Posted on 27.2.12 by Christian Mancier
I made my television debut recently! I was interviewed by ITN and Granada Reports following the release of the Local Data Company’s report on vacant retail units in town centres.
Stockport didn’t fair too well, being highlighted as having one of the highest shop vacancy rates in the UK, with 30% of our town centre stores standing vacant. As soon as the figures were released the news reporters descended on Stockport to get pictures of our empty shops and interview local people and traders. I was asked to comment in my capacity as Stockport President of Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce.
Naturally, I leapt to Stockport’s defence, but it seems I wasn’t telling the story the journalists were looking for – so what I thought would be my 15 minutes of fame turned into less than 15 seconds!
This is not the first time that the Local Data Company has singled out Stockport. Their report back in September made similar claims but the figures are debatable.
A walk through the town centre tells a very different story. Yes, we do have a number of empty retail units (according to the Council’s figures the vacancy rate is more like 22%) but certainly not one in every three.
The point I made that made the final cut was that the issues affecting Stockport are not unique. Out of town shopping centres, competition from online retailers and low consumer confidence are issues affecting every town centre up and down the country.
These issues are not going to go away, so the challenge for towns like Stockport is to reinvent themselves to fit with shoppers’ changing habits. In Stockport, that means doing what we can to continue to increase our footfall which, encouragingly, is up 19% year-on-year in Mersey Way. The redevelopment of Grand Central will undoubtedly help and draw more people towards the town centre. And let’s not forget our thriving district centres which the report did not cover.
So, let’s put the Local Data Company’s statistics into perspective. There are lots going on in Stockport as a whole (including the town centre) and exciting developments on the way, painting not as bad a picture as might have come across in the news reports.