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Fleet Street traders want action on slew of empty shops
Buy this photo » Ben Jaeger outside Reynolds Blinds
TRADERS in Fleet Street have called for action to turn around the ailing economy in the bottom end of the town centre.
The area has been struggling to get passing trade and several bars and shops have closed down, leaving empty, boarded-up shopfronts that businesses say have left the area with an image problem.
The once bustling high street, which used to have major names such as WHSmith and Burton’s, is now associated with clubbing rather than with shopping.
Now independent traders, including Reynolds Blinds, Golf-Fore-All and Spot On Models, say traffic changes have continued to stifle trade.
They are calling for Swindon Council to develop the area and attract some big names to draw people down below the infamous fountain.
Dave Hudson, who is closing his Golf-Fore-All store after 22 years’ trading, said: “It’s deserted – you just get the same people walking back and forward and they’re not shopping.
“It’s the worst I have seen it in my time here. We were probably 50 per cent down in terms of footfall this month and people say it’s the weather but it’s not the weather as it was just as bad last year.
“I’m sad to be closing but at the end of the day I cannot afford to keep putting money into it all the time.
“If it is going to change they need to get a Marks and Spencer or someone like that down here.”
Ben Jaeger, manager of Reynolds Blinds, said: “We survive on home visits but there is no passing trade anymore. People associate it more with a drinking area and you get the layabouts and drunks hanging around so it’s attracting the wrong people.
“Something like a supermarket – a Tesco or a Sainsbury’s – might bring people down here rather than more pubs.”
Chris Hext, of Spot On Models, said he did not feel Swindon was any worse than the rest of the country but that the traffic changes to Whalebridge roundabout had stinted trade.
He said: “It seems to be the general way of things all over the place at the moment. My biggest problem is even my regular customers have a hassle finding me.
“I do wonder why the car park at John Street is not included in the cheaper car parking deal too – that might make a difference.”
Ward councillor Bob Wright (Lab, Central) said he had lobbied for changes to Forward Swindon’s masterplan, which went out to consultation last year, to make Fleet Street a priority.
He said: “Buses used to run along the road and drop shoppers off outside the shops but as soon as the road was put around the back it cut footfall off so I do think the transport plan has something to answer for.
“We recognise something needs to be done. When the masterplan came up for consultation I stood up in council and suggested that Fleet Street should be looked at before they spend £6m on Commercial Road.
“We await the finalised masterplan so we can sit down with Coun Garry Perkins and move forward.”
Coun Wright also suggested bringing back street traders for the area to drive shoppers down towards the bottom of town.
He said: “I am going to raise at the licensing committee that this might be an area for street traders. They could increase footfall from the fountain toward Fleet Street.”
The Adver was unable to reach Coun Perkins, Swindon Council cabinet member for regeneration, for comment.
A spokesman for town centre management company inSwindon said they do not record footfall figures for the Fleet Street area.