Felixstowe: Bad year for traders is getting worse as more shops close

CONCERN is growing today over the drop in trade Felixstowe businesses have suffered since the shopping centre’s shared space scheme was completed.

Store owners place some of the blame on the changes to Hamilton Road but say the sudden and dramatic increase in business rates plus the ongoing effects of the recession are also harming trade – and now higher parking charges are proposed.

Seven shops are standing empty, one is preparing to move out of the town centre, and two more are closing down.

Shopworkers say the street has “lost its buzz” since the �2.8million shared space project was unveiled, and elderly people complain they can no longer park close to shops and find it difficult to walk from the car parks.

But councillors believe the situation is not all bad – and say eight new businesses have opened in recent weeks.

Leeann Ling, owner of Cafe Kitsch in Hamilton Road, said the shared space had affected every trader and felt insulted that council officials did not seem to care about the impact of the changes.

“The increased business rates have been back-dated to December leaving all of the traders in debt before they even start,” she said.

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“I had no idea my rates were going to be suddenly doubled in the first six months.

“I had bugeted for the year ahead – but how could you budget for that?

“The council took away all the parking in Hamilton Road and said people would use the car parks, and now they are increasing the parking charges. It just makes a mockery of it all.”

Chamber of trade chairman Andrew Rowdon said: “It’s unfortunate that the shared space happened when it did but I don’t think you can say it’s all down to shared space, it’s a combination of things.

“Footfall across East Anglia is lower, the business rates are going up, and car parking charges are also meant to be going up.

“It seems that things keep adding to the difficulties for traders.

“It’s concerning (the number of shops being closed) but with any problems in the world you have to adapt and look at how it’s going to affect your business – we have got to knuckle down and get through this – we all have to adapt.

“I think there’s a really good future for Felixstowe with the Fludyers becoming a boutique hotel and improvements to the seafront as well. At the bike show people were commenting on how nice the shared space scheme was.”

A spokesman for Suffolk Coastal said the council will “continue its efforts to encourage economic growth and job creation” in Felixstowe.

A consultation process will be carried out before a final decision is made on higher parking charges.