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Fears building work will deter shoppers
SHOPKEEPERS in Abingdon’s precinct have warned some traders might not survive to see the centre’s £4m redevelopment completed.
Scaffolding and hoarding went up around Abbey Shopping Centre last month and work will not finish until the autumn.
And shop owners fear the building works will deter shoppers from coming to the precinct and traders will lose vital custom.
Yesterday some said they would try to claim reductions in business rates from Government and rent reductions from site owners the Scottish Widows Investment Partnership (SWIP).
Abingdon Chamber of Commerce member Peter Wiblin, who owns Abingdon News Plus in the precinct, urged traders to start measuring footfall and sales to back any claim.
He said: “It is absolutely necessary, we will lose sales. It’s a building site at the moment.
“It’s going to affect business and if they are not careful we could lose a few more shops.”
There have been plans to redevelop the 1960s shopping centre for more than 20 years and work is expected to finish before Christmas.
The revamp will see five units make way for two large two-storey shops, the pavement resurfaced, the canopies removed, and pitched roofs added.
Ian Collett, owner of The Bookstore, said he would apply for the reductions and also urged residents to keep shopping in the precinct.
He said: “We are all aware that this work desperately needs doing. It’s long overdue, the town is desperate for it.
“We almost have to put up with what is going to happen. I don’t think there is an alternative.
“But this is coming at a time when we are still in recession.
“And there is a possibility not everyone will get through it which means we could end up with a very pretty looking precinct but nowhere to go shopping.”
He added: “If it isn’t done Abingdon will die on its feet but someone needs to assist the retailers while it’s being done.”
SWIP was handed planning permission for the scheme in December and it had hoped to begin work in February but legal complications delayed the start.
Spokesman Martin Hughes said: “The number one objective is to see a revitalised and improved town centre in the long term. Unfortunately, that cannot be achieved without some short term disruption.
“Scottish Widows has already instructed a specialist firm to seek a business rates reduction for all its tenants and are monitoring trade in the centre.
“There is also a willingness to listen to any matters of concern that tenants may have about the impact of works on their business.”
He added: “The investment being committed to improve Abingdon town centre is substantial and is aimed at creating an environment where all local retailers and businesses can prosper.
“It is positive action to stem recent decline and put the town centre back on a stronger footing.”
SWIP’s development manager NewRiver is now working on the second phase of the total £53m investment which will see the Charter area redeveloped.