Is ‘beautiful’ new block paving bringing in the punters, or are imposing barriers besieging businesses? Opinion is still divided about opening Abington street up to traffic.
It is almost a year since the Chronicle & Echo first visited businesses on the town’s main shopping street to gauge opinion on the ongoing £3 million scheme.
But this week an external auditor’s response to a private complaint over the scheme suggested the council went into the project offering little hard evidence to prove it would boost trade.
Cars have now been running along the 200-metre section for eight months.
But are the Abington Street firms along the new depedestrianised end taking more money?
It depends who you talk to. Cafe Del Sol on the corner with St Giles Terrace, Majid Batatia, believes the new metal barriers outside his business are limiting his passing trade.
He said: “Those barriers barricade us from all our customers.
“People on the other side of the street just carry on walking, because they have to go a long way to cross the road.
“We are besieged here.”
Mr Batatia says the amount of tables and chairs he is permitted to have outside the cafe has been reduced and his takings are down by up to 40 per cent on last year. “I know what they are trying here but I don’t think it is working,” he added.
The council’s rationale for opening up Abington Street to traffic was that it would bring people closer to the retail and commercial offer and increase footfall.
And a cafe on the other side of the street feels it has done just that.
Manager of Opera Coffee House, Kamel Moussi, said: “It’s beautiful, fantastic, really good,” he said. “We have the seating outside, we have the parking and trade is better than last year.
“We were thinking it would be bad, but actually, now it is here, we think it is a good thing.”
However some traders say the loss of pavement space makes the top part of Abington Street less inviting to shoppers – and means it is left out of all the cultural events in town.
Iqbal Ramzan of the clothes store Melody, said: “It hasn’t helped because the council doesn’t want to hold any events down this end.
“Whenever there is something going on in town, it is always down the bottom end or on the market, we are being cut adrift. If the council wants to regenerate this area, we need something to happen up here.”
Mr Ramzan is one of many traders who believes the loss of the large Primark store in that part of Abington Street has had a big effect on business in the area.
Owner of Watts furniture, Roy Harland, called the new depedestrianised part of the street a “vast improvement” and praised the free on-street parking. But he too said footfall had “reduced greatly” since the loss of Primark to the Grosvenor Centre.
However, there is still clearly confidence in the street.
A borough council spokesperson said that Gallone’s ice cream parlour, recruitment firm Staff Line, restaurant Nouvo and hairdressers Daniel Granger, have all moved to Abington Street since December. Manageress of Gallone’s Andrea Fonagy, said the parlour’s first week of trading had even gone much “better than expected”.
Tories say scheme is filling empty units but Labour laments ‘folly’
Political leaders have clashed as to whether the Abington Street scheme has provided businesses a much needed boost – or left the council picking up an expensive tab for minimal gain.
Leader of the Northampton Labour Group Councillor Danielle Stone (Lab, Castle) said: “It was a vanity project of the previous Conservative Leader of the borough council.
“Is it a coincidence that Primark decided to leave that part of town once the Tories confirmed they would be going ahead with this pet project? I don’t think so.
“Most city and town centres have pedestrianised areas and so Northampton must be one of the very few places going backwards.”
The Conservatives have long defended the scheme launched under the previous council leader and now MP David Mackinstosh.Last month the council’s cabinet member for regeneration and planning, Councillor Tim Hadland (Con, Old Duston) said: “Reopening Abington Street has been a real success for our town. We have listened to businesses and helped breathe new life into a part of the town centre that had been in decline. Every day sees more cars taking advantage of the free parking, bringing more shoppers and encouraging businesses to open in empty units.”