Fears voiced for small retailers

TRADERS have again warned the quaint, independent stores which have placed their town on the national stage may be forced to close when a multi-million pound retail redevelopment is complete.

TRADERS have again warned the quaint, independent stores which have placed their town on the national stage may be forced to close when a multi-million pound retail redevelopment is complete.

The fear has been resurrected after long-running business Carpet Bags, which has been based in the heart of Bury St Edmunds' famous St John's Street for more than 25 years, moved out of the town.

Retailers are now concerned the same fate may lie ahead for other independents when work on the controversial £85m Cattle Market scheme, boasting 35 new shop units and a Debenhams department store, is complete in 2008.

They say the existing town centre will suffer as a result of the development, work on which is due to start next year, with more people using facilities on a site which will provide more convenient car parking.

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But officials from St Edmundsbury Borough Council, which is masterminding the project with developers Centros Miller, say more custom will be attracted to Bury as a result of the new offering, with shoppers spending their money in the existing stores as well as the new.

"We are in a time of retail concern and I cannot see any justification, at this time, to add to the number of shops in this town," said Alan Jary, who runs Jaycraft on St John's Street and has traded in Bury for 50 years.

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"I believe the Cattle Market development is totally unsustainable and the damage to the existing town centre will be incredible.

"St John's Street has one of the highest number of independents in one street in the country, and we are very, very vulnerable.

"At the bottom end of the street, I think we will slowly see more and more shops becoming residential units. Nobody can stop a natural movement, but I do not think we have to encourage it, and that is what the council is doing.

"There are a tremendous amount of questions that still need to be answered."

Loretta Quartey, who now runs Carpet Bags from a farmhouse in Ely, said convenient parking was a particular problem for traders in St John's Street, saying she feared for the future of fellow independents.

"I am not quite sure what influence the Cattle Market will have on the independent shops, but you are going to get bigger retailers and people are going to be more geared towards places where they can park," she said.

"The parking in St John's Street is atrocious – it is getting less and less and you can only park for 30 minutes.

"The town is getting bigger and bigger and more and more houses are being built. But while more money is being raised through council tax, facilities are not being made available for the provision of parking."

Chrissy Harrod, chairman of Bury's Chamber of Commerce, also voiced her fears, saying: "Losing Carpet Bags is very sad for the town because the independent stores very much make Bury a special place.

"There are a wealth of them and protecting them is becoming a constant battle. Rates are high and rents seem to be going up and any help the borough council can give is needed."

However, Andrew Varley, chairman of the council's Cattle Market Redevelopment Working Party, said: "The fact is that these national retail outlets attract greater trade and bring more customers into the town, and will strengthen the independent shops.

"Independent retailers have a tremendous opportunity here and should grasp it rather than shy away from imaginary fears."

A spokesman for St Edmundsbury Borough Council said: "St Edmundsbury is not responsible for setting business rates, this is something that is done nationally by the Government.

"The parking arrangements have been working successfully in St John's Street for 10 years without any changes."

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