HIGH STREET SURVEY: Your quick-fixes that could help transform town centre experience

The picture is becoming clearer in the battle to save our high streets and town centres from a slow, lingering death.

By Paul Larkin
Monday, 6th May 2019, 12:04 pm
Updated Monday, 6th May 2019, 12:11 pm
Narrowgate in Alnwick.
Narrowgate in Alnwick.

Nowhere in the country is immune from the demise of our town centres as competition from the internet is recognised as driving trade away from the traditional form of shopping.

But it seems the bigger the town centre, the more rapid the decline. The recent announcement of the imminent closure of key Debenhams stores has been a blow to some major centres.

The Old Boat House, in Amble.

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Judging by our survey, which has had an excellent response, with more than 300 forms returned or filled in online, our towns and villages have a very loyal customer base – shoppers who want the hub of our communities to survive. Nearly 39% of respondents used local town centres every day; with 34% shopping locally at least once a week.

The survey found that a whopping 92.7% of people use the high street’s independent shops and cafés, a ringing endorsement of the importance of local shops to any community.

The majority of people (70%) ventured down their high street for food shopping, with 38% using the high street banks, 27% eating at local restaurants and cafés, 14% visiting for leisure purposes and 11% doing clothes shopping (most respondents gave more than one reason to use their high street).

But as if to emphasise the threat from the internet, only 4% of respondents never shopped online, with 4% using it every day, 30% once a week, 18.5% once a fortnight and 33% once a month.

And 44.4% of shoppers regularly use out-of-town retail parks, with Alnwick’s Willowburn Retail Park (Sainsbury’s, Homebase, Argos) being the most visited, but Cramlington and the MetroCentre also proving popular.

There is also a high leakage of trade to other towns or cities, with 64.5% of people often choosing to visit surrounding centres rather than their own. So there is a lot of work to be done to persuade shoppers to support their local retailers more frequently.

There was also an encouraging number of quick-win and long-term projects suggested, some of which are listed below.

* Fewer empty shops and deteriorating frontages

* Alnwick market place is ideal to be a social hub but it looks run down and shoddy

* All shops should open on Sundays and Bank Holidays, especially in the summer

* Tidy up and repair empty buildings and upper floors

* Alnwick needs a fruit and veg shop and a fresh fish shop

* Reduce the number of large premises going to charity shops

* New toilets are needed, as the current ones are a disgrace

* Better disabled parking and facilities in general

* Better shop fronts, window displays and more bins

* Bring back Iceland to Alnwick! Another retail shop is needed there

* More attractions in the Market Place are a must

* More original shops, like York. Places for families and teenagers to stay longer

* Shops that the locals can actually use, too much is focused towards rich tourists culture

* Give grants to clean the soot off the buildings

* Fill empty shops by giving lower rent and rates for local, young people to start up

* Investment in the public realm, especially improved pedestrian surfaces and reduced traffic

* Park-and-ride parking should be introduced in busy months

* One-way traffic and 20mph speed limit. Provide traffic islands for pedestrians

* Develop the premises over shops for residential use

* More street furniture. The planters are good, but more benches and signage would be useful

* Pedestrianisation... More seats and tables.. More identity as Northumbrian

* Somewhere to purchase children’s clothes at a more reasonable price

More survey results in next week’s Gazette.