Wolverhampton pedestrianisation work is 'killing off' trade say business owners

The work to transform part of Wolverhampton city centre into a pedestrianised area and box park has "killed off" trade and left business owners reckoning with the knock-on effect on their futures.

Mark Calleja said he didn't realise how much the work would impact his shop Earl's
Mark Calleja said he didn't realise how much the work would impact his shop Earl's

Under the £15.7 million plans, Victoria Street will be closed to traffic permanently, while a new box park will be created on the area where Victoria Street meets Skinner Street and Bell Street.

Other work will see the carriageway on North Street moved closer to the Civic Centre, giving those attending the Civic Hall a safer area to gather, with Mitre Fold becoming a pedestrian zone.

Initial work started last year but this week Victoria Street permanently closed, and new diversions were introduced at either end of the road which will be in place for eight months.

Victoria Street in Wolverhampton was first made traffic-free due to coronavirus and social distancing but is now permanently being pedestrianised

While many hope the changes will bring more visitors to the area behind the Mander Centre in the long run, for now business owners are having to put up with roadworks and the resultant reduced footfall.

One unexpected problem includes delivery drivers not being able to reach takeaways to collect orders from platforms like Uber Eats.

Mark Calleja owns Earl's Sandwich shop on North Street, just down the road from where the Civic Hall, and said he hadn't realised how much the work would impact him.

A new square is being created at the junction of Victoria Street, Bell Street and Skinner Street

He said: "I was told there would be things in place to enable car flow of traffic, making the shop accessible for deliveries, but I didn't think it would impact me this badly.

"Delivery drivers are finding they have to park a fair way from the shop, while we've seen a lot of cancellations on orders from Uber Eats and Just Eat, platforms we depend on because of people working at home, because they can't get close enough to the premises.

"It's had a huge impact as we're seeing less footfall at peak times, but I have to hope that the work being done can bring more people through eateries with tables and chairs outside, but it's the question of when as we need to survive."

Bruce Nagra felt there had been a lack of communication around the plans and it had caused issues with footfall

Business owners further down Victoria Street agreed with Mr Calleja and said footfall had dropped along what used to be a road busy with buses and taxis.

Bruce Nagra, who co-owns Crazy Gin with his wife Paramjit, said he felt a lot of trade had been killed off by the road closing and also claimed there had been a lack of communication about what was happening.

He said: "It's definitely killed off a lot of trade with trying to get deliveries in as a lot of the drivers don't know where to go and end up finding alternative ways to drop stuff off, including parking at the bottom of the road.

"To me, there have been a lot of rumours or talks about what has been happening here, but the delays have been so long and having the road shut down prior to the work has been really bad and I think they've made it worse down here for footfall.

"I think there can be a benefit, but my fear is that the vision they put out and the work they are going to finish with will be a huge mismatch."

Mark Williams said he hoped the changes would improve the area around his barber shop

Meanwhile Mark Williams, owner of Markie's Barber Shop, has reduced the size of his workforce for the time being due to the reduced footfall, but he said he hoped the new area would make it better for people in the long run.

He said: "I would normally have six barbers on, but I've had to reduce it to three in the week as the number of customers has fallen in town, with people going to Bentley Bridge or Merry Hill instead.

"I really hope this works out as Wolverhampton has been missing out on a lot of stuff recently and I hope it can make it something that encourages people to live in the city more."

Wolverhampton Council cabinet member for city environment and climate change, Councillor Steve Evans, said: "We want people to enjoy our city centre from the moment they arrive, and our public realm works will be transformational, forming a key part of Wolverhampton’s recovery plan following the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

"They will deliver real, tangible benefits for businesses, residents and visitors to our city centre, supporting the development of our five-year events strategy, which will get into full swing this year, with the Commonwealth Games cycling time trial, British Art Show 9, our first-ever Creation Day Festival and the reopening of our Civic Halls.

"We have consulted extensively with businesses about these critical public realm works and they told us they want an attractive environment to help bring people back to the city centre.

"The Council’s contractor, Eurovia, also has a dedicated liaison officer who is in regular contact with the businesses to help ease any difficulties they experience during this period.

"To deliver this transformation there will of course need to be a period of disruption for businesses, residents and visitors.

"But we will strive to keep this to a minimum and would urge people to remain patient as the long-term results will be hugely beneficial for all."

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