Only one in ten Wokingham town centre businesses have not seen a “significant drop in turnover” due to the council’s regeneration works, Wokingham Lib Dems have claimed.

Research carried out by the council’s opposition party highlighted that two thirds of businesses have been making a loss because of the town centre’s partial closure and ongoing works.

And the party blamed the ruling Conservative administration for the high street’s reported financial problems.

Liberal Democrats councillor Clive Jones said: “They clearly don’t understand retail.

“Philip Mirfin (the executive member for regeneration) asked if we realised all town centres are having problems.

We know national high street sales are down 2.7 per cent.

“If you look at our area some of the Wokingham shops have been down 50 per cent.

“He (Philip Mirfin) really does need to understand that Wokingham is having a much harder time because of a botched regeneration that took far too long.

“They (the Conservatives) should be doing something about it.”

The Lib Dems suggest that as result of the town centre works, up to fifty jobs have been lost and 60 per cent of businesses have not been able to attract replacements.

It is also claimed that many businesses were forced to lower their prices to bring in customers but this did not have a positive impact.

The group alleged shop owners have had to reduce their salaries or take no salary at all.

Other shop owners have called for the council to compensate them for all the issues the regeneration has caused them through a business rates rebate, according to Lib Dem research.

Investigations by the group suggested shop owners were frustrated with the “lack of information” regarding which businesses will be moving into the properties at Peach Place, as they believe good retailers will attract shoppers back to the high street.

However some businesses did claim that they saw an increase in sales since the works were completed, according to the Lib Dems.

A joint statement from the group read: “Liberal Democrats would have considered existing town centre business and the effects of regeneration would have on them at the planning stage of the regeneration project.

“We would have engaged with the businesses to work out a plan to help them through this difficult time as we recognise the value of a thriving town centre.

“Local Conservative councillors sadly did not foresee the problems faced by the town centre businesses, with the resulting catastrophic effects as shown by our research.

The group claims they would have set aside £300,000 for a fund to compensate business owners in Wokingham who have been “hurt the hardest by the regeneration works”.

The Lib Dems have set out their plans to address the concerns shoppers and traders face, including free advertising for town centre businesses in the council’s magazine to boost trade, better signage for town centre car parks and free parking at these sites for two hours.

The statement also slammed the council’s ‘free after three’ parking policy, claiming it “was not generally thought to be a success.”

Further advertising on buses and in local cinemas was also suggested by the councillors and they claim these ideas “would not be a significant cost to the council”.

However Philip Mirfin, the executive member for regeneration, hit back at the Lib Dems' claims.

He told the News: “We have regularly acknowledged that the Market Place works caused problems for traders and we provided a lot of support for the town during that time.
“But that does not make it any less disgraceful that the Lib Dems are using so-called ‘research’ to continue running down the town even after the works have been completed and the town is beginning to thrive.
“There is no data or detail behind this research – how many businesses did they speak to? Did they look at other factors? Did they check how many businesses had actually applied for rate relief?
“It’s almost as if they flitted around the town, talked to a few people, and labelled it ‘research’.
“I’d suggest the Lib Dems take a look at the national retail figures so they understand how hard it is to thrive on the high street these days – even in towns where opposition councillors are not intent on talking you down at every opportunity.
“We haven’t always got everything right – but the new town centre emerging from the dust and disruption is a centre for shops, businesses, and above all people, that we can all be proud of.”