Boost to Bexley’s town centres approved as businesses warn of crime surge

Bexleyheath, Crayford, Sidcup, Erith and Welling are all being targeted in a new Town Centre Strategy.A plan to stop Bexley’s Town Centre from “dying” has been signed off in Bexley, after business owners warned of increasing crime.

Bexley Council’s ‘Town Centre’ strategy has been approved in a bid to improve shopping districts to face off competition from Bluewater and o2, as well as ever-popular online shopping.It comes following warnings from businesses that they are considering selling up and leaving Bexley over increasing crime.

At a meeting last week, cabinet members signed off on adopting the strategy, which will see the authority support smaller, independent businesses, improve shop fronts and high streets and expand on what makes each town “unique”.

The towns earmarked for improvements are Sidcup and Erith, with more focus going on the stretch from Welling through Bexleyheath and Crayford.The Town Centres Strategy is hoped to combat “unprecedented pressures” on high streets, with household names shutting up shop and leaving voids in Bexley.

“We need to be clear how we will respond to the face of change”, Jane Richardson, the council’s executive director for growth said. “The strategy will set out the baseline to make good decisions going forward.“There is no doubt that we face a massive challenge and we will need to work collectively to sustain our town centres. We believe the strategy is a good foundation to move forward.”

Cllr Louie French, deputy leader, added: “I think we do have a number of challenges in our town centres. The action plan alongside this will be very important.“There may be a point in time where we have to pilot certain things to try and help businesses, but I am sure this will be stuff we work through over the coming months.”

The plans come following growing concern that businesses are considering leaving areas due to a rise in crime.Falconwood and Welling councillor Val Clarke said: “In Welling we have had certain shop keepers and traders very keen to talk to us. We recently had a second meeting and traders said they felt let down by everybody. There has been a surge in crime.

“A few shopkeepers have given themselves a year, they don’t like doing business in Welling. They’re afraid. One girl had quite a violent attack in her shop after she caught people shoplifting. She found no support at all from police – our partners need to take this on board.

“Two shopkeepers have said they’re giving themselves a year and they’re getting out of Welling. This paper is very good and needs to be taken forward but the challenges are greater now than they were even a few months ago.”

Labour cllr Joe Ferreira pointed out that the strategy will need to be backed up by funding if it is to succeed.He said: “One thing that is welcome is recognising each town centre has a different character. Over the coming years, one thing that will help will be to harness characteristics of town centres.

“The strategy identifies areas of improvement but that comes down to funding – a word of caution that as good as this strategy is in places it does need funding to back it up.”

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