Businesses’ fears as car park and footbridge may have to close
The Southgate car park next to the River Slea has been a temporary pay and display car park since 2009, but has been refused permission to keep operating in a bid to pedestrianise the town centre.
The owners say the nearby footbridge would therefore need to be gated to keep people off the site.
Both currently remain open, with an appeal due to be lodged within days.
However, several independent businesses fear a loss of footfall from shoppers who use the car park and footbridge.
Kay Bonnell, the manager of Emily’s Bakehouse, said: “It will certainly affect our business – a lot of our customers use the bridge as a thoroughfare, and it also makes the area more accessible for disabled people and families.
“It would be nice to have the town centre pedestrianised, but I have no idea if it will work. And it’s not going to happen straight away.
“It’s a sad loss for the area – the news won’t go down well with our customers at all.”
Melissa Massingham, the owner of the Hutch Shop, said: “We have a very firm customer base, but we don’t know what would happen if the car park closes.
“A lot of our customers buy heavy bags of pet food which weigh 10 or 15kg – it’s one thing to take it across the bridge, another to go around to the next closest car park in Sainsbury’s.
“That car park also has a limit of two hours, which isn’t enough if you want to spend time shopping and having lunch.
“You could understand it if there were major works on the site imminent, but I don’t see anything happening for quite a few years. Pedestrianising the town centre isn’t going to happen any time soon – that’s a long-term plan.
“What would the empty space be used for in the meantime? We don’t want it to be a dumping ground or a place for kids to mess around in.”
A popular artisan market in Millstream Square also uses part of the car park.
The car park’s owners Nick Allen and Rob Wilcox, of NJA Property Management Ltd and RAW Property Management Ltd have called the potential closure “premature”.
“With the massive effects of the pandemic on local businesses, we can not see the sense in shutting a car park directly in the centre of Sleaford that currently has approximately 1500 vehicles use every week,” they said.
“We feel that NKDC are not acting to the benefit of Sleaford with this premature closure. The shops and cafés around our car park will be affected after suffering a long difficult period.
“The well-used pedestrian route will have to close and it would leave an empty area in the centre of Sleaford that will look unsightly and may attract anti-social behaviour.
“We are happy to work with NKDC on a temporary basis until such time that work actually starts on Southgate, but feel this may be years away and can’t understand why they are insisting on a closure now.”
North Kesteven District Council say that the site is a strategic regeneration opportunity for Sleaford.
Council Leader Councillor Richard Wright said: “This key town centre site has previously had planning permission approved for a mixed-use site in 2007, combining residential and commercial units, and this permission was extended in 2010 and implemented in part. This was in accordance with approved strategies for the town centre.
“Following the impacts of the 2007/8 financial crash we allowed temporary use of the site as a car park, enabling both a practical use and income from the site while the market recovered and the owner to develop plans.
“Permission for the temporary car park has been renewed three times in the intervening years, including its most recent renewal which lapsed in 2020. In 2019 an appeal to retain the car park permanently was dismissed since the site represents a regeneration opportunity at the heart of the town centre.
“We have continued to allow its temporary use as a car park in order to support post-Covid high-street recovery. However, as the nation has now moved to ‘living with Covid’, the site continues to be regarded as a strategic regeneration opportunity for Sleaford.
“In the 15 years since the original application a strategy and vision for a revitalised Sleaford town centre has developed. A creative, vibrant development on this site has the opportunity to make a real and valuable contribution to this regeneration, delivering homes and businesses that are needed by the people of Sleaford and supporting an improved street scene.
“We would encourage the owner to develop the site within this context and would welcome a dialogue with the owner to help identify viable potential such uses of the site.”