As the bustling Christmas period ends and the January sales close, the shops in the town centre will return to the usual ebb and flow of everyday shopping. And fortunately for us, Chesterfield town centre continues to be a strong performer in an increasingly diverse and changing retail landscape.
I felt real pride and optimism when Chesterfield was named one of the top 100 retail hotspots in the UK by the influential business magazine, Property Week. Chesterfield was ranked number 26 in Property Week’s ‘Hot 100 UK Retail Locations’, coming far ahead of many cities such as Leeds and Sheffield.
It was interesting that the response to the story on local news and social media sites showed many local people have a very negative view of our town centre.
A member of staff from my London office visited the constituency for the first time recently, and she commented on how vibrant, beautiful and busy our town is. It is always the way. Whilst outsiders marvel at our busy market, local people only see that it is smaller than it used to be. If we can just take a step back sometimes, to look at our town objectively, maybe we will all recognise how well we’re doing.
Chesterfield town centre is a very different place than it was only ten years ago, but we have to remember that all town centres and markets across the country have experienced a decline as our economy went in to recession and consumers shopping habits changed dramatically.
Online retailing, ever larger supermarkets and out of town retail parks, have reduced footfall in all town centres and shopping parades across the UK. Chesterfield has actually been one of the more resilient town centres in the East Midlands and has a much lower shop vacancy rate when compared to nearby towns such as Mansfield and Ashfield.
I am pleased that our Borough Council are willing to invest, and have a creative approach to bringing people into our town. We have been ahead of the curve compared to other market towns, learning from big cities that we need to develop new attractions to give our centres a unique experience for shoppers to compete with Meadowhall and city centres. The 1940’s market, arts & crafts fairs and medieval Market day, and many other events, have all proved big draws, bringing busloads of people from Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham and other areas.
But the British Retail Consortium are warning that there are further risks to Retail in Britain in the post Brexit era. Higher prices due to the falling pound, increased salary and property costs could presage another Retail crisis, and town centres will have to be very resilient to keep stores here at a time when many may start to look at closing less profitable ones, so the growth we have enjoyed in Chesterfield must not be taken for granted.
So this Christmas and in the January sales, the message must be: ‘use it or lose it’, get out there and back our local retailers.