Shoppers in Shrewsbury today said they were unsurprised to hear of delays to the New Riverside scheme as new figures revealed an increase in vacant shops across the country.
Vacancies have surged to a new high of 11.9 per cent as retail failures including Comet and Jessops knock holes in shopping centres.
The percentage of empty UK shops in April worsened from 10.9 per cent in January and was the highest rate since the British Retail Consortium/Springboard survey began in 2011.
High streets have been “vastly outperforming” shopping centres and out-of-town retail parks, boosted by a five per cent rise in evening drinkers, diners and clubbers.
Ashley Davies, owner of Ashley’s Wine Bar on Shoplatch, said of Shrewsbury’s New Riverside scheme: “I don’t think it should go ahead at all. Why don’t they spend the money flattening it and turn it into a car park? Half the shops are currently empty.”
But Mary Rowson, 71, from Pontesbury, said: “I think the new shopping centre is a good idea. There won’t be any shops left here soon.” Husband Joe Rowson, 79, said: “We do need the new shopping centre. I think it will bring people into town instead of going to out-of-town supermarkets.”
Ron Millar, 43, the owner of Castle Street News, said: “I’m not at all surprised it has been delayed but it leaves a lot of businesses in doubt. In Wolverhampton they did a similar scheme and the developers went bust.”
And Shaun Walton, 44, the owner of Walton Shoe Repairs in the Pride Hill centre, said: “With the economic conditions at the minute it is not really surprising the scheme has been delayed.
“I feel sorry for the shopping centre manager and I hope they let the units which have been emptied for the redevelopment.”4
The retail sector has been battered by a wave of failures this year, with entertainment retailer HMV and camera chain Jessops both entering administration in January. Electricals retailer Comet slumped into administration in November.
BRC director general Helen Dickinson said: “It’s a major concern that the vacancy rate has reached a record high, driven by rises in almost every part of the UK, with some regions like the South West seeing a significant leap in empty shop numbers.”
But rising temperatures lifted April footfall one per cent on a year earlier, an improvement on the 5.2 per cent fall in March.
Ms Dickinson added: “Unsettled weather at the start of the month seems to have created pent-up demand, which brought many out to shop when spring-like weather finally arrived.”