Business - Mixed picture for Redbridge high streets

Redbridge shopkeepers are hoping regeneration funding, art trails and Christmas events will ensure their high streets don’t copy the gloomy picture in other parts of the country.

A report by the Local Data Company, published last week, showed shop vacancy rates increased in every part of the UK – apart from the capital – in the first half of the year.

Across London and the south-east, it stood at 12.7 per cent, with highs of 18.5 per cent in Wales, the Midlands and the North.

This week, the Recorder spoke to business owners around the borough and found a mixed picture.

In Barkingside, Steve Eaton, owner of Eaton Hair, in State Parade, High Street and chairman of the Barkingside Traders’ Association, said: “We were okay up until a couple of months ago and all of a sudden, there’s vacant shops.”

Felton Travel in State Parade ceased trading on August 28, leaving holidaymakers unable to go abroad as reported in the Recorder, and Mr Eaton said the neighbouring shop to him, formerly the Barkingside Tile Centre, had been vacant for four months.

Two fires in the High Street have left the Spirit fashion store, Allan Irving Jewellers and Manna House Christian Centre closed.

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Mr Eaton said a contributory factor to the mixed picture in the High Street is Redbridge Council’s parking charges.

He said: “All that does is make people go outside of the area.”

The �2.1million fund from the Mayor of London and the council for Barkingside will help by regenerating the square in front of Fullwell Cross Library, High Street, according to Mr Eaton.

He said: “We can do things like markets that we couldn’t before. The square didn’t have a solid enough base for the stands.”

A council spokesman said: “To try and help parking in Barkingside we have recently introduced the option to pay and display for fifteen minutes for just 30p, so those shoppers who want to pop in to the High Street do not have to pay higher fees.”

In Ilford Lane, Ilford, Khalid Hussain, chairman of the South Ilford Business Association, said shopkeepers had been able to hold back from closing their shutters permanently.

Down-sizing had been the answer, according to Mr Hussain, of K1 Tyres, Ilford Lane.

He said: “Most of the shop keepers, instead of locking up and moving on, they decided to turn the shops into a couple of units, so two businesses can cover a shop.

“Over the last two or three years, people started to combine into smaller units.”

He said though smaller units are periodically empty, there is only one empty larger shop in Ilford Lane.

Mr Hussain, whose association represents 280 shops, said: “Shops may not be doing good business, but they’re paying their rates and wages.

“In that sense we’re a success story.

“It’s better, I think, than in Barkingside and Cranbrook Road.”

n It was not possible to speak to the Ilford Business Improvement District about Ilford town centre.

Footfall is a bigger problem than empty shops blighting the landscape in Wanstead High Street, according to one trader.

Michele Redgrave, from the Images in Frames shop in the High Street and treasurer of the Wanstead Business Partnership, said only one shop was currently vacant – the former Cinammon restaurant.

Design shop One Deko recently closed but is now being converted into Mario’s Shake Shack.

Ms Redgrave said: “As one closes, another one moves in. “I think the high street is looking good, it’s not an empty high street.

“But the Olympics did have a big impact. You can’t get hardly anybody out.

“I hope that soon it will be back to normal.”

She believes the Art Trail Wanstead, a 16-day festival in which shops and other venues house art works, will help bring people to the High Street (see page 25).

She also pointed to the launch of a Facebook page promoting the area –

And the Seven Kings Business Partnership is relaunching to combat decline in high street shops.

Satdev Kumar, part owner of Hansons Estates in Cameron Road, said the area’s shops had gone “downhill”.

He added: “We’re starting back up to help local businesses because recently we’ve noticed a lot of places closing down.

“A major concern has been parking restrictions that are driving people away.”

Up to an hour’s parking costs 80p in the High Road car park and the charge for more than three hours is �5.

All local businesses will be invited to join the partnership and take advantage of “exciting” projects and not-for-profit advice and referrals.

Mr Kumar said: “The condition of some of the shop fronts is just appalling, but I think we can definitely make a big change around here in the next year or two.”

Meetings for the business partnership will be starting in the coming months.