Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Fewer Customers at 93% of Small Firms

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Fewer Customers at 93% of Small Firms

Article excerpt

Byline: JONATHAN PRYNN

MANY central London shops, bars and restaurants are still suffering from lost business two years after the introduction of the congestion charge.

As many as 93 per cent of small businesses within the zone say they are getting fewer customers than before February 2003, according to a new survey.

The figure has actually risen from 90 per cent a year ago.

The survey, carried out by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, suggests many customers still shy away from the hassle and [pounds sterling]5 cost of a trip to central London. It concludes that BY JONATHAN PRYNN Consumer Affairs Editor the charge "is having a particularly adverse impact on small businesses in all sectors but most notably in the retail sector".

Worst affected are small retailers selling bulkier items such as antiques or furniture that can only be taken away in a car or van.

However, some larger stores also say they are still suffering.

Paul Burden, a director at department store chain John Lewis, said sales at the flagship Oxford Street branch had still not picked up to the pre-charge level, despite opening an extra day a week.

He said: "We are still not ahead of where we were two years ago.

We have seen some pickup but we have not caught up yet. There are still concerns associated with the congestion charge, particularly among people who live outside London and do not come into the centre regularly."

Bars and restaurants have also suffered with takings 10 per cent down on average, according to the Restaurant Association.

Its President Mike Gottlieb said early evening and pre-theatre takings have been worst hit.

Dan Bridget, a spokesman for the London Chamber of Commerce, said: "A scheme designed to revive the centre of London is, perversely, strangling small business inside the zone."

However, among bigger employers, there has been more support for the charge, mainly because it has improved traffic. …

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