A COUNCIL has responded to complaints that a town centre refurbishment is badly affecting trade by creating a new crossing point.

In the past month, The Northern Echo has reported on a number of small traders worried that major improvement works on Stockton High Street has led to trade falling by up to 65 per cent.

Members of Stockton Town Team, made up of independent traders, have also complained that difficulties facing shoppers are putting people off from coming to the town.

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Stockton Borough Council, investing £20m into revamping the High Street, has now responded by re-sequencing the work programme to allow better access to shops for longer.

A new crossing point, from Silver Street to the Rediscover Stockton shop on the other side of the High Street, will also be opened.

However some traders are concerned the refurbishment of the High Street, which began in 2012 and won’t finish until March next year, is taking too long and some Stockton shoppers may develop new habits.

Deb Knibbs, one of three owners of the independent Labyrinth shop, has said trade is 40 per cent down at best.

She complained that the council and Stockton Town Team’s efforts to boost trade were focused almost exclusively on the north end of the street.

She said: “They’re planning an ‘Independents Day’ market, which is great, but instead of having it in our fantastic Market Square where it could benefit everyone, they’re doing it on Silver Street, on the north end.

“In any case, it’s the overall works and the impression to the public that it’s too much effort to come into town that is causing the real damage. I want to see the council put a lot more effort into getting the message out there that we’re open for business.”

Stockton Council has said that about 50 new independent shops have opened in the town centre since the works began, although it is thought about 15 have closed.

Stockton Council’s cabinet member for regeneration and transport, Councillor Mike Smith, said: “We appreciate the Town Team raising these issues with us as it has meant that we have been able to make changes to the regeneration works at the earliest opportunity.

"Stockton has so much to offer residents, businesses and visitors alike, from independent shops and markets to eateries and first class, nationally acclaimed events and by improving the access to the town we can make sure more people can benefit from these.”

Chairman of Stockton Town Team, Chris Butler, said: "Stockton Town Team are pleased the council has listened and taken prompt action."

The changes to the programme of works are not expected to delay the improvement scheme.