TRADERS last night gave a mixed reaction to two new shops opening in Abingdon’s ageing Bury Street shopping precinct – including news and stationery giant WH Smith.

The Vale of White Horse District Council, which owns the precinct, and manager Scottish Widows Investment Partnership, announced WH Smith and Toys UK would open later this year.

The precinct is to be rebranded as Abbey Shopping Centre, inspired by Abingdon’s historic Abbey.

A marketing campaign to promote the new name is under way.

The council said it was the start of plans to encourage bigger names to Abingdon ahead of a long-promised re-vamp of the 1960s precinct.

However, Abingdon Chamber of Commerce claims the changes will damage independent businesses.

Joint president Terry Boswell said: “We have grave concerns. It’s almost as if they’re trying to eradicate the small independent retailer.

They’re the life blood of the town. They’re what make Abingdon. We feel Abingdon is the home of the independent retailer.

“People will still call it Bury Street precinct. It needs a facelift, not a name change.”

Ian Collett, owner of the Bookstore, in Bury Street, said there were two bookshops, a gift shop, card shop and an independent stationer already, and added: “The town doesn’t need WHSmith.”

Peter Wiblin, owner of West End Newsagents, said WH Smith would be almost opposite his shop.

He said: “This doesn’t help any of the long-suffering traders of Abingdon, because it will take away business from them. No-one is going to come to Abingdon for just WHSmith.

“Have they got it right for Abingdon? No.”

But Sue Ash, of the Bury Street Cancer Research UK shop, said: “I think it’s good news. It’s good to see the precinct filling up again with new shops, it’s looking a bit sad at the moment.

“It would be nice if someone would take the big unit that was Woolworths.”

Richard Webber, the council’s executive member for property and economy, said: “This represents a real vote of confidence. It’s great news for Abingdon and it’s an encouraging first step towards giving the town the shopping centre it deserves.”

Cameron Murray, of Scottish Widows, said: “We have made substantial progress in reducing the number of vacant stores. We’re also talking to the council about bringing forward a comprehensive refurbishment programme.”