Honiton traders and retailers call for change at crunch meeting to save town’s failing high street
PUBLISHED: 11:30 10 October 2018 | UPDATED: 13:35 16 October 2018
Impassioned residents have demanded better advertising of Honiton’s weekly market and empty shop fronts to be dressed up at a meeting to tackle issues affecting the town’s struggling high street.
More than 40 Honiton-based retailers and traders packed Mackarness Hall yesterday (Tuesday) to air their concerns to Chamber of Commerce chair Tony McCollum and chamber members across three hours of discussion.
The meeting also prompted one trader – Alf Shaw – reveal he struggled to pay his rent to Mr McCollum because his market trade had taken such a big hit.
Mr Shaw said: “We are struggling now! Today, I struggled to pay my rent to Tony. I can keep doing this week in, week out.
“You either help us out or a lot of these traders will walk eventually.”
Fellow trader Cath Morrison, who travels from Somerset to trade at Honiton’s market, urged the Chamber of Commerce to improve its advertising of the market.
She said: “We are losing a lot of traders.
“The town council needs to be proactive in supporting the market. After all, the traders pay the town council for being here.”
She added: “If you have a successful market, traders will promote it.
“But at the moment, it seems to have dropped off. For some reason, since August everything has just gone down and we do not know why.”
Duncan Sheridan-Shaw, deputy mayor of Honiton, said the council is currently updating its ‘dated’ website, which would promote Honiton as a ‘thriving market town’, but admitted it’s a long-winded process.
Mr McCollum said the chamber accepts that advertising is a ‘major issue’ that needs looking at.
After the traders’ meeting, retailers were invited to speak on how Honiton’s high street could be improved.
Pauline Curry, of Bests of Honiton, said the town needs more car parking spaces to accommodate shoppers.
She added: “When the community college was built, we lost 42 spaces, even though land was promised [to replace them].
“We have 300 new homes being built at Hayne Lane, bringing a potential of 500 to 600 cars. At present, most car parks in Honiton cannot cope.
“The market and shops need to get people in, and we need more car parking spaces.”
Mrs Curry cited a scheme in Cotswolds, where market towns similar to Honiton would offer free parking to shoppers for the first three hours.
She added: “These towns are now booming.”
Mrs Curry also queried whether the vacant Halse of Honiton site in Honiton could be utilised for car parking.
Mr McCollum said: said: “The Halse of Honiton site is back on the market. We have got someone that is possibly looking at taking it on if they come up with the right plan.”
Sally Wilde, of Planet Sal in Black Lion Court, said she was concerned about plans to build a McDonalds near Ottery.
Documents have been submitted to East Devon District Council for consideration.
The McDonalds drive-thru would be built as part of a scheme that would also see a roadside service and petrol station installed next to the A30.
She said: “The lure of McDonalds will be big for people in Honiton. That is where we are going to lose a lot of people – we need to plan for it.”
The issue of a tourist information centre was also raised, with traders querying if a new hub could be set up at The Beehive or the town’s popular Thelma Hulbert Gallery.
Mark Tredwin, Honiton Town Council clerk, explained that both venues would lead people away from Honiton’s town centre.
He added that an empty kiosk in Lace Walk – an option suggested by Mr Sheridan-Shaw – would provide immediate footfall for the town, as Lace Walk leads tourists to Honiton’s high street.
The majority of traders present signalled their support for the tourist information centre to be set up in the kiosk – despite Honiton Town Council approving a motion in September to explore the possibility of setting up the facility in the town’s Allhallows Museum.
Mr Sheridan-Shaw, who was visibly pleased by the backing, said: “It would have been a massive asset for everyone who wanted to use it. That was my plan, and I have not stopped pursuing it.”
Laura Aplin, of Body Therapy, praised Honiton outlets A Diamond and Co and Moba for having attractive shop fronts.
She asked if empty shop windows in Honiton could be used for creating advertising displays for other businesses.
Mr Sheridan-Shaw said: “The issue is finding who owns the premises.
“We have a list of who owns what, so this is the sort of idea we need to go away and work on.”
Mr McCollum thanked everyone who attended to meeting, adding: “Our next step is to go to the public and get their views. We need to know what customers want.
“We are looking at a date in early November at the moment.
“Honiton needs to move on and change – but it’s not going to happen overnight.
“What’s going to happen is going to take time.”
Last night’s meeting was arranged by Mr McCollum for traders and retailers in Honiton to establish their ideas for the future of Honiton’s market, and any improvements or overall changes that can be made to ensure ‘sustainability’ and ‘potential growth’ over the next five years.