Wed, 23 Jan 2019
THE owner of one of Newbury’s oldest family businesses has said the relocation of the town’s bus station has caused a significant drop in her trade.
Proprietor of The Empire Cafe Wendy Berkeley has seen her sales fall by a quarter – and has even been forced to change her shop’s opening hours – due to the lack of custom from bus drivers and regular commuters.
Newbury’s new bus station, in the Wharf area, officially opened on Friday, December 7, having relocated to make way for the 232-home flagship development in Market Street, which is expected to begin this month.
West Berkshire Council this week confirmed that houses at Highfield Avenue, which runs parallel to Market Street, are currently being prepared for demolition and pre-demolition prior to work commencing.
Nine new ‘flexible’ retail units – which will aim to attract independent retailers – have been proposed for the ‘urban village’ development, which is set to be completed by the summer of 2021.
But Mrs Berkeley has seen her own business suffer since the bus station’s move, claiming her sales are down by up to 25 per cent on some days.
As a result, the 76-year-old has even pushed back the café’s opening time from 6.20am to 7am following a decrease in the number of early commuters and bus drivers.
Speaking about the new bus station, Mrs Berkeley said: “I must have been naïve.
“I realised it would have some impact, but I didn’t realise how great an impact.
“In the first week after it opened, I noticed as much as 20 per cent, even 25 per cent drop on some days.
“People would come from the bus station and, as they walked around the corner on their way to the railway station, would pick up a sandwich, a bun or a cup of coffee – but now we miss those, too.
“People getting off that bus will pop in, have a drink, possibly something to eat and say, ‘Can you save me a round lardy and a large white bloomer loaf and half a dozen eggs. I’ll pick them up on the way back to the bus station’.
“But people don’t want to carry that all the way round to the new bus station site.”
Manager of The Plaice fish and chip shop Avrinder Singh has also reported an estimated 50 per cent drop in lunchtime sales, mainly due to fewer people dropping by on weekdays.
Cheap Street retailers could face ever more challenging times, while roadworks to divert traffic off the A339 and into the town centre in a bid to tackle congestion get under way.
The first phase of the work has already started and will introduce traffic lights at the junction of the A339 and Cheap Street to allow traffic to turn right from the dual carriageway.
Mrs Berkeley said it was difficult to anticipate how her trade would fare with the ongoing works – which will eventually prevent traffic from turning south into Cheap Street.
For now, the café owner said she and other Cheap Street retailers are “desperately” hanging on to the 30 minutes of free parking along the route, in a bid keep some regular custom.
Mrs Berkeley said: “Thirty minutes free is enough time to pick up bread and a few cakes, but it’s hardly enough time to come in and have a big meal – this is the big juggle.
“On one side of the coin, the traffic has to come past.
“It should be aware that there is a shop here, so that could be an advantage.
“But on the other side of the coin, those parking spaces are pretty limited, if you’re in a flow of traffic and you can’t quickly park, you just have to keep on going, like any one-way system.
“It’s a double-edged sword, but you’ve got to be positive.”
With yet more growth in the number of residential dwellings in the town centre, Mrs Berkeley fears it is becoming harder for independent businesses to thrive, especially in the south of the town.
Asked whether Newbury was ‘open for business’ – a phrase increasingly used by the district council – Mrs Berkeley responded: “Newbury is open for business, but the traffic jams that are going to occur as a result of these new works are going to deter people from coming in if we’re not careful.
“Do they really want shops to continue in Cheap Street?”