Saturday, January 17, 2009

Old Town close down?

The Gurnmeister went on a shopping spree in the big city yesterday, there seemed to be a few genuine bargains in the camping/outdoor shops but this customer thought a few of them were doing their best to make it look a bit cheaper than it really was. The purpose of this post however is to draw attention to the economic woes of Inverness's old town. Even the 99p shop has shut down. What is striking is the number of sales/to let boards peppering this area. The future looks grim for the Old Town. I suppose when Eastgate 1 and then the Golden Mile and then the Eastgate 2 were sucking the retail lifeblood out of the communities around Inverness the powers that be in the town/city didn't bother too much but now it seems it is the turn of the old town to suffer from the new temples of consumerism on its doorstep.
When you build a new shopping centre do you infact create any new jobs or do you just move them from somewhere else?


Anonymous said...

What we are witness too now is the final price that will be paid by businesses that are left to drown, in the wake of decisions made, sometimes years ago, by planning committees from Taunton to Thurso, and all stops in between.

'Out of town' was the mantra. Let's leave behind the established retail areas and Americanise the UK. Sure, we'll end up with desolate town centres but who cares ? Those charged with responsibility for planning decisions certainly haven't show much evidence of doing so over the past 15 years

It may just be me but, at times, I am dumbfounded by the apparent lack of consideration for the potential impact of planning proposals. Did those who passed the Golden Mile development in Inverness genuinely have no idea how much effect it could have on the town centre. Paradoxically ,the impact it's had on the town centre is one of the reasons so much money has, and still is, being spent in beautifying Inverness.

Perhaps the UK should adopt a planning practice that I believe is applied in Holland.

National chains are allowed to build their big, out of town retail units - but they only get permission to do so on the condition that they open, or build, a smaller satellite in the town centre.

We certainly need to pick up some hints from somewhere. We've tried the American model ,and it's failing. Perhaps we should go Dutch :)

Nairn said...

I couldn’t agree more with Spurtle, and yes maybe we should go Dutch, although I have always found it difficult to find small convenience food type stores in Dutch towns - maybe I have just been in the wrong district? :)

What we have also lost with the demise of the likes of the shops in the old town of Inverness is any from of local identity. Local businesses were once the norm, but are now difficult to find. For me, where they do exist (Elgin comes to mind) they make the town much more interesting. Folk running such shops usually have knowledge of their products, and take a pride in their work, unlike the faceless nationwide stores that make up the Eastgates (I have yet to enter Eastgate 2 but assume it is not packed with local traders?)

No-doubt we will continue to see bad planning decisions which reminds me, has a date been set for work on burying the Brae? (Old copies of Nairnshire are being pressed into firelighting duties this time of year!)

Anonymous said...

Business is a process of evolution - adapt or die - while attention here is being drawn to smaller shops, it's also worth remembering the massive chains are in trouble. We've seen a string of high street names close down over the past few weeks, not least Woolworths, and other big corps are issuing profit warnings.

I think the message is clear - this is absolutely nothing to do with how retail developments are planned and set out, but instead because when severe financial conditions impact, only the strongest businesses will survive.

However, while this recession is expected to be sever, I'm sure someone could easily dig out old photos showing empty shops from previous recessions - and how recovery fills the spaces again.

The main instance where out of town retail impacts smaller in town businesses is where both are directly competing - ie, same goods - and the out of town wins on price. However, anyone who tries to compete directly with mega corps is either completely insane, or else has a trick or two up their sleeve.

Back to the point - it's not just the old town suffering, but new developments too - the economic conditions are having a massive impact on business overall.

MFI was a standard retail development name and now they are gone - Dixons already died, but Currys could be next. Only hope Comet goes first. :)

- Brian

Nairn said...

I think Anonymous Brian that todays economic problems in simplistic terms are down to the fact that as a capitalist based society we are not spending and lending money as we should be, and in recent years UK banks have leant money in a very irresponsible fashion.

The point that is being made and shared by Craisg, Spurtle, and I is that planning consent often seems to ignore what impact new development might have on established businesses such as the old town part of Inverness featured in these posts
Those in charge of planning seem easily seduced by developers. Words such as ‘new jobs’, and ‘new companies’ open doors for developments; meanwhile as in the case of Inverness old town jobs and companies slowly die. What is the net gain here?
We are inquisitive by nature and when Eastgate opened and then the Golden Mile many of us went there to shop. But no new provision was made for shops in the old part of town as an incentive for folk to continue shopping there. Parking could have been improved or fees could have been reduced, maybe we could have seen the council pedestrianise the streets (Whilst viable shops and businesses were still there). This didn’t happen and effectively customers were lured elsewhere (Easy parking and no charges as in the case of the Golden Mile). There was no hope for the shops adapting, only dying.
What we are left with are many empty unsightly premises with their owners badly let down by the planners. There is little I suspect the council can now do to regenerate the area. Rents and taxes will be lost, and an area of the city will become most unattractive, possibly for many years.
Lastly I cannot share your hope of ‘Comet going next’. The closure of any company brings abject misery to all of its staff and in many instances it’s customers as well.

Anonymous said...

The debate over town-centre shops versus edge-of-town mall is complex, and as this thread already shows, there are arguments either way.

Me, I reckon parking is a crucial determining factor - the more so in areas like this where the vast majority of shoppers travel by car. And this is largely why the edge of town complexes, with extensive free parking, attract the customers. The shops may be soulless chainstores; but visiting them is cheaper, as well as easier, than the town centre.

Ask yourself - if you had to pay as much to park your car at the bleak and windswept Inverness Retail Park as you do to park in the town centre, where would you choose to shop?

The development permit which prescribes ample free parking on edge of town sites is in effect a hidden subsidy to the stores operating there. If town-centre parking is not similarly free, the high street shops suffer a penalty, as the parking cost is a disincentive to shoppers.

The clever wheeze would be for the 'rent' or business rates/council-tax levied on edge of town stores to be such that a part of it could be allocated to fully subsidise the cost of town-centre parking facilities. In essence, a publicly-managed way of compensating town centre ratepayers and shopkeepers for the impact of the edge-of-town mall, thereby helping the centre to adapt and survive.

The principle is already established ("planning gain", where developers pay an additional amount to fund a bypass, school, playground or whatever).

But it's hard to see any local authority having the imagination, or the *****, to try this!

Anonymous said...

MyNairn Brian here again. :)

I think retail development is primarily driven by consumer demand - if the out of town developments did not offer attractions for consumers, they would not flourish.

Conversely, if out of town developments were not allowed, and shoppers were forced into town centres, this brings a whole load of issues and effectively serves as nothing more than a protectionist policy for a small group - not simply against consumer interests, but with wider implications as well (for example, the impact of all the parked traffic at Inverness Retail Park moving into the town centre).

Certainly there is room for planners to more intelligently plan for retail and business development - but the current issue of closures is not because of town planning, but entirely because of the impact of the economic crisis on all businesses.


- Brian

Anonymous said...

I'm not one to quote latin, mainly as I don't understand :) but, when it comes to the balance between out of town shops and the survival of , what had been previously reasonably vibrant town centres, 'QED' comes to mind.

As I originally said - we've tried the American model, it doesn't work - and, given our current situation, following liberal philosophies and relying on market forces obviously doesn't either.

The oft quoted 'consumer interest' can be used a a global golden bullet in planning issues. The customer must have choice - the thing is, do they actually have any choice? or do we buy what Tesco et al ( twice in one posting - I'm feeling all Latinally exhausted) choose to sell us.

Nairnbairns idea is interesting but , unfortuantely it may be the next generation of planners and Councillors that have the imagination, or vertebrae, to consider such proposals.

Spurtle is going for a lie down now.I must be getting frightening conformist, as two people have agreed with me :)

Nairn said...

Latin... isn’t that one of those museum languages, bits of which we still use ad infinitum? (Sorry Spurtle, couldn’t resist)
What is clear from the interesting comments on this posting, is that a few individuals who I assume are not planners can put forward a myriad of ideas that might have helped the old town situation.
What has not been mentioned which may be ironic is that the council did in fact put in place ‘street scaping’ in this area over a year ago. Unfortunately the worked caused even more disruption to traders, as the work dislodged masonry on buildings, closing some areas. Buses were also rerouted for much of this work, so by way of trying to improve matters trading might well have suffered further over those months.
I wouldn’t lose to many sleepless nights Spurtle over certain folk on this forum agreeing with you, I don’t think we are that mainstream, and just as likely not to agree with you on another posting!
I was pretty crap at Latin but there is one phrase I think sums up supermarkets and maybe planners as well: avarus animus nullo satiatur lucro
which badly translated by me means ‘a greedy person will never be satisfied with any amount’!

Anonymous said...

The good thing for us in Nairn is that if Sainsbuys goes ahead, then this will buck the trend of every other town in the UK as it will have a positive effect on the town centre. We know that because Sainsburys and their developers have told us that.