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North South divide hits shopkeepers where it hurts

Posted on - 24th February, 2011 - 12:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Business, News, Redevelopment

The former home of Woolworths, when it shut down in early 2009

Shopkeepers fear that the current dip in sales could mean the death of the high street as the north south divide grows ever bigger.

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Figures released by the Local Data Company show the shop vacancy gap between the north and the south rose by 2.5 per cent in the last six months.

In Preston there are currently 100 empty shops with the worst areas being Church Street with 21 empty shops and 15 on Friargate.

Nearly 800 towns were surveyed nationally with an average of 14.5 per cent of shops being empty in town centres, compared to 12 per cent in 2009.

David Halewood, owner of Halewood and Sons Booksellers on Friargate says the trend is likely to continue.

“It’s the way retail is changing,” he said. “The future is pretty grim. Some will linger on longer than others.

“It will not be a high street as we know it in the future. People want the immediacy. No-one wants to go from one grumpy shopkeeper who doesn’t know what they want to one who doesn’t have it.

However Preston has not been hit as hard as other Lancashire towns with 30 per cent of all shops in Morecambe standing empty and is now the worst medium-sized town in the country.

Nearby Blackpool also has over a quarter of its shop units standing idle.

However deputy council leader, Eric Fazackerley, sees a brighter future for Preston’s shops.

He said: “We are seeing quite a lot of interest from large organisations. When you get the big developments coming in it attracts the smaller ones.”

Mr Fazackerley highlighted the planned Tithebarn and Central Business District (CBD) developments as ways to reinvigorate the city.

“The sooner we get them the better because Preston is a growth spot. The main difficulty is traffic but the county council are going to get that sorted out including plans for a new bus station.

“There is a big interest in the CBD from the private sector, including a new hotel. But what we are trying to get is substantial office accommodation, you can’t get that in Preston at the moment.”

Another area which has lost out in the past few years is the Victorian arcade on Fishergate, which currently has four out of its 10 shopping units empty.

Peter Whittaker, the manager of Rohan Outdoor Clothing, hopes for more competition to boost trade.

“People said when Millet’s closed ‘you must be delighted’ but I welcome the competition, it’s excellent,” he said.

“It gives the customer a greater selection of products; otherwise they may as well go to somewhere like Manchester. It’s good for the customer and it’s good for business.

“But it’s definitely getting harder for shops and it’s at a depressing stage, which is evident by the number of departures.”

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