How will Telford Shopping Centre fill void when House of Fraser leaves?
It is one of the biggest shops at Telford Shopping Centre, and occupies its most recognisable building.
But House of Fraser’s closure means the future is uncertain for the massive department store unit.
It was opened as Beatties in 2003, costing £30 million to build, but was rebranded in August 2007 after House of Fraser bought the Midlands-based chain a couple of years earlier.
Today Telford faces a challenge that is replicated in towns and cities across the UK – just how can it replace the void left by the departure of House of Fraser?
The department store acts as the flagship for Telford Shopping Centre. It is high profile – a prestigious name around which other retailers wanted to be associated.
And, unlike Shrewsbury’s House of Fraser, it is not a building that could possibly be adapted for other uses such as a hotel.
Hundreds of thousands people have visited the Telford shop in the years since it opened – and Peter Guy of Shropshire’s Chamber of Commerce said the closure could be devastating for footfall.
“It is extremely disappointing to lose such a top retail brand, particularly when the Telford Shopping Centre has been developed around House of Fraser as one of its key stores,” he said.
“It will be devastating not only for those losing their jobs, but also for the footfall of people coming through the centre without a name like House of Fraser.”
Telford Shopping Centre might struggle to attract an alternative department store to fill the unit in the current economic climate, Mr Guy said.
The store is due to close early next year and there is a danger that it joins BHS as another major unit lying empty indefinitely.
Mr Guy said it is essential that work starts now on a plan for the way ahead. He says he hopes this setback will give smaller independent businesses the perfect opportunity to thrive.
He said: “Only time will tell about the knock-on effect of such a big name loss. With the uncertainty of Brexit comes a few challenges to local businesses.”
Telford could find itself hit harder by the loss of House of Fraser than other locations in the county, Mr Guy said.
“If you look at places like Shrewsbury, it’s still devastating, but they have more independent shops – the shopping experience there is still an attraction. That’s the only thing Telford can hope for – more independent shops will give it that vitality that it needs.”
There are 150 people employed in the Telford shop, about 10 per cent of the 1,100 people losing their jobs across the West Midlands.
A total of 31 stores are being shut across the country, with the closures expected to start in January next year. Shrewsbury, Wolverhampton and Birmingham are also closing their stores.
The Telford shop opened in 2003, and expanded by 3,500 sq ft when hundreds of thousands of pounds were spent on a refurbishment in 2011. Fifty new jobs were created under the revamp.
Shop general manager Gary Slattery said at the time: “This investment shows our continued faith and commitment to not only the store, but to the shopping centre and the town itself.”