DUDLEY traders have blasted council bosses for rushing into regeneration work which is driving them out of business.
A revamp of the market place area in Stone Street and Castle Street, which got underway in January, is being blamed for the closure of four premises including a butcher’s shop which had been in the town for 60 years.
A newsagent, whose New Street shop has lost half its customers since the revamp began, says he could be the next to go if business does not improve soon.
Naginder Singh, from MSB News, said: “What they could have done is given us proper warning, they gave us two days before they closed the road.
“It takes ages to build a customer base, in the last six months they have been going somewhere else. We are just about covering our bills, how long are we supposed to carry on?
“They say they are going to reopen the road in three weeks time, it is make or break for us.”
Traders complain their customers cannot find parking in the town centre and are unable or unwilling to walk from temporary bus stops near Dudley Zoo.
Butcher Paul Llewellyn has already fallen victim to the £6.7m project. He closed his New Street shop two weeks ago and says the failure of his business will cost him around £24,000.
He told the News: “It is absolutely ridiculous; they have turned Dudley into a construction site. A woman who worked for me had been there for 37 years and she said she had never seen it so bad. It has killed my business.
“The shop always did well until the work started. Nobody is listening, it is disgusting, I was virtually crying in a meeting telling them how I would go bankrupt if they didn’t help.”
Mr Llewellyn, aged 38 from Walsall, says the council ignored traders’ pleas for assistance including the introduction of free parking, re-routing of busses and the opening of town centre council staff car parks for shoppers on weekdays.
He said: “There was no planning, to get business involved before they started would have been a great idea.”
Alan Caswell, owner of the Arcade Toyshop in Fountain Arcade, has been trading in Dudley for more than 40 years and although he welcomes regeneration, he thinks it may have come too late as many customers have switched to retail centres offering free parking close to shops.
Mr Caswell said: “Dudley is the forgotten city, it was always a busy little market town. Before the Merry Hill centre it was fantastic. I feel sad for it at the minute, it is a poor relation.”
Dudley businessman Matt Wilkes said: “There are plans to build a new car park in Tower Street which is much needed for town centre trade – but instead of starting with this so it’s all ready when the development is finally complete, they just moved ahead and reduced the marketplace to rubble.
Now when we finally have the grand unveiling of the shiny new Dudley town centre – there will still be nowhere to park.”
Dudley Council claims there is more than £100m of investment in the pipeline for the town centre which will encourage people to visit or move in and boost business.
The authority also insisted it held a public consultation which included meetings with traders on the current regeneration scheme in 2011.
A spokesperson for the council said: “To assist local businesses, in 2013 we added an extra 70 free car parking spaces in the town centre. In addition, we have been informed that passenger numbers to Dudley town centre have remained constant.
“We have also introduced parking to the periphery of Stone Street Square, however in the longer-term the square will become an important event space as part of the regeneration.
“The market place redevelopment is being funded by money from the European Regional Development Fund. The funding has strict deadlines on how quickly the money must be spent. At the point where we commenced the regeneration scheme the money was not in place for a multi-storey car park.”
Work on the market place project is expected to be completed during the first half of next year.