A gift shop owner based on the City Walls says the council is ‘killing’ the business by closing the walls for the second summer in a row.
She accepts the new business is struggling any way but feels the latest work on the Northgate steps should been done at the same time or during the ‘dead' winter months to lessen the impact on footfall for her and other firms on the walls.
Related story: Section of Chester City Walls closed for repairs
Emma, who co-owns the business with husband David, said: “For the last two summers we have faced some serious issues with the footfall as a result of the Eastgate Clock being closed last year for 10 months throughout the summer and, vitally, this year, the second year in a row, having the walls shut right next to our shop which is stopping everybody coming from the other side.
“I’m told this is going on for about four months but we were told four months last time and it turned out to be ten, so we’re nervous. It’s a major issue for us and they’ve closed the walls for us at completely the wrong time. In January, February, March – I know because I’ve sat here many days and seen nobody – it’s dead.
“It would have been an ideal time for the work to be completed in those dead winter months when we really don’t see a soul. To start the work at the end of April for a long time, right over the summer, it’s killing us.”
A former marketing manager, Emma ‘100% supports’ fixing the Northgate steps which have been propped up since 2011, adding: “It’s just about when.”
Emma contrasts what she sees as a lack of support for small businesses in Chester compared to how it works in York where she used to live. "York has a very different mantra," she said.
She claims there weren't even any boards directing people up to the walls until she made her own and says signage around Chester is generally ‘appalling’.
Emma, who works excessively long hours because she can’t afford to hire staff, added: “In my opinion, Chester council, they don’t seem to care about the people visiting.”
She prides herself on the quality of the shop and its stock, with many handmade items including some made by herself and her accountant husband David.
Appealing for the support of local customers, she commented: “When people come in here I think they think that we’re rich. I think they think that I take £500 every day. I think they think that I drive a Porsche but the reality is I have not taken penny out of my business in 18 months, not one penny.”
Emma, who has already given her landlord notice to quit when the lease expires, added: “We have a business that everybody loves but they just don’t spend.”
Cheshire West and Chester Council says there is a four year programme of work on the City Walls. The latest phase could not be carried out during the winter because the lime mortars used require ambient temperatures of at least 5°C.
And work at Eastgate and Northgate could not have been carried out at the same time as the locations were not close to each other and utilised separate diversion routes.
The council claims when investigation works were carried out at Northgate Steps in 2012 – which required a similar closure to that which is now in place – those using the City Walls were ‘able to navigate the diversion successfully’.
Councillor Louise Gittins, cabinet member for culture, leisure and wellbeing, added: “I hope surrounding businesses will understand that the work is essential to protect the walls and will be carried out as quickly as possible to create the minimum inconvenience for both customers, staff and visitors.”