BUSINESSES in a forgotten corner of Chester city centre are suffering because of a 10-year delay in plans to redevelop the area.
A number of independent retailers say they were persuaded to open in Commonhall Street with offers of tree-lined streets and increased customer footfall.
But despite plans by Chester City Council in 1996 to provide a framework for speeding up development of the area, the streets remain lined with derelict buildings and empty shop units.
Clothing store Golf Wear and interior design store Purple Parsnip shut up shop earlier this year and popular restaurant and bar Got Wine! closed on Sunday.
Howard Crook of Got Wine! said: “Commonhall Street wasn’t developed as it should have been. We were the busiest business in the street, but we came across so many obstacles it made it very difficult for us in the end and we had to close.”
Among the problems encountered by Got Wine! were issues over signs and the fact the council confiscated three A-boards they had placed on Bridge Street to entice customers.
There were delays with archaeological surveys during work to provide an outside eating area and the builders hired to carry out the work went bust.
“Obviously, this meant we lost money,” Howard continued. “But, in the end, there were many factors. The smoking ban, the builders going bust, the credit crunch and the fact the area was not developed as it should have been all contributed.
“But we believe that the business can succeed and we are involved in talks with potential investors to see if we can reopen.”
Chairman of Chester Pubwatch and licensee of the Watergate Inn, Frank Marnell, said: “It is too easy to open up a licensed premises these days – it now costs less than £200 to get the necessary checks and qualifications for a licence.
“We have got to saturation point in Chester city centre.
“We are holding our breath to see what happens after April 1 when the new authority comes in.”
Stephen Wundke, of Chester City Centre Management, said restaurants have been among the hardest-hit businesses.
He explained: “This sector has seen a 25-35% decline in trade since October 2007.
“The Commonhall Street plans were only adopted in 2006 and we are doing everything we can to get things moving.”
Children’s clothing store Keiko may also move – owner Deana Laidlaw feels let down by the council but the last straw was when the shop was robbed last month.
“We were the first to take up one of these shops,” she said.
“The plans and visions sounded perfect for us but it has just been put off time and time again. From Bridge Street it just looks like an alley. What makes it worse is that vans and lorries taking stock to shops on Bridge Street make it look like a delivery area and customers can’t see the shop.
“Since the robbery we have given more thought to moving to Bridge Street or Watergate Street. The rates are the same, but the difference in terms of footfall is immense. Even now, people come in every day and are surprised to find us.”