A major shopping centre has been criticised by business owners for its flagrant attitude towards smaller independent outlets after it suggested their poor trading meant the town centre was “not currently performing as well as it should be”.

intu Watford is seeking to make improvements to the Queens Road underpass, with its planners describing it as “uninviting and dark” and saying public perception of the area was “poor”.

In a planning application letter, planning consultancy firm Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners said the Queens Road “situation” impacts widely on the town centre, with shops on Broadway and Lower Higher Street “not well used”, and Watford “not currently performing as well as it should be” as a result.

Traders in Queens Road oppose this view however, saying they are thriving as much as they can in the shadow of a retail behemoth.

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Stanley Leard-Freeman from Queens Road Music Shop described the Bohemian area around Queens Road as the “Soho of Watford”.

“No-one is interested in small businesses except for the people who know the value of things. We’ve got the best hardware shop in Hertfordshire, one of the best motorcycle shops in the area and the large Hope charity shop,” he said.

"My shop has been operating at the same address for 60 years and Simbles opposite are two fine examples of retail businesses that have sustained a vibrant community street.

“This area is like the Soho of Watford but it’s not just the businesses in Queens Road that are affected.

“It’s had a detrimental effect on trade but what it’s also done is, if there is an emergency in the intu, fire engines and ambulances can’t get into the building easily.”

Mr Leard-Freeman cited the imminent opening of the D20 Board Game Café on Queens Road as a sign of the up-and-coming nature of the area.

However the intu developers said footfall through their Queens Road entrance was much lower than other entrances, making units at the end of the centre “unattractive to tenants” and exacerbating the “poor perception of this part of the centre”.

Should the plans be approved by Watford Borough Council, new doors would be installed to the Queens Road ground floor entrance areas to replace the existing mall doors, the existing new roller shutters to the mall entrances on either side of Queens Road would be replaced, and there would be improved lighting and ceiling finishes.

Intu Watford has not responded to requests for comment.