Survey reveals shoppers are being ‘driven out’ of Preston city centre

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CITY centre traffic chaos is driving shoppers out of Preston, according to a new survey.

Stores are reporting a drop in sales and customers are taking their cash elsewhere, blaming the controversial Fishergate “shared space” bottleneck.

The survey, carried out by Preston BID, which represents more than 150 businesses in the city, revealed 60 per cent of people interviewed said they had changed their shopping habits over the last 12 months because of the congestion.

But Lancashire County Council leader, Coun Jennifer Mein, insisted last night the authority was “working hard” to tackle problems.

Nose-to-tail congestion, blamed by many on the removal of traffic lights at key points, has left retailers reporting a drop in sales and customers taking their money elsewhere, says the study commissioned by a group representing more than 150 city businesses.

The survey reveals three out of five people admit to changing their shopping habits over the last 12 months as a result of the continuing traffic chaos.

The results are certain to prompt renewed calls for the return of lights at Fishergate’s junctions with Corporation Street, Butler Street, Chapel Street and Lune Street.

“Store managers and shop owners have reported a fall in trade during normally busy periods, claiming that traffic congestion is a significant factor and that action is needed to prevent job losses,” said Babs Murphy, chief executive of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce which includes the Preston Business Improvement District.

The travel survey, which interviewed more than 400 people, revealed three-fifths of respondents said congestion had either significantly influenced (22 per cent) or somewhat influenced (38 per cent) their shopping habits over the past 12 months.

Of those saying that they had changed their shopping habits, 61 per cent said they had chosen to shop less frequently in Preston city centre, whilst 44 per cent had taken a decision to shop elsewhere outside Preston.

Some 35 per cent said they chose to shop online to avoid traffic issues, whilst 26 per cent had chosen to avoid the city centre, but shop elsewhere in Preston.

Others said they had made more of an effort to shop at quieter periods, such as very early morning or midweek.

The £3.4m road scheme has won praise for brightening up the city’s premier shopping street, with the addition of trees and the removal of road signs and other clutter.

But, while it will form part of a new-look city centre with exciting improvements to Winckley Square, the railway station, the Grade II Listed bus station, the markets quarter and, eventually, Church Street, the traffic problems on one small section of Fishergate, between Lune Street and Butler Street, risk taking the gloss off Preston’s biggest redevelopment since the sixties.

The BID survey showed 47 per cent of people questioned use a car to go in or out of Preston city centre at least once a week, with 19 per cent making the trip on four or five days a week.

Just over half of respondents said the main reason for travelling into the city centre was shopping, with 33 per cent commuting for work and 10 per cent for leisure.

When asked about their perception of traffic congestion in Preston city centre, 56 per cent described the situation as a “mixed bag,” 30 per cent believed the city was congested most of the time and another eight per cent felt it was congested all of the time. Only six per cent perceived that the city was not congested most of the time.

Quizzed as to how big a problem traffic congestion is in Preston at the moment, only eight per cent said it wasn’t a problem, with 37 per cent believing it to be a serious issue. The remaining 55 per cent said that although congestion was a problem, it wasn’t serious.

When asked about how future shopping habits might change, around half of those questioned said they would be more likely to use online shopping to avoid congestion.

Four out of five people agreed that traffic congestion will have an increasing impact on the economy of Preston over the next five to 10 years. Only four per cent disagreed. And 82 per cent of respondents said that unless action is taken in the near future, traffic congestion in Preston will get much worse.

Babs Murphy denied the drop in spending in the city centre had anything to do with people having less money.

She said: “Businesses have been accused of ignoring the wider economic picture and that shoppers are simply spending less as result of economic hardship.

“However 77 per cent of people in this survey said that their average spending had either increased (20 per cent) or remained static (57 per cent) over the past 12 months.”

Coun Mein, leader of Lancashire County Council said: “The multi-million pound improvements in the city centre have improved the main commercial centre of the city, attracting in new businesses.

“It’s important to highlight the many good things happening here. With investment from the Preston, South Ribble and Lancashire City Deal, the city centre is going to be a very different and much improved place over the next 10 years as the areas around the bus station and Markets Quarter are regenerated. These improvements to the main shopping street are just the starting point.

“Other exciting new developments are currently taking place such as improvements at the railway station, the redevelopment of the former Park Hotel and the Guild Hall. These developments will encourage more people into the city centre, create new jobs, benefit local businesses and bring about economic growth.

“There have been some initial issues with congestion at specific junctions at busy times and we’ll continue working hard to tackle them. For example, stopping traffic from turning right at the top of Butler St appears to have improved the situation for drivers leaving the railway station and Fishergate centre.

“We’re committed to finding ways to further improve the situation and we’re currently carrying out traffic counts to help achieve that.”

Andrew Stringer, general manager at St George’s Shopping Centre, said: “The issue of congestion in and around Fishergate has been a problem for us since last October and the delays do cause problems for our shoppers, both on their way in and way out of visiting the city.

“We have been liaising with the local authorities since the issue began and continue to do so to find an effective solution.”