ANGRY traders say a £12.8m regeneration scheme is literally driving away business in Hebburn town centre.
Shopkeepers are furious about what they call “parking chaos”, since the launch of work on the Hebburn community hub.
Dozens of car park spaces to the rear of the shopping centre have been swallowed up by a building site, with several shops reporting a big fall in trade.
Postmaster Mark Douglas said: “We’ve lost most of the car park because of the Hebburn hub scheme, and whereas there was something like 180 spaces, we are down to about 30. People are driving in to Hebburn shopping centre, and driving straight out.
“And even though the contractors have created a new overflow car park, there’s no signage to tell anyone it’s there. It’s absolute chaos at the minute, and I know many customers are driving in and straight out, because it looks like an obstacle course.”
Mr Douglas, who is due to put his complaints this week to Rick O’Farrell, South Tyneside Council’s head of enterprise and regeneration, added: “There is only space for one car to get in, and another to leave the car park.
“I know from our postage figures that this has affected trade and I’m sure the sole traders in the centre are being affected even worse by the parking issues.”
The ambitious Hub scheme will incorporate everything from swimming pools to a library and sporting facilities, but traders already struggling in closure-hit Hebburn shopping centre say the parking problems are making matters worse.
Richard Mill, who has ran florist shop The Flower Mill for almost 20 years, said: “Customers just can’t get parked at the minute. A new car park has been created, but there is no signage to tell people it is there.
“My business has been struggling as it is, but this is just making matters worse.”
Coun John McCabe, vice-chairman of Hebburn community area forum, and a supporter of the hub scheme, said: “I have had one or two traders tell me that they have lost trade because of the parking situation.
“They feel they are losing business because people are avoiding the town centre, and they could be right.
“There are always issues with a development on this scale but in the long run, I feel the Hebburn hub will benefit traders by bringing more people into the town.”
A South Tyneside Council spokesman said: “The Hebburn Hub development includes improving the existing car parks, which were in a poor condition, and creating a new car park to accommodate the extra visitors expected once the hub is complete.
“Before starting any works, we spoke to traders and took on board their comments and feedback.
“In direct response to listening to the traders, we agreed to phase the improvements. By doing this, we were able to maintain the same car park provision during works, without reducing any car parking capacity in the area.
“The new car park has been open to the public throughout the works. We have also phased in the improvements so at no point has there been a reduction in the number of parking spaces available in the town centre.
“As with any scheme of this size, some disruption is expected and we are doing all we can to minimise it.”