Wolverhampton traders fear for future after a year of roadworks
Traders on a Wolverhampton city centre street which has endured over a year of roadworks are fearful for their futures.
The roadworks on Victoria Street have been ongoing for more than a year as part of efforts to pedestrianise the area, with a new public square around where Victoria Street meets Skinner Street and Bell Street.
While the works are nearing the end, business owners around the area have spoken of business drying up, shops closing down and uncertainty about the future even after the work is done.
Several businesses have already closed their doors in the last year, including Toni & Guy just before Christmas, while others such as Bed Centre have spoken of a significant loss in trade, blaming the roadworks for it.
Bed Centre owner Pete Shergill said he had seen close to an 80 per cent drop in his turnover over the time the works had been going on and said he was worried about the future.
"During the main works, when the barriers were up, there wasn't really anyone walking down here as they couldn't get near the store," he said.
"And while there have been more people walking on the streets recently, they're just not buying anything.
"I have to hope that things will get better and I keep hearing about plans for a food hub or market along this street when it's all done, but it's difficult to be optimistic after the year we've had.
"There's been lots of promises, but nothing has happened yet, so I just have to wait and see what will happen in the future."
Caitlin-Jayne Stackhouse, director and manager at Tunwalls English Kitchen, said the works had had an effect on how many customers the cafe had seen at times, saying that a lot of regulars were put off by the works.
"A lot of our standard customers come from the local area and they haven't wanted to come and eat in the cafe next to a building site," she said.
"Another problem has been access for some customers, because while we've had a lot of the builders come in here, some of the customers have been cut off by the works.
"They finally got rid of the barriers a few weeks ago, which will have a massive impact for us, but it's difficult to predict how much things are going to pick up and I'm sceptical about which way it could go."
Along Victoria Street itself, there were a lot of empty shops and businesses with few people inside.
Marie’s Hair and Beauty Salon had a few customers inside getting their hair done, owner Marie Camara said it had been a very bad time for the salon.
She said: “I think business has gone really bad for us because the roads have been closed and no one knows where to find us and I think the whole thing has turned our world upside down.
“People have said that they have not been able to get here and people don’t even see us as the road isn’t here any more and people haven’t been walking down this part of the town since the market closed.
“I hope we’ve get more people in now that the work is nearing the end, but it won’t happen overnight and we need the council to help us by doing something to bring people back into the city centre.”
Prosper Kumah, who owns D’Zions Barbers and Hair Salon, also spoke of a lack of customers due to fewer people walking along the street.
He said: “In the year that the works have been going, we’ve seen less people coming in as less people have been down here.
“I hope it will get better in time, but the main problems are people having access to the property and people being able to find us, which means problems with paying the rent and the electricity bills.”
Councillor Steve Evans, cabinet member for city environment and climate change, said: “We’re investing £15.7m of future high street and council funding in the much-needed regeneration of the west side of the city centre to transform the area and increase footfall.
“Large areas of the streets remain open to the public and we can look forward to completion of the works in the coming months.
“Even though the works have progressed at pace and scale, we acknowledge that traders in Victoria Street and North Street have been disrupted.
“That’s why we’re working with them to provide support. This includes initial support payments to those businesses who have provided evidence of financial loss due to the works, the support of an independent business advisor and the development of a £20,000 programme of events that will bring people into the new spaces.
“We’re also developing a new Box Space entertainment venue, just off Victoria Street, which is set to open in summer 2024, and The Halls Wolverhampton will reopen in June 2023 – both of which will bring hundreds of thousands of visitors to this part of the city centre and boost the local economy by millions of pounds each year.”