A CAFÉ owner has added her voice to criticisms of long-running High Street improvements, which she says are badly hitting trade.

Last month Deb Knibbs, one of three owners of the independent Labyrinth shop on Stockton High Street, said trade was down 65 per cent year-on-year in the worst periods and 40 per cent down at best due to the building works.

Now Lorraine Taylor, proprietor of Angela’s Tea Rooms in Hambletonian Yard, directly off the High Street, has said she knows of about 15 independent businesses that have gone bust.

However Stockton Borough Council, which is investing about £20m into the High Street, said 50 new businesses have been attracted to the town centre since work began in September 2012.

Ms Taylor, 41, who has run the cafe for six years, said that new work on the High Street entrance of Hambleton Yard at one point prevented any entry to the small shopping arcade.

She said that was the second time work had directly had a drastic impact on trade and she had not been informed it was going ahead.

She also complained that Stockton Council’s recent decision to charge disabled blue badge motorists to park had caused some of her regular customers to stop coming into town.

She said: “I had to lay a girl off last year and another member of staff went off on maternity so we’ve saved on wages and just about struggled through this work programme. But it is taking so long, I’m worried customers will end up with new habits and ever come back.”

Councillor Mike Smith, Stockton Council’s cabinet member for regeneration and transport, said the yard entrance was only blocked for an hour, and added: “The completion of the physical regeneration of Stockton High Street is less than one year away and the significant scale of the works does mean that there will be some unforeseen disruption.

“We do offer town centre businesses a range of support including a retail loan scheme which allows businesses in Stockton Town Centre to apply for a loan to contribute towards improvements to signage and shop frontages.”

“We recognise the importance of convenient parking to town centre trade and recently opened a new car park in the heart of the High Street alongside The Shambles – only a stone’s throw away from Hambletonian Yard.

“Blue badge holders can park there for three hours for only £1 and can still use on-street parking spaces free of charge.”