Business owners in Surrey's largest village fear controversial high street project will 'cut off trade'

Steve Duffell inside Cranleigh fishmongers
-Credit: (Image: Photo Emily Dalton/LDRS))

Cranleigh business owners remain sceptical about a “ridiculous” high street improvement project fearing it will “cut off trade”. The controversial plans to make Surrey’s largest village “safer and more attractive” for locals and visitors have gone back to the drawing board after villagers argued there had been a lack of consultation.

The proposals by Surrey County Council (SCC) included improving road safety and enhancing public spaces by widening footways over car parking spaces, removing free car parking, raised traffic tables, and pedestrianise Fountain Square but now traders and neighbours are being given another chance to have their say.

We visited Surrey's largest village to speak to people about the scheme and to find out exactly why so many called for a u-turn. Those we spoke to, have questioned who came up with the “ridiculous” plans.

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Cranleigh high street
Cranleigh's pretty high street is full of independent retailers -Credit:SurreyLive - Grahame Larter

Curtis, 21, manager at Celebration Cakes said: “What does a raised [table] do for any business? Cars cannot go fast anyway because of all the traffic.”

Newsagent owner Jay, 45, said: “They’re not from Cranleigh”. He added: “I don’t know how it’s going to work- it’s a small road. If you take parking from here, where else are they going to go?”

More than 1,108 people urged the county council to halt the changes to the high street, more than double the amount who reportedly responded to the initial consultation in 2022. Locals and businesses complained the consultation methods were not thorough as they were unaware of the scheme. The decision to put the plans back out for consultation was made in March.

Speaking to the LDRS, one shop owner, who wished to be anonymous, said the development “might be worth it when it is finished but until then the roadworks would cause massive issues."

Letters landed on residents’ doorsteps last week explaining the next steps of the proposal. Creating a new stakeholder group, representing Cranleigh residents and businesses, it will work together to develop potential plans for the High Street. The first meeting of the group is May 30.

Fishmonger Steve Duffell, 48, said the project could massively inconvenience the high street with people not driving through Cranleigh. He said he wanted free car parking which would increase footfall and help shop deliveries. “I’m just a selfish shop owner,” he added cheekily “but I would want free car parking outside my shop."

"I think it’s going to take a lot of business away from the high street,” said another shop assistant at Celebration Cakes.

Free 30 minutes parking was floated as a good offering for local businesses. Loading spaces for vans was also highlighted, as many of the shops receive daily deliveries.

Curtis from Celebration Cakes said: “We get a lot of passing trade through, people buying bacon rolls on the way to work." He added the project will take “a lot of money away from the high street” and it is an “obscenely expensive…waste of money”.

SCC has secured funding worth about £4million from new developments and its own capital budget to improve road safety on the High Street and enhance the green spaces.

“You can’t just carry out work because there’s money in the budget,” Tracey Scanlan, a sweet shop owner, said. She added that any works will affect business revenue so whatever works are carried out “must have a tangible benefit, whether that’s to businesses, pedestrians, motorists”.

Outside Tuck Shop sweet shop in Cranleigh High Street.
Outside Tuck Shop sweet shop in Cranleigh High Street.

Amanda Marsh, 62, said she was “pleased [SCC] decided to change their attitude” to the narrow what is already a slim road in the village. Described as a thoroughfare- a primary passage route through traffic areas- Cranleigh is a key route for emergency vehicles like ambulances.

In the new proposals, Amanda said she wanted to see “a thoroughfare that works” and “does not impede the emergency services”. She also raised concerns that disabled parking spaces needed to be included as they are vital for the elderly and limited mobility to access the shops.

The work would be split into phases, phase one will consist of the part-time pedestrianisation of Fountain Square from Friday to Sunday. The works to Fountain Square include creating a “safe space” for people to sit and socialise with additional planting areas for new trees, shrubs and flowering plants.

A second phase would look at the design of improvement works along the high street to be developed with the new stakeholder group. Additional phases could include pavement refurbishment, drainage improvements to the High Street and other complementary works.

A SCC spokesperson said: “Over the last two years, we’ve involved a working group, held two periods of public engagement and received further feedback from the community. We aim to create a welcoming environment that supports the local economy by encouraging people to stay longer in the village centre.

“We will work with the stakeholder group, residents and businesses to ensure that any designs can be constructed as efficiently as possible, with innovative materials which can be installed quickly and a programme of works that allows businesses to remain open at all times.”

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