Star comment: Right idea, but timing all wrong

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.

A man leaves a Comet store on its final day of trading.
A man leaves a Comet store on its final day of trading.

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?

An artist’s impression of the planned £150m New Riverside development in Shrewsbury
An artist’s impression of the planned £150m New Riverside development in Shrewsbury

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.

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.

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Comments for: "Star comment: Right idea, but timing all wrong"

David Jones

The land would be better used for a mixed use scheme involving offices, housing and civic/entertainment.

More retail space is something that we will not need. Out of town and the internet have changed the game for ever.

Chris Seige Jones

I may well have missed something here, but as I walk around Shrewsbury's centre—the 'hub' of shopping in the town—I see more and more empty shops and less and less money being spent.

Whitewashing the situation with this 'shopping centre' in order to attract attention to the town will only highlight the current problem areas, which include the abysmal traffic system and of course, the 'parking' enemy.

Increasing visitors to the centre in a bid to lure them from the retail parks (and beyond) is a lovely, quaint idea. In reality, however, it will do nothing more than once again push the Shropshire tax payer's money into the hands of external developers and contractors, and send MORE money out of the town.

The consumer isn't stupid: The consumer wants value for money, instant gratification, a sense of worth.

A select number of retailers have moved with the times by pushing their online presence. Other retailers have simply folded and collapsed in these changing times.

I dare say that if this Monopoly Money that they're juggling with were to be used for the good of the community, it would be spent better utilising the shops and shopping centres we DO have and sorting out the parking/access to the centre.

That way, visitors and residents alike would benefit in the long term from less traffic, sensible parking and prices, and perhaps even the feeling that they *want* to visit the town, rather than waiting until they *need* to visit.

The town already has a plethora of nooks, crannies and wonderment. There are a myriad of shops, boutiques and eateries.

Consider the balance like a flower: If you restrict the flow of nutrients, light & water, it will wither and die.

Shrewsbury's nutrients, light and water are the residents, visitors and traders. I am only 40 years old, but even I remember the times that Shrewsbury seemed to blossom like a well-cared for flower.

I love Shrewsbury, and always will. I love the stories, the people, the history. This is an OLD town. Can we not try and salvage the valuable things that Shrewsbury has to offer before turning it into another disastrous commercial centre? Can we not try find a way to breathe life back into the struggling boutiques, and give footfall to the high street that we already have?

I'm not naive enough to think that rerouting these funds will suddenly cause the recession-struck consumer to suddenly have more money in their pockets to spend... but there's surely a way forward to preserve the town, rather than redevelop it...

margaret mitchell

I so so much agree with everything chris jones had to say. This venture won't happen in today's economic climate. Why don't we concentrate on the lovely old historic town we already have?