WHILE a handful of businesses were left counting the cost of Saturday’s English Defence League and ‘We Are Luton’ demonstrations, footfall in Luton town centre was more than double that of February 5 last year when the EDL held its last protest.
Messages from Luton Borough Council and Bedfordshire Police calling for ‘business as usual’ during the demos seemed to have paid off to an extent with more than 41,000 shoppers braving limited bus services and road closures to shop at The Mall Luton.
Mark Broadhead, general manager at The Mall, said: “It was a lot busier than we anticipated and certainly a lot busier than last February. I think it’s fair to say that the community heeded the advice of the police and recognised that the town centre was open to which we’re very grateful to them for coming to The Mall and supporting the businesses of the town.”
Of more than 125 outlets in the centre only nine opted to close for the day, including Timpson, Evans, Republic, The Watch Hospital and Lush.
Mr Broadhead said: “Those nine predominantly closed for economic reasons because of the figures that they were able to demonstrate from the year previous. Those that opened are looking at what we can best describe as a reasonable Sunday or a poor Monday’s worth of trade.”
Overall there was a 47 per cent decrease in year-on-year trade when compared with a normal bank holiday Saturday but footfall was up on Sunday and Monday as shoppers returned to the town.
One business owner who opted to remain closed on Saturday told the Luton News: “There wasn’t going to be a lot of people about so I thought why bother.
“Last year I didn’t open either but those around me who did open said they didn’t take much. It’s that day you look forward to because it’s going to be busy, you lose whatever you’re going to make.”
It was better news for pubs and shops that opened in Park Street – the scene of the EDL march – where business owners were full of praise for the police and delighted at the good behaviour of the EDL supporters.
Paulette Brown, landlady at The Chequers in Park Street, said: “Everyone that came in was very polite, we had security and didn’t need it. We didn’t see any trouble at all down here and took more money than usual. I was very impressed by the police organisation, it was great.”
Another business owner, who stayed open on Saturday morning and who we agreed not to name, said: “There was no trouble at all and the police handled it brilliantly.
“I did have to close at 1pm as Park Street was like a ghost town after that.”
Luton Borough Council leader Hazel Simmons said: “It’s a shame that they’ve chosen to march here again so soon after the last one. The real issue for me this time is the economic impact in terms of statutory funding but also in terms the business community who lost £1million last year. That’s why we were determined this year that we would do our best to make sure that the town could remain open so that people could shop and so that their lives could continue in a normal way and having a march doesn’t disrupt the whole town. That wouldn’t be fair on the majority of the community here who do not support the messages that are going out.”
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