'˜City has a lot to offer'

Shoppers have lamented the standard of Lancaster city centre's shops. But the city is suffering from the same problems other town centres are experiencing.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 25th August 2016, 10:36 am
Updated Thursday, 25th August 2016, 12:39 pm
Market Square in Lancaster
Market Square in Lancaster

Shoppers have had some choice words to say about the standard of Lancaster’s retail offer.

From a lack of diversity and no indoor market, to expensive parking and shop closures, many locals have lamented the shopping experience in the city.

But the time has come to fight back.

John O’Neill, Lancaster Chamber of Commerce manager, said the problems Lancaster was experiencing were part of a wider national trend.

“The traditional High Street has been undergoing fundamental changes for the last 50 years since the growth of the out-of-town retail park, and the growth of the large supermarkets and, more recently, the rapid penetration of internet shopping.

“These three factors have mainly contributed to the pressures the High Street faces now, but this is a national problem and not just peculiar to Lancaster.

“People must be prepared to support the High Street just as retailers must be prepared to offer an interesting and engaging experience.

“It must be understood that the two big closures we are seeing, MyLocal and BHS, are nationwide chains and not peculiar to Lancaster; and the Anne Summers store has already been leased to another party.”

Mr O’Neill added: “Lancaster is one of 11 heritage cities in the country, and I believe this gives us quite an advantage in developing our future tourism potential, especially with the discovery of more Roman remains near the Priory.

“Due to our geographical location, we have been mainly spared the brutalist architectural schemes of the 60s and 70s and thus we have been preserved relatively intact. This I believe, makes for a more pleasant shopping experience.

“Also, even though conditions on the High Street have been tight since the 2008 financial crisis, shops in the central area have been filled relatively quickly.

“This is helped by having no large retail parks in the vicinity, and the development of the Canal Corridor proposal shows there is an appetite for more retail and leisure space in Lancaster largely due to the lack of capacity matched to demand in the city, and the distance to other centres.”

The problem is also being exacerbated by high business rates making it difficult for many firms to make a profit.

Mr O’Neill said: “Business rates are set by central government and not by Lancaster City Council, and councils have very little manoeuvre room when it comes to applying rate relief; most often it comes down from Westminster, such as for flood-affected businesses in December.

“It is worth remembering that, from April 2017, businesses with a rateable value of £12,000 per annum or less will qualify for 100 per cent rate relief. This will help many of the smaller retailers.”

Shopper Ben Hall, 23, from Lancaster, said: “It’s a crying shame that the market closed.

“There’s a real lack of diversity in Lancaster, it doesn’t really cater for everybody.

“BHS is going to be a difficult one to fill.

“In terms of shopping for daily needs, Lancaster is okay, food and coffee is excellent, but in terms of clothing I’d need to head out of town.”

Heather McIlwraith has lived in Lancaster for 40 years.

She said: “I’ve just been to Home Bargains. The shops are closing, but it’s the same everywhere.

“If they made the rates cheaper and provided cheaper and better parking, it would attract more people into the city.

“I’d be happy to see a bigger Marks and Spencer in the city centre.”

Trisha Birkby, from Lancaster , said: “It’s great if you want a coffee or mobile phone but that’s about it.

“There’s nothing. What we need is a Debenham’s, and a proper indoor market like there used to be.

“It’s a shame that BHS is gone. “