‘This will finish us!’ – Welwyn Garden City businesses angry at town centre changes

PUBLISHED: 12:38 23 May 2018 | UPDATED: 17:02 01 June 2018

Classic Fish & Chips owner Mehmet Akkaya.

Classic Fish & Chips owner Mehmet Akkaya.

Archant

Welwyn Garden City businesses have reacted angrily to town centre changes being trialled as part the area’s £1.5million regeneration project.

The plans – which are being tested until June 17 – are already damaging business according to several shops, with one even starting a petition to keep public parking along Stonehills.

However, despite a businesses backlash, the vast majority of shoppers reacted positively and pointed to a more pleasant and safer environment.

Mehmet Akkaya, owner of Classic Fish & Chips in Stonehills, said trade has halved since the trial started, and bemoaned scrapping nearby parking to relocate the taxi rank.

“This will finish us,” he told the WHT. “The first two days have killed us already. It’s disgusting [on Stonehills], you have hundreds of taxis going round here, which changes the area’s image as well.

The taxi rank has been moved to the southern section of Stonehills.The taxi rank has been moved to the southern section of Stonehills.

“It looks like it’s going to be a nightmare – customers can’t come and pick up their takeaway, where are they going to park?”

The manager of another Stonehills shop added that deliveries would be a major issue and footfall had already plummeted.

Simmons manager Alex Tasko also said that reduced parking would be bad for business, while a Greggs employee said: “It’s definitely affected trade.

“We have definitely slowed down – especially in the mornings because we would have builders coming by and grab their breakfast.”

Classic Fish & Chips owner Mehmet Akkaya.Classic Fish & Chips owner Mehmet Akkaya.

A borough council spokeswoman confirmed that during the trial 35 spaces had been lost – 31 from Stonehills – five of which were disabled bays.

However, numerous residents praised the changes – with Howardsgate’s crossing stitches and the pedestrianisation of Stonehills proving particularly popular.

“It’s always chaos down here, so it’s probably not a bad thing to be honest,” said a Howard Centre employee.

WGC resident Erica Mizon said: “I think once people get used to it [it will be a good move] – it should have been done a long time ago to be honest.

Wigmores North is now a one-way road.Wigmores North is now a one-way road.

“I do not really see the point of bringing the cars in to the town centre as long as there’s enough parking.”

A Welwyn resident who works in the town centre said: “I think they are really good changes – definitely the bit up by Parkway as people are always racing along there.

“It’s a lot safer for pedestrians. That bit in Fretherne Road is amazing.

“It was just bonkers that previously they thought ‘we will put a taxi rank along here’, and you could go both ways in front of The Howard Centre.”

One of the Howardsgate crossing stitches.One of the Howardsgate crossing stitches.

She also praised the temporary stitches around Howardsgate, which are designed to make it easier to cross.

“Before you would have to try and go out between the cars or hope they were kind enough to give way,” she added.

Taxi drivers’ opinion has been divided by the plans, with one saying that the rank’s relocation was “absolutely brilliant” as they are no longer jockeying for position with other cars.

But cabbie Gary Laws told the WHT: “I have already heard from residents about the noise last night from the drivers out here talking, so that’s one problem.

The former taxi rank on Howardsgate.The former taxi rank on Howardsgate.

“The shopkeepers are complaining because they are losing trade, and the kebab van is complaining because a lot of his customers drive down to pick their food up.”

Reno Pereira, who lives above a Stonehills shop, branded the relocation an “absolute joke”.

“The only thing it stops is the boy-racers coming up here, but we live here and now have to park all the way up the top [of the town centre],” he added.

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