Chair of business association calls on council to support local traders
THE new chair of Westbury-on-Trym local business association is concerned at the current situation for traders in the village, and is calling on Bristol City Council to take action.
by Keri Beckingham
Amanda George became chair of Westbury-on-Trym Business Association (WOTBA) in May, and is also the owner of a shop in the village. We Make Bristol has been open since October 2016, and sells a range of quality crafts and gifts that have been made by local craftspeople and artists.
Since being in post, she has made it her mission to address the concerns of traders, especially in regards to crime rates and parking. There are also a number of empty business units within the village, with Lloyds Pharmacy and the Co-op bank some of the bigger names that have recently closed their doors.
Amanda told the Henleaze & Westbury Voice: “High streets in general are struggling at the moment, with the big closures with national chains, but a positive note to mention is that for every business leaving the village, there is a queue of businesses waiting to take their place. Someone I know is moving back to Bristol and is keen to open here, and Cindyjane is expanding to a bigger unit as her business is thriving.
“The biggest problem that we’ve got is the old Lloyds unit, which has remained vacant for some time, and I’m going to be discussing this with our local MP Darren Jones to see if there’s anything he can do to help.
“In addition, Bristol City Council haven’t got one CCTV camera in the village, which really isn’t good. I’ve been the victim of two attempted break-ins, and the green grocers and Vision Express have also recently been broken into, so CCTV cameras would help. Traffic wardens are also scarce, and we find commuters are parking here and catching buses into town for work as there is no penalty. As a result spaces for genuine shoppers are limited so people are being forced to go elsewhere.
“I’m passionate about the village, not just because of my own shop, but because I live here too. There are some really great businesses here, and to stop shops closing people need to use them. If you look at how many businesses are closed compared to those that are open, there are still loads of reasons to visit, and I would encourage readers to come out for lunch or have a browse of what we have to offer.”
Addressing WOTBA’s concerns, Geoff Gollop, Conservative Councillor for Westbury-on-Trym and Henleaze said: “This is a difficult and complex issue. As the council introduces CCTV in the real trouble spots, areas that are unprotected become much more attractive for criminals. The council has limited funds to allocate to crime related issues.
“As far as parking services is concerned, we ask parking services for regular updates, and they visit Westbury car park regularly but issue very few tickets. The only way to finance the equipment to monitor the car park would be charging for parking. I think opinion would be divided on that, but I would welcome comments from residents and users. From discussions with businesses, the reduced footfall due to parking difficulties is a very big threat to their viability.
“The council can only get involved in the retail and business area when there is a planning application for a change of use, otherwise the setting of rents and negotiating of leases is down to the tenant and the owner. Often owners are looking for unrealistic rents, so properties remain empty for too long. Apart from rent, the other big cost for any tenant is the business rates. Charity shops only pay 20% of the rates that businesses have to pay, a fact which can distort the market significantly.
“I understand the concerns about the Westbury and Stoke Lane shops and recognise that a thriving retail sector is vital to our community. I would be happy to work with local residents and traders to develop a way forward.”
To find out more about WOTBA, visit their website: http://www.wotba.org.uk/