Leatherhead traders are not doing “too badly” compared to other town centres across Surrey according to the man in charge of a major transformation of the town.

But business owners insist they are continuing to experience a drop in footfall due to pedestrianised streets as they continue to call for free parking to capture the “after-school run market”.

Cllr Simon Edge, Mole Valley District Council portfolio holder for Transform Leatherhead, defended the modernisation scheme saying many high streets faced difficulties.

He said he had not ruled out additional parking in Leatherhead High Street, but that no decision could be made until feasibility and economic viability studies had been completed.

His comments came as traders submitted a second petition to Surrey County Council and Mole Valley Local Committee on Wednesday, December 12 calling for a six-month trial of providing free parking after 3.30pm along the High Street.

Susan Leveritt, from Leatherhead Residents’ Association, said: “We are only asking for two hours and 15 minutes in the late afternoon at a time when our photographs show that pedestrians have left the High Street. This timing will hopefully enable us to capture the after-school run market and save some of our banks.”

Her comments were echoed by John Howarth from Leatherhead Chamber of Commerce. He said immediate action is needed and there was an “urgency in the situation”.

A petition was submitted earlier this year by traders calling for changes to the no waiting restrictions on the High Street and to bring in free parking in the afternoon.

But Cllr Edge told the committee: “I have said repeatedly to Mrs Leveritt and others that additional High Street parking may be a viable option and may be one Transform Leatherhead can support once transport and economic viability studies have been done. I personally have never discounted it as a potential viable option.

“But there may be better solutions for the High Street: Fully pedestrianising it, opening it part to traffic. It is a contentious issue.”

A feasibility study of the street is due to start in January alongside Transform Leatherhead’s review of work needed to entice more people to shop in the town. 

He said: “Until we have the evidence to make an informed decision we would risk doing what councils are rightly criticised for up and down the country which is simply making policy up on the hoof.”

Quoting figures presented to the Transform Leatherhead forum, he said in September 2018 a report based on vacant retail space by square foot showed Leatherhead was 4.2%. This was compared to the South East average of 3.8%, Horsham with 3.4%, Dorking with 5.2%, Epsom with 14.8% and Cobham with 16.1%.

Cllr Edge added: “On those measures Leatherhead is not doing too badly. My view is that picking any option now before we finish the traffic modelling and the high Street economic viability studies would be premature.

“I don’t think this particular option should be advanced before any of the others.”