Closure of car park could be "final nail" for West End
RETAILERS say the sudden closure of the city's second largest car park could be "the final nail in the coffin" for the West End.
On Monday evening, Plymouth City Council took the decision to close Mayflower West car park as a precautionary measure after "structural problems" were discovered.
The Herald had previously revealed how the council were in possession of engineering reports from 2010 and 2011 which said there were concerns over the safety of the structure. The 2011 report by infrastructure contractor Amey recommended "extensive refurbishment" if the car park was to remain open beyond 2013.
Plymouth City Council said the safety of the car park had been "continuously monitored" since strengthening work was carried out in 2004.
Harry Eves from the Art Frame Gallery, located on Cornwall Street, said the closure could mark the end for independent West End traders.
He said: "Everyone down here is worried sick. That car park feeds the West End and it is the second biggest in town. Many of the customers that come to us use that car park. We will lose hundreds of customers every day.
"Many businesses down here are clinging on by their fingernails. This could be the final nail in the coffin. My takings have dropped 30 per cent every day since they shut it.
"It is unbelievable that the council has known about this since 2004. We had all the big stores down this end of town when the car park last closed in 2004, and it still had a very serious effect on the West End. And we were in boom times then."
Jeff Hall, who owns SilverStall jewellers in the Armada Shopping Centre, said the council had questions to answer.
The businessman, who has had his shop for 17 years, said: "The City Centre Company and the council were made aware on countless occasions that it was unsafe. It was only through the grace of God and The Herald that the car park was closed.
"Us retailers in the shopping centre were forced by the council to spend tens of thousands of pounds of our service charges on upgrading the footbridge linking Sainsbury's to the car park. Yet, they knew they weren't dealing with their own health and safety issues in the car park. It's double standards."
Restaurant manager Christian Carson, who runs Jake's Cafe on Cornwall Street, said he felt the area needed more support to help it through the closure.
He said: "We knew remedial work needed doing but it was a surprise it was shut down straight away. It's not ideal, just before Christmas.
"Passing trade is down about 50 per cent since I took the cafe against 12 years ago and having the car park closed is going to have an effect on trade.
"The council could encourage parking in Western Approach car park a bit more or offer cheaper or free parking. That's probably not what they want to hear right now but we need to get people down to this end of town and create that balance again."
Ray Robins,Chairman of the City Market Traders Association, said he had been given personal reassurance from the leader of the council that he would do everything in his power to support businesses affected.
There are more than 200 independent traders in the city.
Mr Robins, of Robins and Moore goldsmiths, said: "The last time this car park closed for repairs it had a devastating impact on the city market. Back then, many traders were able to prove a 40 per cent decrease in takings and that is being mirrored now.
"For it to close at this particular time, in a recession and coming up to Christmas, it is a big blow to this end of the city.
"I have spoken to Tudor Evans and he has said they are giving this maximum priority. He has given me reassurance that he will do whatever it takes so that we stay in business."
Plymouth City Council defended the closure saying they had been forced to after a recent survey flagged up safety issues.
A spokeswoman said: "It is essential we carry out this temporary and precautionary closure of Mayflower West car park now to do a more in-depth inspection of the structural problems picked up through one of our scheduled surveys.
"Public safety is always our number one priority, so whilst it might not be the convenient thing to do, it is the right thing to shut the car park in the short-term.
"To suggest little effort has been made to address problems simply isn't true. We've continuously monitored the condition of Mayflower West car park to ensure it remains safe for public use.
"Major strengthening works to extend the life of the car park were carried out in 2004 and regular surveys to keep on top of its condition have been completed since then.
"But as far as car parks go, Mayflower West is old. Having been built in 1965, it's the oldest major car park in the city centre. Unfortunately we cannot stop the aging process altogether, we can only delay it, which is the approach we've taken to date. We need to consider if this approach is achievable or wanted in the future.
"We are sorry for the disruption and inconvenience this closure will cause to retailers and shoppers, and we'll work as quickly as possible to come up with some answers."