Don't mess with us - warns businesses

DON'T ignore us again.This was the message today from Stowmarket's business community as they delivered a 120-page response to a new blueprint for future of the town.

DON'T ignore us again.

This was the message today from Stowmarket's business community as they delivered a 120-page response to a new blueprint for future of the town.

According to the town's chamber of commerce town centre businesses, despite being broadly in favour of the initiative, are eager that history doesn't repeat itself after rows over car park charges and pedestrianisation harming trade in the town.

In December, urban regeneration experts the Civic Trust published draft findings of a study into Stowmarket's problems and ways of making the best of its opportunities. The consultants were commissioned by Mid Suffolk District Council at a cost of £38,000.

The Trust's proposals, which are currently open to consultation with residents and other groups with a vested interest in the town, include schemes to attract investment into the area as a key staging post along the Ipswich-Cambridge hi-tech corridor. Skills training to boost employment for people living in and around Stowmarket is also a major issue under discussion.

But in a 10-point reply to the Trust's findings, business leaders have asked that their views are taken into serious consideration. They maintain that despite strong opposition to the pedestrianisation of the town centre in the mid-1990s, the scheme was pushed through.

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And car parking charges - which were at the centre of a recent row between townspeople and Mid Suffolk when the authority recommended price hikes - are another contentious issue in which traders felt their views were ignored.

Describing the Trust's draft as "a far-reaching report with very good ideas" Len Oxley, a property developer based in Rattlesden and a former retailer who documented the trader's response, said: "It is imperative that Mid Suffolk should take notice of what the business people in the town centre have to say with respect to shopping, traffic flows and parking, all of which make a big difference to the economy of Stowmarket."

Other suggestions they have put to the authors of the final report include establishing a new hi-tech industrial park next to the Tesco's Superstore, near Cedars Park. Questioning the need to spend up to £300,000 on refurbishing the Regal Theatre, they said they would instead prefer a new multi-screen cinema and leisure complex instead to be built near the railway station, close to where the Excel nightclub stands. Grant assistance for such a project should be forthcoming, they said.

And as the Evening Star spearheads a campaign to save Ipswich's market, the chamber are clearly in favour of strengthening the presence of Stowmarket's own market.

One of Suffolk's historic market towns given its charter in 1348, the present day market numbers around 15 stalls. Expansion, including wholly pedestrianising the town centre on market days, could bring in another 30 stalls and could even involve a weekly farmers market selling local produce.

But not all retailers in Stowmarket are singing from the stocksheet.

Toby Hicks, manager of electrical store BV Ltd on the main thoroughfare Ipswich Street called for the council to support shopkeepers over market traders.

"We pay the business rates," he said.

"We keep the place going. Closing the place up for a few market traders is not the answer, " he added, saying that banning traffic would hamper deliveries to some shops.

"They should be encouraging the shops and helping the shopkeepers any way they can."