Charity shops and commercial retailers joined forces last night to argue for the retention of parking in Uckfield High Street when improvements are carried out later this year.
They were speaking at an emergency meeting of Uckfield Chamber of Commerce saying it was vital shoppers should feel able to pull in and pop into shops. If that couldn’t happen the High Street would die.
Eighty-five people attended the meeting, held in the Ashdown Room at Uckfield Civic Centre, which was called to give Chamber members the chance to air their views on the second stage of improvements planned for Uckfield High Street.
The meeting was chaired by Chamber president Fiona Monson of Armida Chartered Accountants who also welcomed non-members to the meeting, including retailers and others impacted by the works.
Charles Mears-Lamb, owner of Noble Wines, who has collected a petition with more than 5,000 names on it calling for the retention of High Street parking said that councillors and those in a position of responsibility should be taking notice of what people were saying.
He asked representatives of the Town Centre Regeneration Board: “What is your definition of democracy?”
Sally Brighton, retail director of St Barnabas and Chestnut Tree Hospice and Therese Wilson, head of retail for St Peter and St James Hospice, both feared for the future of their charity shops if the High Street parking was removed.
Sally said the Chestnut Tree Hospice shop opened in Uckfield in April last year and was at serious risk of not achieving its required profit. Trade was negatively impacted through stage one roadworks and sales and donations would fall if changes proposed in the High Street went ahead.
She said the children’s charity was doing important work looking after 300 children across Sussex with life limiting and life threatening illnesses. Eight of those children and their families were in the Uckfield area.
It cost the hospice around £10,000 to support each child and family each year and the charity relied on fund-raising and retail to bring the money in. Only a fraction of their income came from Government sources.
Therese Wilson said two St Peter and St James Hospice charity shops in the town were both very successful but the road closures last year really affected their turnover and the number of donations people brought in.
She listed places where parking had been reintroduced to High Streets which were badly affected after it was removed, such as Heathfield and East Grinstead and said reinstatement was leading to their regeneration.
“Don’t try and fix it because I believe it isn’t broken,” she pleaded about Uckfield.
Mark Arno, director at Carvills, said he had been told the reason for removal of High Street parking was to maximise traffic flow.
He said: “Maximising traffic flow on a by-pass or motorway is entirely logical but in a High Street surely this is not the point. The idea is that it is a destination for shoppers, people doing business and social interaction. To change the face of the High Street in order to make it a swifter option for North South traffic than the bypass is surely wrong.”
Mark said enhancing the look of the town by removal and updating of street furniture and lighting was a good idea but for the most part wider pavements were not needed.
“We do need our existing pavements resurfaced at their current size. If this were to occur and the parking be left mainly as it is how much money would be saved and how quickly could the scheme by completed?”
He also stressed that if the second stage of works was to be split then it needed to be borne in mind that Christmas trade starts before September finishes.
Town Centre Regeneration Board chairman Mick Harker recapped on the work that had been done in the town so far and said lessons had been learned.
There was a need for better communications before works started and if papers about traffic strategy had been shared before the start of stage one then people might have had a better understanding of the issues earlier on.
He also said the board needed to be smarter with social media to respond quickly before inaccurate comments, possibly somebody’s personal opinion, became fact.
He added there seemed to be a great loss of faith with people imagining the board was always trying to do something Machiavellian when that ‘was absolutely not the case’.
He went on to talk about stage two of the improvement works between Bell Lane and Church Street which would include widening pavements to eliminate pedestrian pinch points where it was difficult for mums and buggies to pass others in the High Street.
He referred to an Uckfield News article highlighting the ‘pretty appalling’ state of the High Street. The work would see new paving laid and a 20mph speed limit would be introduced along with loading and unloading bays and disabled spaces.
“We never said there would be no parking in the High Street. People said they were fed up with lorries blocking the High Street, owners of shops said there was nowhere for lorries to go. Loading and unloading bays would give lorries somewhere to park in the High Street.”
Project manager Matthew Reid later said that, as promised, the board was conducting a review of the next stage of works taking into account feedback following a consultation in October.
One of the things being considered was allocating spaces where people would be allowed 20 minutes for drop-off and pick-up only. This would give people time to go into a takeaway or drop something off at a charity shop, for example.
Shows of hands were taken to gauge the views of people at the meeting. There were overwhelming votes in favour of keeping car parking in the High Street, having public toilets and having car parking on the High Street rather than trees. An overwhelming number of people said they would rather save money than enforce a 20mph speed limit in the town.
More stories from the meeting will follow on UckfieldNews.com.
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