The boss of an organisation which represents city centre businesses says the old Chester bus station was closed ‘without any support’ for adjacent traders who are now struggling.
Carl Critchlow, manager at CH1ChesterBID, is concerned at the impact of the closure which coincided with the opening of the new bus interchange at Gorse Stacks.
The idea is to free up development space for the £300m Northgate Development, including a new market hall, but traders in the market and nearby Northgate Street report business down by up to 50%.
Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) has laid on a free Shopper Hopper bus linking the two sites and says improved signage is in the pipeline along with events to drive customers to the area.
But Mr Critchlow told The Chronicle: “In somebody’s infinite wisdom they closed the bus station without making any provision or help or support for the market traders.
"We have a couple of projects that we are looking at. We have been working with the market to try and drive footfall that way."
Asked what could be done for market traders and Northgate Street, he responded: “I think it’s a bigger question. While we form part of that, I think it’s something market traders and the council themselves need to address. If we can as a BID help them as well then we will try to.”
In a statement issued later, Mr Critchlow said following a meeting with market traders there had been a decision to approach CWaC to request an urgent drop-in session where the concerns of the business community could be heard and ‘to find out more about the council’s short to medium term plans for the area’ as the programme to deliver the Northgate retail scheme continues.
Geoff Mesney, who has been selling hot dogs and burgers in the city for more than 30 years, says ‘everyone is quiet’ including his Town Hall Square pitch and other businesses in the market and Northgate Street as well.
He said: “It’s definitely gone quieter since the bus station has moved and it seems a shame because Northgate Street has got a lot to offer. Storyhouse is in place and there are lots of little independent businesses and such a wide variety on the street that people will enjoy. People just need to use the street to help.”
He added: “Something definitely needs to be done, if they didn’t have the foresight to see this – the impact. Did they just think everything will be all right? Somebody has got to get their act together. The Shopper Hopper seems to be a token gesture.”
Businessman Adam Dandy has approached Chester MP Chris Matheson with ideas to support the market, including turning the old bus exchange site into a temporary pay and display car park to drive footfall with an offer of free parking for customers who spend above a certain amount in the market hall. Mr Matheson has relayed the suggestions to CWaC chief executive Gerald Meehan with a response awaited.
CWaC leader Cllr Samantha Dixon told The Chronicle: “The council’s ambition is make Chester a vibrant city centre so the opening of Storyhouse has increased footfall in Northgate Street quite considerably. There are thousands of people making their way to Northgate Street.
“There will be a re-adjustment around footfall with the opening of the new bus interchange. The patterns of where people shop and navigate around the city will change. The council doesn’t want to damage anybody’s trading environment. We want to make it better.
“We are in a far better position than we’ve ever been to achieve the ambition of Northgate. We are on target of achieving the ambitions that we set ourselves. The confidence we’ve got from the signing up of House of Fraser and Picturehouse and all the other partners has been significant.”
Asked how traders could be supported, she added: “There are plans in place to support traders. I acknowledge the hard work of the BID as well, as the voice of the local traders. I was an advocate of the establishment of the BID because I think the people who know how best to support the trading environment are the practitioners themselves.”
She added: “The transition is an important challenge.”
In a statement issued later, the council said it was ‘aware of the reduction of footfall’ since the opening of the new bus interchange within an insistence provision had been made for supporting market traders during the transition including the Shopper Hopper bus.
A spokesperson added: “We are working with our markets consultant to produce an enhanced signage strategy on and around the temporary hoarding advising that the market is still open and operational, which will direct people to the most appropriate route in.
“We are also looking at some options to host events and pop-up markets in the old bus station space. All of these initiatives will be discussed and agreed with the traders and will not compete with the market but will complement their offer with the aim to drive up footfall.”