Is Barkingside High Street struggling? Shopkeepers give their views ahead of £2.1m regeneration

Ronnie Hudgell and Azhar Iqbal, from Catwalk Pets & Aquatics

Ronnie Hudgell and Azhar Iqbal, from Catwalk Pets & Aquatics - Credit: Archant

Can a high street which is set to get a £2.1million shot in the arm be considered as struggling?

Ronnie Hudgell and Azhar Iqbal, from Catwalk Pets & Aquatics

Ronnie Hudgell and Azhar Iqbal, from Catwalk Pets & Aquatics - Credit: Archant

If that high street is in Barkingside, it really depends on which shop you walk into.

As reported in last week’s Recorder, the area’s traders’ association is in limbo, with its two biggest cheerleaders and their shops – Steve Eaton of Eaton Hair and Gary Diamond of Toyology – set to be lost to the high street.

But work will soon begin on the Better Barkingside project, with £1.9million of Greater London Authority funding, creating a town square outside Fullwell Cross Leisure Centre and Library to offer entertainment and street markets, as well as devising a shopfront improvement scheme.

The frontages project, which has been allocated £120,000, will see five shops have significant work on their shopfronts, with potential for internal alterations.

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Ten will receive mild improvements and 15 will take part in workshops with artists and designers on how to improve their window look.

Jonathan Milburn, owner of Fullwells Cycle Store in State Parade, off the northern end of High Street, said: “I’ve put my name forward to be involved potentially.

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“I’m cautiously interested, it could be a benefit.”

But Paula Allen, a customer service manager at Mayfair Stationers in High Street, was much less impressed.

She said: “It’s five shops out of how many? It’s nothing, they’re offering workshops. They’ll teach us how to suck eggs.”

Mr Eaton, the chairman of the traders’ association who intends to leave Barkingside once his lease expires in August 2014, told the Recorder he’d expected more discussions with shop owners about the frontages scheme. A Redbridge Council spokesman insisted, though, that officers are working with architects to deliver the Better Barkingside project as quickly as possible.

She added: “A town centre manager has recently been appointed to Barkingside to help businesses encourage trade to the area.”

Anyone walking out of Fullwell Cross Library, next to the paved area earmarked for the town square, looks immediately out on to State Parade.

It currently has two empty shops, with chiropodists Footology considering a move to Fencepiece Road.

Shaz Dar, owner of CatWalk Pets less than a minute away in High Street, is concerned other shops won’t survive to feel the benefit of the regeneration works, due to be completed next spring.

She said: “If they have this amount of money for regeneration, I hope they have a little set aside for shops that might struggle. They don’t want to do it and have shops closing down six months ahead of time.

“And how is it going to affect the high street for one year before it’s ready?

“As much as we’re excited, it’s very worrying.

“If they close one part of the road and put cones down, it will make it more difficult.

“Will people avoid Barkingside for a year and we’ll still have to pay rents and rates?”

A council spokesman said: “The physical improvements will have very little impact on shoppers’ access.

“Businesses will not be directly affected by any of the work.”

The new town centre manager, Cathy MacBride, is sure to hear some strong views about parking too.

The council points to the introduction of 30p charges for 15 minutes as a means to let shoppers quickly pop in.

Paul Ziles, owner of Mayfair Stationers, would like to see more significant changes, with pay and display restrictions reduced from the current 8.30am-6.30pm to 10am-4pm instead.

And 15 minutes should be free at any time, he added. “Other boroughs manage it. The council don’t get money out of it but they get customers that are happy to shop in the high street,” said Mr Ziles, who has worked in the shop for 26 years.

The Craven Gardens car park near Fullwell Cross roundabout is widely acknowledged to be under-used, with Mr Milburn putting that down to its charges and the fact people aren’t keen on walking from there to High Street.

The council is considering introducing a lower all-day rate there to encourage more shoppers, something the businesses would surely welcome.

But what Better Barkingside means for their livelihoods won’t be clear for some time yet.

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