TOWN centre businesses have outlined fears that proposed changes to Haddington town centre could hurt trade.

Plans were unveiled at the end of last year for a central square on High Street as well as changes to neighbouring Market Street.

But the scheme has not won universal approval, with a number of businesses backing a petition – which has attracted about 1,000 signatures – against the changes and displaying Save Haddington On-street Parking posters.

Consultants Ironside Farrar have been working alongside a steering group, which includes representatives from community groups such as Haddington and District Business Association and Haddington Community Development Trust, to draw up the proposals.

As well as a central square, there would be changes to the layout of parking spaces, although it has been stressed that the number of spaces would not change.

Murray McDonald, from pet shop Animal Magic on Court Street, stressed they were not against change but felt they had to be right for all.

He said: “The whole taking away of the car parking spaces is definitely not viable. In this day and age, building 800 houses at Letham Mains, people want to come into the shop and head away again. Take spaces away and it will move people to The Fort [shopping centre in Edinburgh].”

Mr McDonald believed there were other steps that could be taken.

He highlighted the car park behind John Muir House, East Lothian Council’s headquarters, and suggested it could be opened up more often to the public.

Businessman Grant Gibson, of gift shop Gibson’s of Haddington, added: “We are not against change.

“We want to see improvements to the town centre but what they are proposing is just too much. The scale of the work itself is vast.

“I visit town centres every day in my other job as a self-employed sales agent and I am all over Scotland.

“Kinross had a similar project done recently and that was a much smaller project than what they are proposing here. It shut down half the businesses in the street and the ones that did survive have never got back to what they were earning before. When the work is getting done, customers move elsewhere.”

Mr Gibson noted that part of the proposals included outside seating but felt Haddington’s climate too often did not lend itself to such an idea.

Among the other changes proposed are creating more space around the Mercat Cross to celebrate its historic significance, and investment in shopfronts and facades to conserve and enhance the town’s character.

Consultants have met with individual businesses in the town to collect further feedback.

An East Lothian Council spokesman said there was “overwhelming support” for investment in the town centre and an agreement that the right solutions for parking were necessary.

He added: “In the coming weeks the steering group will meet to discuss all of the feedback, ideas, concerns and options generated by the consultation and engagement activities carried out over the last six months. It will then take several months to develop the detailed design proposals for the town centre.

“Only proposals that support sustainable economic activity and represent an improvement for the town as a whole will be considered and developed.

“In order to minimise disruption, it is expected that proposed changes would be implemented over a period of up to 10 years and that some ideas may need to be trialled or tested before final decisions are made.”