THE letter from the owners of Just Cards & Thorntons (September 5) illustrates the economic pressures on retail in our town centre.

I am sure they and your readers will be pleased that the St Ives Town Plan has been examining just these issues and has already produced a series of consensus reports that will soon be available on www.stivestownplan.org.uk

By examining the problems in an evidence-based manner the town plan team is evolving a strategic plan that can be presented to Cambridgeshire County Council, Huntingdonshire District Council, St Ives Town Council and other organisations with an interest in the town, with the objective of making St Ives town centre a sustainable and vibrant destination for both shoppers and tourists.

Some of the highlights to date from the economic group reports include:

Footfall: The published figures completely ignore the dropping spending power of the people visiting St Ives: we are in the grips of the worst recession since 1929. The data from the town plan indicate that the reported two per cent fall in footfall is equivalent to a loss in revenue to the town of some 10 per cent.

The reported figure does not tell us how accurate the footfall estimate is: after all, the data are based on measurements on only five days out of 365. For example, the reported two per cent fall in footfall may become a seven per cent fall if there is a possible error of five per cent in the extrapolated estimate of the number of visitors.

Parking charges: It has been identified that the "county-wide" uniform car parking charge for towns significantly disadvantages St Ives. Car parking charges are related to the catchment and number and quality of shops: that's how Cambridge can charge more per hour for parking than Huntingdon.

St Ives has the smallest catchment and fewest shops in its town centre but the car parking charges are the same as Huntingdon (with a £10 million development being planned) and St Neots with a population of 26,500. A fair short-term car parking charge for St Ives would be some 40p.

Ring road development: The detrimental effect on the town centre of allowing retail, entertainment, health, eateries and public houses on the ring road has been examined. The report points out that the Marsh Harrier opened on the ring road and the Robin Hood closed in the town centre - a one-to-one loss to the town centre. The report identifies that free parking on the ring road offers significant daytime advantages over the existing businesses in the town centre, and concludes that only office development should be allowed on the ring road.

Charity shops: The detrimental effect of charity shops that sell new goods is examined. It is noted that these type of shops can sell 100 per cent new goods at certain times (for example Christmas) against the existing real town centre businesses, but pay only 20 per cent of their business rates, get tax and VAT breaks and can use volunteer (free) labour as staff.

Business rates: Significant amounts of money, some £1.5m, are paid in rates by St Ives's businesses. If the take from the town centre businesses drops because of its economic decline, it's likely that the shortfall will in the longer term be made up by an increase in domestic rates, perhaps a 10 per cent increase, so the health of the town centre affects us all.

RICHARD WATERS

Time for Health

Station Road

St Ives