I felt a real twinge of sadness as I made my way to the train station on Monday 12th March and saw the Chesterfield Wheel being taken down. The Chesterfield Wheel has been a huge success that has brought in customers and visitors from miles around, with families coming to spend an entire day visiting our town and coaches bringing in people from across Yorkshire and the East Midlands to visit the attraction. Shops, market traders and cafes have reported higher sales and the town centre has been more bustling and busy place.
The bringing of the wheel to Chesterfield shows that we have a Borough Council that is innovative and business-focussed. Usually it is only cities that have secured the wheel and it is a real coup for the Council to bring it to our town. The Wheel raised a little money for the Council through rent charged to the operating company, but more importantly it has provided a huge boost to the town centre economy and given people a real sense of pride in the town. The views from the top of the wheel were truly stunning, giving people the chance to see the Crooked Spire like they have never seen it before and a panoramic view of the miles of beautiful countryside and hills that surround Chesterfield. Hundreds of people took a turn on the wheel, and the stunning pictures that have been shared on online have been a wonderful advertisement for our town.
I have seen many comments on social media over the last few years lamenting the reduction in the size of the market and noting that there have been fewer visitors to the town centre. Whilst there is an element of truth to this, we need to recognise how well Chesterfield is doing in these tough economic times and changing retail landscapes. The most common complaint I see is regarding vacant shops in town, but a quick ‘fact check’ shows that Chesterfield is doing better than most retail centres. Currently, 93.5% of units are let, which is a shop vacancy rate of 6.5% and far lower than the national average of 11%. Chesterfield is ranked as the seventh largest retail destination in the East Midlands, far outperforming other towns such as Mansfield, Worksop and Sutton-in-Ashfield. Chesterfield is in the top 3% of retail centres nationally and has a total annual consumer spend of £432m. We may only be a market town but we are punching far above our weight and competing well against cities and large retail outlets.
Town centres across the country have all experienced a decline over the last decade due to due to the growth of online shopping, development of out-of-town retail parks, expanding supermarkets and an increase in budget retailers. These changes make it difficult for market traders and town centre shops to compete on price. Wages have also been stagnant for many years and people have not had the disposable income that they had before, reducing the shoppers in town. One of the reasons for Chesterfield’s resilience, and why we should remain optimistic about the future of our market and shopping centre, is the Labour-run Borough Council’s willingness to innovate and adapt to the modern retail climate.
Hopefully, the visitors who came to Chesterfield for the wheel will have seen how much our town has to offer and become regular visitors. I look forward to seeing how the Council build on this success and we should all feel optimistic about the future of our town centre.