Traders are told to take up ‘new opportunities’

The official opening of Pioneer Square, Sainsbury's and Vue Cinema, Bicester. 130710M-A302
The official opening of Pioneer Square, Sainsbury's and Vue Cinema, Bicester. 130710M-A302

Traders in Bicester have noticed a difference in footfall in the town following the introduction of two hours free parking.

Last month the 23 Pioneer Regiment puts its name to a £70million development in the town centre which includes new shops, a cinema, and a Sainbury’s supermarket with a multi-storey car park.

Bicester politicians pushed for free parking in the new centre, and the shoppers can now park for up to two hours without charge.

Holly Lewis, who works at the family run Lewis’s Butchers in Sheep Street, said with August as one of their slowest months, it was difficult to tell if the parking was making a difference to their bottom line. But she added: “Before, people were rushing around and were always saying they couldn’t stop because they could only park for so long.

“But I am seeing people ambling around a lot more.

“If they are in a rush they tend to try to shop all in one place, now they have a bit more time to visit places like the butchers.

“It has definitely helped, and more free parking would help even more.”

Ben Jackson, acting chairman of Bicester Chamber of Commerce said: “Generally speaking people are very quick to tell me ‘I’m not happy,’ and not so quick when they are happy, but I’ve not been picking up any negative vibes from it. I happened to be walking around the town at the weekend, Sunday seemed to be busier in terms of footfall.

“And the couple of traders who have given feedback have said they believe footfall is up.

“They now just have to get them into their shops and get them spending. I wouldn’t say they have to rise to the challenge but now it has bedded in, it has created a good opportunity for the existing retailers, whether independent or a high street name, to take advantage while it is new.

“And they are going to get more to cheer about. As the empty units open, and the ones that are already let open, it is going to bring more and more people into the town.

“Where as, some may say, it was disappointing not to have all the units opens at the same time, it does actually mean the gradual process will draw out the publicity and exposure for the town centre.”

Mr Jackson said negative comments about Bicester on social networking sites were being shouted down by the majority and there seemed to be more pride about the town.

He added: “It means when your family or mates come to visit, you don’t have to take them off to Oxford or Banbury, Milton Keynes or Aylesbury.

“You can come into Bicester and enjoy a modern, state of the art cinema and you can enjoy an evening out whether you are a family or young adults.”