TRADERS in one of Southend’s biggest shopping centres say their businesses are suffering because visitor numbers have fallen by more than half a million since the revamp of Victoria Gateway.
Businesses in Victoria Shopping Centre say a new crossing in the shared space outside Victoria Station is leading people away from an escalator that takes them through the centre and into the high street.
Figures for 2013 show the centre had 160,809 fewer visitors than in 2012 following the £7.5million Victoria Gateway revamp, which was completed in March 2011.
So far this year, footfall is already down 224,809 on last year without the last quarter figures.
Jack Higgs Wilson, owner of Higgs leather and fur retailer said: “We weren’t consulted when they did the shared space and we have been ignored since.
“They’ve ripped the heart out of the centre.”
The centre underwent a £27million revamp in 2006, which included a roof to keep out the weather and encourage shoppers to linger, but the main complaint from businesses appears to be the introduction of the new crossing.
Traders also question why Southend Council spent money putting in trees and seats outside, when it should have spent cash to bring in more shoppers.
Tony Belyavin, chairman of the Victoria Tenants’ Association, said: “We feel we have been completely ignored by the council and it hasn’t listened to the people it is supposed to represent.
“We contribute £50million to the local economy and employ 250 people and yet we are ignored.
“The additional crossing has created a walkway which bypasses the centre.
“When we didn’t have that, people used the original crossing and came up by the escalator by the station.
“We believe they should remove the pedestrian crossing, or fence it off, because with the skateboarders using the space as well, it’s an accident waiting to happen.”
Footfall has been in a steady decline in recent years, falling from eight million in 2005 to five million last year.
There are currently 15 empty shops in the centre.
A COUNCILLOR says he is happy to work with the centre to attract more shoppers.
Martin Terry, Southend councillor responsible for public protection and transport, said: “The council has said Southend is open for business and we want to do everything we can to encourage a prosperous economy.
“It needs a deeper response from council officers. If they would like to contact me directly I would be happy to look into it.”
The shopping centre also suffered after plans for a Tesco store on the former B&Q site, in Short Street, fell through. It was hoped it would revitalise the centre, as a new bridge would have been built to connect the supermarket to the shopping centre.
Dennis Baldry, spokesman for the Victoria Shopping Centre, said: “There are other issues in Southend, not just at the Victoria, but I wouldn’t disagree the crossing has had an impact on that end of the centre.
“The changes were already there when I started, but based on footfall I wouldn’t disagree with traders that they have had an impact on the centre.