M&S gridlock blamed as Oatlands Parade trade plummets

NADV 1403033AM1 Oatlands Parade Shop Owners. Chairman of Oatlands Committee Tony Elrick with Brian Dunsby (Harrogate Chamber of Trade and Commerce), Damian James (Damian James Hair Studio) and James Brook(Subway)  Picture : Adrian Murray. (1403033AM1)
NADV 1403033AM1 Oatlands Parade Shop Owners. Chairman of Oatlands Committee Tony Elrick with Brian Dunsby (Harrogate Chamber of Trade and Commerce), Damian James (Damian James Hair Studio) and James Brook(Subway) Picture : Adrian Murray. (1403033AM1)

Frustrated business owners are demanding their business rates back after months of traffic chaos has seen footfall on Leeds Road plummet.

A committee of Oatlands Parade business owners has called on North Yorkshire County Council to refund business rates after a 40 percent drop in trading on the popular shopping street, which they say has been caused by roadworks for the new M&S Simply Food store.

“Sales are down and that is eating into businesses profits,” said James Brook, franchisee of Subway on Leeds Road.

“We still have to pay our rent, we still have to pay our rates and our staff and costs, it is a struggle. Some weeks I am actually making a loss compared to before the roadworks when we were doing well.”

“There are people working on this street who are worrying about their jobs,” he added.

The committee is seeking a ‘recovery package’ to make up for lost trade and is asking Marks and Spencer to support their business by promoting the parade of shops when the M&S Simply Food store opens.

Tony Medri, chair of the Oatlands Traders Committee whose partner owns Damian James hairdresser, said: “It used to be that you couldn’t get parked outside the shops as it was so popular.

“Now, there are empty spaces all day long.

“We were seeing a growth in the 18 months before the roadworks started but year on year business is down around 40 per cent this month.

“People are just not coming to the area because of the traffic; they are actually being warned to avoid the road so they aren’t coming at all.”

Harrogate MP, Andrew Jones, has backed the traders’ campaign.

He said: “Many local people and traders tell me that they welcome the new M&S store but that the construction phase is having a severe impact on their takings. The key to resolving this situation is getting the roadworks finished quickly. But that doesn’t help shoppers and motorists, let alone the significant and negative impact on local traders.”

He added: “I have also written to the chief executive of Marks & Spencer. I know that M&S will want to be good neighbours. That is why I want to see a concerted effort to get people back to the Leeds Road shops when Marks & Spencer Simply Food opens.”

Harrogate Chamber of Trade is endorsing the committee’s concerns.

Chief executive Brian Dunsby said: “This traffic jam is the biggest issue for Harrogate businesses at the moment. It is affecting the town centre as well as Oatlands shops because visitors simply do not want to come.

“At peak times, stationary traffic north-bound stretches back to Pannal which makes it very difficult for emergency vehicles, and the junction is currently only working at about 50 per cent capacity.”

Developers have been criticised for how long the works are taking but they say motorists are facing a further nine weeks of delays.

“If this has all been done in a couple of months it wouldn’t be so bad but by the time it is complete it will have been almost a year, how much more can we take?” said Mr Medri.

Construction director Dan Murray of the site’s development managers, St James Securities, said contractors would be working until midnight where permitted to ensure the work is finished by early May 2014.

He said: “We understand the frustration experienced by local traders and road users and would like to apologise.

“We accept that the works at this junction are creating some significant queues at times. The highway works at this location are very complex.

“Last week we have discovered uncharted high voltage cables under the western side of Leeds Road which will have to be moved and we have also discovered damaged drains which need to be replaced. Despite these setbacks, a significant amount of progress has been made already. The project was always anticipated to take until April 2014 to complete and we now expect to be finished by early May 2014.”