Sadly, the reaction from shoppers says it all. They are not the least bit surprised at today’s news that plans to create a sparkling new £150 million shopping centre in the heart of Shrewsbury have hit a potentially fatal stumbling block.
After all, who in their right mind would spend such a huge sum when more than 10 per cent of shops in British town centres are already lying empty?
Why should Shrewsbury be a special case which will buck the trend? And where is the proof that people will flock to the county town if such a centre is opened?
These are all very difficult questions, and it explains why developers admit they cannot guarantee the New Riverside complex will ever be built.
Politicians are, naturally, keen to cut through red tape to ensure any bureaucratic barriers to the scheme are removed. But they are powerless to cure the one, crucial stumbling block – shops are struggling as families continue to tighten their financial belts.
The New Riverside dilemma highlights the classic Catch-22 situation in which towns like Shrewsbury find themselves.
A brand new shopping centre would give the town more chance of competing with the out-of-town retail parks being largely held to blame for its retailing woes.
- £150m Shrewsbury shopping centre plan put on hold
- Shrewsbury shoppers not surprised by news of delays to New Riverside scheme
But the one thing these peripheral sites have in their favour is easy access, and plenty of free parking.
And ironically, the site proposed for the New Riverside complex would be a perfect place on which to build a much-needed new car park instead.
So where do we go from here? Developers will not build the New Riverside out of the goodness of their hearts. They are in it for the money, and if there is a risk that units will lie empty for month on end they are going to get cold feet.
The failure of big-names such as Comet, HMV and Jessops have knocked a big hole in established shopping centres, and retail analysts believe they will not be the last.
And developers’ nerves will not be calmed by what happened a few miles away in Wolverhampton, where the £300 million Summer Row plan – a supposed rival to the Merry Hill centre – had to be scrapped, costing the taxpayer thousands.
No wonder people are starting to feel that the New Riverside is the right thing in the right place . . . at the wrong time.