Footfall fell in Hull city centre after work started work to prepare for the city’s year as City of Culture, latest figures show.
The widely-criticised works, which have seen swathes of the centre dug up at once, leaving a maze of barriers for shoppers to negotiate, helped contribute to a ”distinct drop” at the end of last year, according to a report.
In January footfall figures were down 10 percentage points over the previous year, some seven percentage points lower than the North and Yorkshire average, although they since appear to have been levelling out.
The figures come ahead of a meeting held by HullBid, which works to promote business and the city council, on March 23 where businesses can raise concerns with contractor Eurovia.
Butcher Ted Johnston’s business is on Carr Lane, which closed last week for four months to allow for the road’s reconstruction as part of the city centre revamp.
He said: “My question would be why are they digging up everywhere at once? Why can’t they complete one section at a time? All they are doing is digging it up, putting barriers down and then you see no-one working in it. I am just hoping when it finishes footfall will return, but it is an unknown.”
Chocolatier Jon Collins, who has a shop in the indoor market, said business was “massively down” on last year: “The first four months of City of Culture is Made In Hull. My main worry is they are overrunning and the market will definitely not be done by the beginning of next year.
“I think the work is putting people off - but it is a necessary evil.”
Coffee shop owner Joe Martin added: “People used to come in and say Trinity Square was a mess, but that mess has moved increasingly nearer and I think our trade has fallen away as a result.”
The same report shows 14 per cent of shops were empty and vast differences between shopping centres with zero vacancy at St Stephen’s against 42 per cent at Princes Quay.
Kathryn Shillito, from HullBid, said the figures were “slightly disappointing”. They are a partner in a new marketing campaign called “Open for Business.” She said: “We totally understand businesses are struggling and are doing as much as we can to help and support them.”
Coun Sean Chaytor, who was on the scrutiny committee which looked at the figures said: “The report seemed to indicate that there was a reduction in footfall but it was based on cameras in certain locations and some happened to be where work is ongoing and less people are going through them. We regret any inconvenience to the public and business but if we want to make improvements they have to be done.”
Not everyone is suffering from the slump. City guide Paul Schofield said February had been his busiest month since he started in 1988, with visitors including Californian bloggers and international students. He is at least 200 per cent up for bookings next year. He said: “It’s short term pain for long term gain. A lot of people are saying it was the same in Glasgow and Liverpool.”
Greater Grimsby MP Melanie Onn also says 2017 could be “transformational” for the whole region, as it was for Liverpool following its year as European Capital of Culture in 2008.
Hull City Council said the report was a snapshot of overall footfall. A spokeswoman said: “Footfall fluctuates constantly, influenced by various external factors such as the seasons; a drop is normal for this time of the year.”
She added: “We and our partners including Hull Bid, constantly monitor footfall to look for opportunities to attract more people in to the city centre, and in certain areas of the city we have seen fluctuations, reflecting consumers shopping preferences.
“It is important to remember that these figures show a constant moving target and a decline in any particular month is not necessarily indicative of an overall trend.”