‘Struggling’ Weston businesses being ‘bypassed’ by council in regeneration strategy

Dolphin Square Weston Super Mare

Long-standing businesses which have been part of Weston-super-Mare’s fabric for decades are claiming they have been ‘forgotten’ in the town’s redevelopment strategy.

Traders in Weston’s St James Street area say they have been ‘bypassed’ by the recent new developments

St James Street traders are frustrated at being ‘bypassed’ in North Somerset Council’s regeneration plans, and the difficulties still endured from Dolphin Square’s redevelopment.

Multi-million-pound projects such as Dolphin Square, which was demolished for a leisure complex and housing, and the Italian Gardens revamp have been supported by the council in a bid to attract investment – but some businesses say they are still waiting to reap any rewards.

Italian eatery Tarantella, café The Golden Fleece, and Hills Bakery have spoken out after years of unfulfilled promises have left them ‘struggling’.

Liz Rinaldi, of Tarantella, said: “The council hasn’t spent any money on this street at all. It is doing things everywhere else, but not around this street.

“When the building work was being done, we had no footfall at all with the noise, and we haven’t had anything in return.”

Katy Rinaldi added: “At Dolphin Square, all the businesses have outdoor seating, but we haven’t got any despite paying our rates for years.”

Hills Bakery owner Grahame Hill believes regeneration projects have ‘bypassed’ the street and traders have been ‘forgotten’.

Peter Maher, owner of The Golden Fleece, said: “The original plan here was to pedestrianise St James Street and create a café culture, but the council says it needs the money from parking and can’t afford to do it.”

The traders told the local newspaper TheMercury that delays in the Dolphin Square project, particularly the final phase which will see hundreds of flats built, are harming trade.

Mr Hill says his business has been ‘affected massively’ and the council has done ‘nothing’ to help.

He said: “We’ve had five years of it looking like a building site, and the few visitors who do come to the town nowadays see it and just walk straight by.”

Mr Maher said: “It has been a nightmare. There is no retail at Dolphin Square which has led to a loss of footfall and people are not going to local businesses.

“The general picture isn’t good. Everyone here has struggled.

“We’ve been to Weston Town Hall but it did no good. Our concerns have fallen on deaf ears.”

Tourism

The traders fear Weston is straying from its identity as a tourist destination, which has long been the bedrock of the town’s economy.

Businesses in the street have told of declining footfall and fewer tourist customers passing through their doors.

The traders have increasingly struggled in recent years, and they fear North Somerset Council’s efforts to revitalise the town are not helping lure tourists to peruse independent businesses.

Hills Bakery owner Grahame Hill said: “The town has lost its tourist identity. Our family business has been here since 1977, and in the past 20 years the holiday resort part of Weston has gone downhill and the council hasn’t done anything to regenerate that for the independents.”

Peter Maher, owner of The Golden Fleece café, agreed with Mr Hill and said the council’s projects are ‘drawing away from tourism’.

Councillors’ concerns

Traders have ‘suffered’ in recent years, according to a pair of North Somerset councillors.

Central Ward councillors Mike Bell and Richard Nightingale have called for action to help the businesses after several difficult years.

Cllr Bell believes the council has ‘forgotten’ St James Street.

He said: “Traders have suffered significantly from the demolition of Dolphin Square and long development delays.

“The council does not have a money tree, but it is hard to understand how so much money can be spent on pet projects of questionable value, such as the road layout changes in Alfred Street, but nothing can be found for projects in St James Street.”

Cllr Richard Nightingale believes Homes England, the Government department behind the Dolphin Square housing project, is to blame for St James Street’s woes.

He said: “Traders and residents are suffering due to the current poor condition of the site.

“Homes England needs to take steps immediately.”

Council’s reply

North Somerset Council has affirmed St James Street is ‘part of the wider regeneration’ of Weston, and funding is being sought.

Traders have complained of being forgotten in the council’s attempts to revitalise the town, but the authority says it is working to boost business in the street.

North Somerset also said it is pursuing funding streams to revamp the street.

Its spokesman said: “St James Street is part of the wider regeneration and the road improvements made to Oxford Street have made it more pedestrian friendly.

“Additional hoardings are planned around the Dolphin Square phase four site imminently, highlighting different businesses around the town, some of which are based in St James Street.

“All of the work within the regeneration programme has been achieved through external funding and we continue to research funding options for improvements to St James Street.”

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