BUSINESS owners on ‘one of the last unspoiled parts of the town centre’ are up in arms over plans that could double the number of bars in the small shopping area.

Planners have recently been met with three applications to change empty units on Barnsley’s Victorian Arcade into bars - which would see six venues squeezed into the roughly 130-metre stretch of mainly independent retailers alongside cafes and eateries.

Two of them, regarding buildings that formerly housed a hairdressers and a lighting shop - one of the biggest units, set to become a combined bar, record shop and gallery - were approved this week.

Retailers, many of whom have historic links to their premises forged over decades, worry that the new cluster of drinking establishments at the arcade’s eastern end could effectively block it off from the public - as can happen at peak times on the opposite entrance, from Market Hill.

This, they told the Chronicle, will hinder business for those caught in the middle - with those peak times, particularly Saturday and Sunday afternoons, also often what they rely on.

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Town centre footfall reached its highest point in more than a year when non-essential retailers reopened last month, when 30,603 people visited on Saturday, April 17.

And with businesses playing catch-up after months of closure, capitalising on renewed interest from shoppers will be vital.

It’s thought granting the applications ‘just to fill the space’ could spell closure for some, by turning the arcade into a ‘drinking alley’.

“This means mass disruption of the the beautiful arcade and its current businesses,” said a group of business owners in a joint statement.

“This means when people are queuing to get in the venue or are stood outside the venue, smoking or drinking or waiting to meet friends, it will block off the arcade, and access to the businesses above it.

“This already happens at the top of the arcade currently with the two pubs that are there, and this does cause disruption and loss of business to the retail shops.

“Lots of the businesses on the arcade are geared towards families, the elderly and mainly ladies, and it can be very intimidating for women and children or teenagers to be around drinkers or groups.

“Just a couple of doors up and across from the new proposed drinking establishments on the arcade there is already a pub, The Jolly Tap, and adding another drinking establishment so close then becomes a bigger issue for the blocking of the walkway, as it is very narrow.

“There are also two public houses at the top of the arcade. On evenings and weekends, the top of the arcade is blocked with people stood outside.

“If more drinking venues on the arcade are passed, this could now mean the bottom will be blocked too, stopping all open access to a large number of business in the middle - as who wants to walk through crowds of people drinking?”

Further concerns centre on access for deliveries - both for the bars and for shops, which often use the front doors to unload stock - and provision of bins on the narrow street, as well as possible damage to the 19th-century structures as a result of more use.

“This is not what the arcade is about,” added the statement.

“It is a piece of Barnsley heritage, one of the last, most unspoiled areas of the town centre and it would be an absolute tragedy to see it filled with drinkers potentially causing problems, antisocial behaviour, littering - and the list could go on.”