THE debate over the number of empty shops in Peterborough has featured on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.
As the number of empty shops in the city centre tops 750, almost 10%, and the city council tries to woo Primark into the empty Woolworths store, Paul Stainton’s Peterborough Breakfast Show discussed the problem on air with the editor of Peterboroughbusiness.co.uk, Martyn Moore.
Mr Moore explained that this is not a problem exclusive to Peterborough. “During a boom time we open lots of shops; in recession, some of them have to close. Then there’s the effect of internet shopping. It’s a type of natural selection,” he said. “And you have to ask yourself, how many mobile phone shops does a city like ours really need?
“19,000 shops have closed across the UK this year and the Local Government Association says that four out of five councils are facing this problem. Nobody wants to see ten per cent of shops empty but it’s a lot worse in Derby where it’s more than 20%.”
According to the British Retail Consortium, 15% of high street shops will be empty by the end of the year and it says out-of-town shopping centres are among the causes.
“Let’s not forget,” said Mr Moore, “that our own Serpentine Green was named the second best shopping centre in the UK for starting a retail business, so Peterborough shouldn’t beat itself up.
“We need to look at cities like Nottingham, where empty shops account for just 2.5% of the total. In Sheffield empty shops are being used for art, social and community projects and Swindon uses empty premises to display positive marketing about the town. Some empty Woolworths stores are being turned into farmers’ markets and the British Retail Consortium is saying the high street needs to regain some character and local authorities need to think creatively.”
Speaking to reporters after his radio appearance, Mr Moore was pressed on his comments about Primark on the Evening Telegraph‘s website.
“I have absolutely nothing against Primark coming to the city, in fact it could be very good for trade and jobs,” he said. “But Primark is owned by Associated British Foods, which closed the British Sugar factory in Peterborough in 1991. The company made £357 million profit last year, so should the council be bending over backwards to bring them here? Only if it is prepared to do as much for other struggling businesses, expecially local ones.”
Also appearing on the Peterborough Breakfast Show was Joe Jennings, practice principal at Ashley Law. Mr Jennings criticised banks for profiteering at the expense of local business. “With the inter-bank lending rate at around 0.5% it’s obscene that banks are charging their customers so much interest,” he said. Both Barclays and HSBC, neither of which has been bailed out by the tax payer, have announced huge increases in profits.
“We still need to see a greater freeing up of lending,” said Mr Jennings.