Parking an issue to address according to Saffron Walden town centre visitors

PUBLISHED: 15:52 12 March 2013 | UPDATED: 15:52 12 March 2013

NEARLY one in five visitors to Saffron Walden believe car parking is an issue that needs addressing.

That was just one of the headline figures from research presented at a meeting of traders and councillors – the latest get together in the ongoing drive to enhance town centre vitality.

But overall the outlook was positive.

A recent survey showed 96 per cent of the 237 shoppers asked visited the town every week and 61 per cent of non-Saffron Walden residents said there was nothing they disliked about it.

The research from mystery shopper visits and a town centre survey was presented at a meeting of business owners and councillors in the town hall on Monday evening.

Jeff Caplan, managing director of Storecheckers, the firm which helped compile the research, was impressed by the turn-out.

He said: “We work with a lot of town centres but the turnout here is absolutely commendable. It is very positive given we are only in the early stages and encouraging for Saffron Walden.”

Mr Caplan admitted a number of Saffron Walden residents – around 11 per cent of the survey pool – raised concerns about heavy traffic in the town and said it “could be an area for improvement”.

The biggest issue for visitors was car parking, with 18 per cent saying they disliked the arrangements – although retailers were told further research was needed to show whether this was to do with cost, access or location.

Mystery shoppers were sent out to 50 businesses in the town and many scored highly, with Solely for Children in Rose & Crown Walk receiving 100 per cent. But 22 per cent of those surveyed scored under 60 per cent – suggesting customer service was an area for improvement.

Mr Caplan told the packed room sales opportunities were being missed and a “fear of taking money from customers”.

He said: “A lot of businesses are performing strongly but one message to take away, and Saffron Walden is not the only place where this is a problem, is do not be afraid to take customers’ money.”

It was an area Uttlesford District Council’s economic development officer, Simon Jackson, highlighted as a priority.

“We need to look at how we can address the sales opportunities being missed. It could be working with somebody to help identify these in the form of training or development,” he explained.

“With car parking it is important to answer the question of what and who it is for. Is it for customers? Is it to raise revenues for the council? The objective needs to be crystal clear.”

He tasked business owners with coming up with ideas on how to tackle the issues the research had unearthed but said they must be “grounded in research and evidence” and not opinion.

These need to be submitted to Mr Jackson via sjackson@uttlesford.gov.uk by March 25. Research reports on the town centre are available from uttlesford.gov.uk/business

The next meeting, where the formation of a plan will be discussed, will be held from 6-8pm on April 11 in the town hall.

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