AN INDEPENDENT newsagent claims an “appalling” precinct redevelopment has driven him out of business.
Peter Wiblin, who owns Abingdon News Plus in Bury Street, is closing at the end of today...because he can no longer afford the rent on his unit after a drop in customers since work began.
And other traders agree that footfall is yet to improve after it was dented by the £4m building work to improve the 1960s Bury Street Precinct.
Mr Wiblin, 56, said: “The development was so badly organised it drove away our customers and I have not received or been offered a penny in reduction of my rent.
“This is just the first stage of three in the redevelopment and our customers were not going to come back in a hurry.”
Scottish Widows Investment Partnership, which owns the precinct, contracted developers NewRiver to redesign it. NewRiver employed contractors McLaren to undertake the work, which began in April.
In 2011 Mr Wiblin moved his Bury Street shop to a smaller unit further down the road to accommodate the building works. His old unit was demolished and replaced with a larger one.
Mr Wiblin added: “There is no reason I shouldn’t have been successful in a smaller unit, it’s just the appalling manner in which the redevelopment has been done.”
The larger units in the arcade were supposed to accommodate a national fashion chain, but NewRiver has yet to find an occupant.
Ian Collett, who owns The Bookstore, said his footfall is still down by around 25 per cent, and last Saturday was his worst in 14 years.
He added: “Peter is right, footfall hasn’t picked up, but until we have the two new units filled it won’t. Scottish Widows has not done much to help us.”
Nick Cosford, co-owner of the Abingdon Gift Centre, said he has also seen a drop in customers.
“Independents struggle to pay those levels of rent if you don’t have the footfall to match it,” he said.
In December, NewRiver said the refurbishment work was complete apart from “snagging”. But in January, 300 businesses and homes in the town centre lost power for an hour when a workman hit an underground cable.
Abingdon Chamber of Commerce President Paul Townsend said: “The precinct will be a good thing in the long run, but we don’t want to lose independents: smaller units need to be made affordable.”
Businesses were given a 10 per cent discount on their business rates from last April as compensation from the local authority.
NewRiver spokesman Martin Hughes said: “It is always regrettable when an independent business decides to cease trading and we had recently relocated this business with compensation as a result of the £4 million refurbishment of the shopping centre.
“We wish Mr Wiblin all the best for the future.”
He added: “On a more positive note, we are exploring various new initiatives, including wi-fi, and will be hosting a public event in the near future to re-launch the refurbished and revitalised centre.”