MORE traders will shut up shop in Billericay if more isn’t done to improve car parking in the town, it has been claimed.

As the Somerfield supermarket, since taken over by the Co-op, prepares to close tomorrow, rumours are rife as to what will happen to the High Street site.

Various names are said to be in the frame, including Marks and Spencer, Next, Wilkinsons and Nandos, while a northern-based gaming company is also thought to have looked at the building with a view to turn it into a casino.

However, Trevor Draper, owner of the Cook Shop, and former head of the town’s chamber of commerce, said no matter who or what comes in next, car parking must be improved to continue attracting shoppers to the High Street.

He said: “If people can’t park then we will lose them. It’s the single biggest issue this town has and our politicians have ignored it.

“We attract people from a 30 to 40-mile radius because the town is known for its history, architecture and because we are an independent High Street – we’re not the same as Basildon or Chelmsford.

“We have these attributes and at the moment we are at the tipping point of losing more independent retailers because of the inactivity of our politicians to look at the infrastructure which supports businesses in our town.”

John Buchanan, chairman of Billericay Town Council, said Basildon Council sold two public car parks to make way for housing and Essex County Council switched parking bays in the streets over to residential use, which reduced the number of spaces available for shoppers.

He added: “There is no real scope to provide additional car parking. You can’t change the physical amount that’s available, but what you can do is manage it in a sensible way.”

Councillor Phil Turner, deputy leader of Basildon Council and ward member for Billericay, added he would hate to see the shop turned into a casino and would prefer to see it kept as a retail unit.

The closure of Somerfield will see the loss of 34 jobs.