Traders in street of shame

PUBLISHED: 22:17 25 October 2001 | UPDATED: 10:45 03 March 2010

SUFFOLK shopkeeper Adam Charles is working nearly 70 hours a week to keep his business afloat. He hardly sees his wife or four children, he feels pushed to the limit and last week the shop across from his folded.

SUFFOLK shopkeeper Adam Charles is working nearly 70 hours a week to keep his business afloat. He hardly sees his wife or four children, he feels pushed to the limit and last week the shop across from his folded.

Upper Orwell Street, where his music shop stands between boarded-up or empty storefronts, is "the shame of Ipswich", he said. Trade has entered its worst slump in 20 years with seven stores on the street boarded up and another six standing empty. Action must be taken to regenerate the area before more livelihoods are lost, Mr Charles said.

Other shopkeepers say they too are struggling to cling to business and they all blame the landowners, NCP, for letting the area fall into a spiral of decline.

Nearly ten years ago, the car park giant mooted plans for a new £70million shopping centre, which would back onto the street.

The company bought up shops on Upper Orwell Street, Upper Brook Street and Tacket Street in preparation for the development but plans have remained on the drawing board.

Some stores were closed down or relocated, some were offered short-term leases and others have folded under the pressure of trading in an area of decline, claimed Mr Charles.

"A decision needs to be made by NCP. Either they do it or they don't do it and they repair and maintain the shops they own and offer people long term leases," said Mr Charles of Ipswich Record and Tape Exchange.

Short-term leases destroy confidence in the area and ward off investment, he said adding: "We have lost two shops this month from this street. They were not NCP owned but long established independent traders and they just found it not viable to carry on trading.

"People see all the boarded up shops and don't come any further because it looks like you have reached the end of town. When I first took over this tenancy 15 years ago there was a butcher's shop, a video shop, an ironmongers, but they have all gone."

Developers insist that the shopping centre, known as the Mint Quarter, will go ahead and blame "the economic downturn and the consequences of September 11" for the continued delays.

Jonathan Cox, managing director of Helical Retail, the developer working with landowners NCP, said that he hoped to have a planning application submitted by early next year with a view to opening for trade around Easter 2004.

The news however, follows a similar announcement in February which said that the shopping centre – which includes 320,000 sq ft of retail space and a hotel and fitness club and car park – would be completed by Christmas 2002.

Meanwhile, Mr Charles says he fears for both his health and his family if the situation does not improve.

"I'm working in excess of 70 hours a week to keep this going. I sell a lot on the internet and if it wasn't for that then the trade in this shop wouldn't be enough to keep me going."

Fellow Upper Orwell Street trader Frederick Thorpe of Fact Surplus echoed his fears.

"It's a disgrace. It just needs the council or the developer to get off their backsides and decide whether it (the Mint Quarter) is going to go ahead.

"People have no confidence when they don't know what is going to happen from one week to the next. I have been here 22 years and I have never known trade to be so slow. People take one look at all the boarded up shops and head in the opposite direction."

Rachel Nicholls, manager of Amberstone bookshop said: "It's disheartening. When I first started here 12 years ago the whole street was full. Now the concentration of shoppers is just not here. There is no passing trade."

Town centre manager John Stebbings said that, as a member of the Ipswich Partnership, he had put pressure on NCP to do something about the derelict units.

"We have been trying to work with them to improve the appearance of the boarded up shops and have suggested to them that if the Mint Quarter scheme is getting drawn out they should consider turning them back into viable units with a short term lease," he said.

Mr Cox added that he was confident that the beleaguered Mint Quarter project would ultimately be brought to fruition and prove a success both for the future of Ipswich and Upper Orwell Street.

"We still think the Mint Quarter is going to be a boost for the town. We have been victims of corporate uncertainty and fall out from September 11 but it is clearly in our interests as well as others for us to get it on the starting blocks as quickly as we can.

And although he said he had "every sympathy" for the Upper Orwell Street traders, he believed that the development of the Mint Quarter would ultimately benefit them.

"The Mint Quarter, with it's 300,000 of retail space and new bus routes, will bring Upper Orwell Street into the heart of the town centre and this will undoubtedly be a major benefit for the traders there," he said.


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