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There are empty shops across Preston’s high streets and side streets but city can bounceback as lockdown eases

Posted on - 8th March, 2021 - 7:00am | Author - | Posted in - Business, Food & Drink, Fylde News, Health, Politics, Preston buildings & attractions, Preston City Centre, Preston Locations, Preston News, Ribble Valley News, South Ribble News, Wyre News
Empty stores on Preston high street. Pic: Lee Sutton
Empty stores on Preston high street. Pic: Lee Sutton

Due to current coronavirus restrictions many high street shops have been left empty.

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Current lockdown restrictions mean that only essential shops can be open.

This loss of trading has meant that many shops have gone out of business in the past 12 months.

However, Preston City Council deputy leader, councillor Peter Moss says that Covid is not the only reason for the decline in the use of Preston’s high street.

Read more: Parent company of St George’s Shopping Centre goes into administration

Cllr Moss said: “The days of it just being all retail are disappearing fast, that’s been exacerbated by Covid but certainly not the only reason. There was that decline in the retail prior to the Covid and prior to the pandemic.

“I think people still enjoy that physical nature of shopping but I don’t think it will be done in the same quantities as it did. So, I think we need to have a repurpose of the high street and try and find different things to do on the high street because I think that’s where people still want to be.

He suggested that shorter leases of shops are an option for future openings of stores.

He added: “One of the things I’ve been trying to suggest recently is that landlords and property owners that want long leases 10-15 years for businesses to move into that will have to change, people’s expectations will have to change.

“If you were thinking of about starting a shop would you take out a 15-year lease? No you wouldn’t.

“Now there’s a famous quote isn’t there something about it’s not always the strongest animal that survives, ‘it’s the one that’s the most adaptable to the change that will do so’ and I think that’s also true of the highstreet as well.”

After non-essential shops reopened in 2020 the public queued outside due to the amount of people wanting to shop in-person.

Preston's empty shops. Pic: Lee Sutton
Preston’s empty shops. Pic: Lee Sutton

Read more: £20.9m Towns Fund boost for Preston city centre projects including a Youth Zone

Mark Whittle, Director of Membership Services & Preston City Centre BID Manager said: “The number of empty properties rose nationally in the fourth quarter of 2020, as the impact of Covid restrictions continued to affect the high street.  The effects of local and national restrictions have made it even more difficult for retailers to operate effectively and profitably.”

“Vacant properties across the two main shopping areas of the city centre stand at 16% which is higher than pre-pandemic levels, but improved from a vacancy rate of 21% a decade ago.”

Mark added: “The loss of national brands from the high street has, and will continue to have an impact.  The way modern day consumers shop has changed dramatically, and the pandemic has forced more people to shop online.

“City centres will always play a huge part in the makeup of any town or city, and whilst Preston remains an attractive proposition when it comes to shopping and leisure, it must continue to evolve and adapt to ensure a strong future.”

Read more: Prestonians urged to stick to the rules as rates in the city remain double the national average

Restaurants are also only able to work as takeaways, meaning many without these facilities have had to close.

During Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s budget on Wednesday 3rd March it was announced that furlough would continue until September.

Preston has also been awarded £20.9m from the government’s Towns Fund for a series of city centre regeneration projects, including a previously-scrapped Youth Zone.

Cllr Moss said: ” I think it’s really helpful that [furlough has] not come to an end and I hope when September arrives again it’s not a cliff edge and there’s some type of taping system as that would be really silly in my opinion if it’s just ended on one day.

“Keep faith with us local businesses, shop local, use those local businesses, don’t always go to the big boys. We’ve got some fantastic shops and retail outlets that are local owned that are producing the goods for us.

“Bear with us in the short term but we will make sure that the high street is safe to reopen that our shops are safe to reopen and we will do our damnedest to make sure it is fit and ready for purpose when lockdown ends.”

Read more: Aldi and more retail and leisure at Cottam Hall Brickworks approved

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