TEN years ago, the Guardian spoke with two business owners who had opened new stores at the top end of Witton Street.

They revealed the reason for making the move to be the ‘astronomical’ rents of the traditional town centre and the potential of the top end of Witton Street becoming Northwich’s new centre.

At the time, Fiona Silker, from Tiddlywinks Childrenswear, said: “It’s so empty down there in the centre, but this square is really nice.

“The rents had a lot to do with me moving here as well, as they’re astronomical down there.”

David Brookes, owner of Exclusive Thai Designs, added: “People are moving up this end of town because it’s cheaper.

“I’m not from Northwich, but I was told that before the recession there were big plans for this part of town.”

Fast forward a decade, and those businesses have since ceased trading or moved elsewhere, and remaining businesses are struggling from a lack of footfall.

One theory behind this is that the introduction of parking charges has ‘changed shoppers’ behaviour’.

This was highlighted by Northwich councillors at a Cheshire West and Chester Council meeting last month, where they revealed that people now tend to park in Barons Quay and not walk up the hill to shops at the Witton Chimes end of town, where previously they might have parked next to them.

When approached by the Guardian, shops in that area confirmed that this is something they experience on a regular basis, as they see very few people passing by.

Northwich Guardian:

Usage of Watermans Car Park is down as customers instead tend to park at Barons Quay for free

“Reputation alone is keeping customers coming, as we get no new people walking past and popping in - just our regular customers,” said a staff member at Birtwisle’s Butchers.

“Parking charges have definitely affected our business and even staff have to pay to use the car park before coming into work.

“People know that if they want a decent pie, they come to Birtwisle’s, but there is little to no passing trade otherwise.”

This is a view which is also shared by Phil Bower, owner of Northwich Art Shop, who agreed that nobody can be seen walking around the top end of town on a normal trading Saturday.

He said: “It was evident that this was the case from almost the beginning when they opened Barons Quay.

“Where are people going to park? At Watermans Car Park and walk down Witton Street, or at the shiny new Barons Quay which is free. It’s a real shame.

“My business is not dependant on passing trade as we are a specialist store and are doing alright, but other shops at this end of town are.

“There is reasonably good footfall outside when events such as the artisan market are on, but no one walks past on a normal Saturday.”

While parking charges have had an effect on footfall at that end of town, it is not the only factor, according to Tony Turner, owner of Rosebank Sports store.

Northwich Guardian:

The top end of Witton Street was described as ‘the place to be’ 10 years ago

“We are not a general store as people come to us for specific items, however parking charges are still problematic, he said.

“Footfall is definitely a lot lower around these parts of town.

“I understand why parking charges were brought in, but they should have been introduced in a sensible way.

“Where people used to come to Northwich because of the free parking, they now go elsewhere to places like outlet villages and supermarkets.

“They sell everything you could ever need in one place, instead of shoppers visiting individual shops for individual items.

“We do see more people coming into town and walking past our shops when events are on, so they look like the best way to attract people into the town.”

A report presented at CWAC’s places overview and scrutiny committee last month revealed that while usage of Victoria Club Car Park is ‘in line with expectations’, Watermans Car Park is not as well used as the council expected.

Memorial Court Car Park has also seen its usage drop by 23 per cent since the charges were introduced.

The council is now set to conduct a review into the Watermans car park to see how it can attract more users.

Northwich Town Council has also stated that it is looking at hosting more events at weekends in the town centre throughout the year.

Have your say by emailing yourviews@guardiangrp.co.uk