E All change in the high street if we are to sur­vive in fu­ture

Herald Express - - Letters & Opinion -

NOW I ap­pre­ci­ate com­par­isons be­tween cities and towns may be dif­fi­cult, but I’m go­ing to have a go.

I was in Manch­ester the other week­end for a fam­ily cel­e­bra­tion and was hugely im­pressed with the place - and its lovely peo­ple for that mat­ter.

I fully ap­pre­ci­ate a city like Manch­ester is able to boast bril­liant shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ences that are the Arn­dale and Traf­ford cen­tres.

And they are able to at­tract and re­tain all the big names in the re­tail world out on the high street.

But that is be­cause Manch­ester has changed. It has had to change.

What were once banks and old in­dus­trial units/ware­houses have been trans­formed into pubs and res­tau­rants to give them a new lease of life.

The canal sheds are now modern and hugely pop­u­lar bars, clubs and eater­ies.

And peo­ple are ac­tu­ally liv­ing in the city cen­tre slap bang in the mid­dle of all that colour and vi­brancy mak­ing res­i­den­tial and busi­ness/re­tail work to­gether mar­vel­lously.

Back in Tor­bay.....

I re­ally don’t wish to crit­i­cise I am not that sort of per­son, but back in Tor­bay we still have the same is­sues mak­ing sur­vival for our town cen­tres and busi­ness more and more dif­fi­cult.

You can hear the ‘get me out of here’ cries from all around as in­creases in on-line shop­ping, the lure of the out-of-the-town malls and cheaper or free park­ing is tak­ing its toll on foot­fall and the num­ber of peo­ple ac­tu­ally spend­ing money.

The lat­est set­back comes from Deben­hams.

There are fears over the re­tail gi­ants’ stores in Devon, in­clud­ing their Torquay har­bour side out­let, af­ter it an­nounced plans to close 50 branches in the next five years on the back of a £500mil­lion trad­ing loss.

The un­der-threat shops have not been named.

The com­pany says it will be ax­ing those with the worst fi­nan­cial per­for­mance.

Clos­ing 50 high street shops would put about 4,000 jobs at risk.

The group said the clo­sures will take place over a three to five year pe­riod.

The an­nounce­ment comes along­side that dire set of fi­nan­cial fig­ures.

Deben­hams recorded a £491.5mil­lion loss in the year to date com­pared to a £59mil­lion profit in 2017.

A raft of re­tail­ers in­clud­ing New Look, Car­petright and Mother­care have also em­barked on clo­sures pro­grammes.

Tor­bay Coun­cil leader Dave Thomas is so far not aware of what the fu­ture may for the lo­cal Deben­hams store.

He said: “Los­ing Deben­hams would be a huge blow.

“We have not had any con­ver­sa­tions about it. I am to­tally in the dark about it.

“It will be dis­cussed in the mayor’s ex­ec­u­tive meet­ings either in­for­mally or if there is a pro­posal to come for­ward.”

He fully ac­cepts the need to mix res­i­den­tial with re­tail in our high streets.

It is some­thing a gov­ern­ment fund­ing pack­age un­der a Town Deal would de­liver and is be­ing driven as we speak by the Tor­bay To­gether pri­vate/pub­lic sec­tor part- ner­ship.

It is also some­thing which may be eas­ier to achieve af­ter an an­nounce­ment as part of this week’s bud­get.

Cllr Thomas said: “One of the lines to come from the bud­get was that shops may be able to move to homes in the fu­tures with­out go­ing through the plan­ning process.

“There was some talk about go­ing from shops to homes. We will have to look at the de­tail.

“They may be re­lax­ing plan­ning reg­u­la­tions.

“You could go from of­fice to homes with­out plan­ning per­mis­sion un­der per­mit­ted de­vel­op­ment. That was 18 months ago.

“You could go from shop to homes but you had to go through plan­ning.”

He said a new pol­icy like that could, for in­stance, ben­e­fit the top half of the town cen­tre in Torquay.

It means de­vel­op­ers have cer­tainty and would not have to go through the plan­ning process,” said Cllr Thomas.

It was also an­nounced in the bud­get that busi­ness rates will be cut by a third for two years for shops, pubs, res­tau­rants and cafes with a rate­able value of £51,000 and un­der.

It is some­thing picked up by John Do­herty, of the lo­cal Re­tail Part­ner­ship and who runs Dot’s Pantry in Torquay town cen­tre.

He says: “The busi­ness rates re­duc­tion will help the likes of us. It will drop mine by a third.

“It will im­pact on quite a lot of peo­ple down here. There are quite a lot of small few busi­nesses in the town.

“It will have no im­pact on the big­ger ones.

“It is a big sav­ing but then at the same time the staff have been given a 40p an hour raise in the min­i­mum wage.

“The staff de­serve to have a bit more money, of course they do. “We will have to be clever next year with the menu be­cause we will have to find this in­crease from some­where.”

As for Deben­hams, he says: “We have not had a con­ver­sa­tion with Deben­hams lo­cally yet.

“I am sure ev­ery­body will be con­cerned.

“It would be a huge blow to the town if we lost it.

“That would be a huge hole to fill. They have a big build­ing.

“To find some­body to fill that in the cur­rent mar­ket would be vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble.”

Tor­bay MP Kevin Fos­ter raised his con­cerns over the Deben­hams clo­sure pro­gramme in the Com­mons.

He is not aware of the Torquay’s store’s fu­ture or if it is un­der threat.

He said: “It is hard to tell ab­so­lutely what they will be do­ing.”

He said it was un­likely that any Deben­hams re­cently up­graded or re­fur­bished out­let would be on the clo­sures list.

“There may be a chal­lenge to Torquay but if you go around the cor­ner to Tor­wood Street you have pos­i­tive things hap­pen­ing there,” he said.

He added: “In the bud­get there was also good news in terms of busi­ness rates. A lot of places will see ben­e­fit from that.

“There will also be more fair­ness by en­sur­ing the on-line gi­ants pay a fairer amount of tax.”

He too was fully sup­port­ive of res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ment in the cen­tre of both Torquay and Paignton be­ing key to the fu­ture.

“There is a lot to be said about good qual­ity ac­com­mo­da­tion,” he said.

Kevin added res­i­den­tial use, in­clud­ing stu­dent ac­com­mo­da­tion, had trans­formed cities Manch­ester and Coven­try.

There may be also a need for the use of com­pul­sory pur­chase or­ders against land own­ers just sit­ting on derelict but po­ten­tial de­vel­op­ment sites wait­ing for ‘un­re­al­is­tic’ prices.

And he said the changes needed to make our high streets fit for the fu­ture could be the big­gest seen since the re­de­vel­op­ment needed at the end of World War Two.

Let’s hope a Deben­hams Torquay is part of that fu­ture...

And let’s hope we can se­cure that Town Deal which would se­cure a new fu­ture and the dawn of a new era for all of us.

A more pros­per­ous fu­ture for all of us.

Torquay’s Deben­hams

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