mr Smith said retailers had been “very supportive” of the special parking offers implemented in its car parks over Christmas and there were several “viable” deals available for shoppers right now.

He said: “In some car parks we have frozen the charges at last year's levels so there's zero increase there. In others it has gone up a little and we're working very hard to resolve, to get a park and ride with a junction right onto the A12.

“That is what Ipswich has got and what Chelmsford has got and we're bit more.

“At the most popular ones we are now charging more for weekends, just as any other business would do.”

Mr Smith said that more than 2,000 people took advantage of the special �2 shopper charge in the first 20 days of December but he accepted that the lack of a park and ride was a “big issue” for the town.

He said: “The lack of park and ride is a big issue for Colchester and one we are working very hard to get that.”

Recently Culver Square, one of Colchester's key retail spaces, lost two of its big brands in Woolworths and Adams while entertainment chain Zavvi has been placed in administration and could close its doors soon.

Mr Smith said there had already been expressions of interest from firms looking at the former Woolworths site and he was sure the town's fortunes would eventually pick up.

He said the previously agreed deal with Waitrose to open a store in the town would not be affected by the economic uncertainty.

Mr Smith also confirmed that the delayed Vineyard Gate development, which would see the run-down St Botolph's area of the town given a major facelift, would eventually come to fruition.