ONE of Bexley’s major shopping centres could face disaster after the closure of the town’s two High Street supermarkets.
Townspeople fear the double closure could spark a major crisis for Welling as people bypass the town to shop elsewhere.
Trade in Welling’s town centre has dropped dramatically since the Tesco store in Embassy Court closed for redevelopment, rapidly followed by the closure of the Co-op for refurbishment after it was taken over by Morrisons.
Morrisons is not due to reopen until late summer next year, while the Tesco redevelopment is not expected to finish until 2010.
People fear shopkeepers cannot hold out that long.
After an appeal from Welling Town Partnership, Bexley Council says it is looking to see if anything can be done.
Partnership secretary John Abbott said: “We knew the redevelopment of the Embassy Court site would not be completed for two-and-a-half years, but we had assumed Morrisons would be opening by Christmas.”
He says the partnership is pressing for action after traders experienced an immediate drop in business.
Suggestions include rate reductions for the town’s businesses.
Trader Jay Shah has owned his card and gift shop in the High Street for six years, but has been a shopkeeper for more than 30 years.
He said: “I have never seen anything like this.
“Welling High Street is becoming a ghost town.”
He says even those who wanted to shop in the town had been hit by the loss of car parking which went with the closures.
Mr Shah, 50, has spoken with other shopkeepers in the High Street and Bellegrove Road and said they are all suffering.
He added: “Some may say it is because of the recession, but that has only hit in the past few days.
“Without a doubt the closure of the supermarkets is to blame.”
John Setford, 55, has been running Cruisin Records in the High Street for 29 years.
He said: “I have never known things as bad as this.
“Business has just died.”
Mr Setford added: “It is the footfall which has dropped.
“You used to see people walking past to shop in the Co-op or Tesco.
“Now people are driving past to Bexleyheath.”
He says the weekend the Tesco store closed, his shop did not take one credit card payment.
Mr Setford added: “Things are looking very bleak.
“I do not know what to expect at Christmas.”
Residents are also worried.
Alan Parsons, a Welling resident for more than 70 years, demanded: “Who is responsible for this chaos?
“There is no evidence of any town planning in this.”
His fears for elderly people, who cannot easily do their shopping elsewhere, were echoed by Margaret Cooper, 73, of Linmere Road, Welling.
She said: “Elderly people cannot get cabs and buses to Bexleyheath and carry their shopping home.
“It is just dead in Welling.”
Bexley Council says it hopes to talk with both supermarkets to see if the length of their closure can be reduced.
It is also looking at what can be done to support businesses and attract shoppers to the town.
A spokesman acknowledged Welling was facing “a difficult time” but added although the timing of the closures was “unfortunate” it was the result of commercial decisions made by the supermarkets, independently of the council.
Welling councillor John Waters, also cabinet member for regeneration, is keeping a close watch on the situation.
He plans to meet with the council’s senior economic development staff next week.