A row has broken out after a councillor who played a key part in regenerating the city centre claimed he has not been in a high street shop for 18 months.
In a post on Facebook, Coun John Swindells, who was deputy leader of the city council until last year, championed internet shopping and urged people to accept that high street closures would continue.
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He also admitted that he had not set foot inside a supermarket for a year and this was the second Christmas he has bought all his presents online.
It flies in the face of previous comments from Coun Swindells in which he spoke about “driving up footfall into the city centre”, “continued efforts on attracting businesses and developers into the city” and he celebrated “Preston as the principal commercial centre serving Lancashire.”
The Facebook remarks have drawn sharp criticism from Prestonians, as well as business owners and the leader of city council has distanced himself from the comments.
Coun Swindells defended his remarks, saying he does regularly visit independent traders and the market, and praised the leisure-based additions to Preston’s high street, such as restaurants and bars.
However, he remained defiant, branding shopping a “chore” and insisted he “hell would freeze over” before he visited the Trafford Centre again
“I do not visit shops anywhere now even when on holiday where I tend to take photos of the places we visit, stand or sit outside whilst my wife goes inside,” he said.
“My wife does the shopping often in the city centre and these days will not even let me go with her to carry the bags because I get so grumpy.”
Replying to Coun Swindells’ Facebook post, Paul Kay wrote: “I for one will no longer vote for you.”
Dave Seed wrote: “As a Preston councillor, I find it incredible that you are admitting to doing all your shopping online.
“People bemoan the state of the high street in Preston and it is because of internet shopping that the high street is struggling. I would have thought that if anyone should be using the high street in Preston it should be you!”
Brian Beck, who owns European Fine Arts and Antiques in Canon Street, said: “He shouldn’t be talking like that. It was only a few years ago that he was backing us to the hilt, and now he’s backing the internet.
“We have to accept things moving on, but there will always be a place for high street shops. There are things you want to handle or try on and you get the personal touch.”
John Swindell’s reply
Coun Swindells remained defiant when contacted by the Post to comment on the furore his comments had sparked.
He said: “I have never got any sort of enjoyment from going shopping . It has always been a chore to say the least.
“I do not visit shops anywhere now even when on holiday where I tend to take photos of the places we visit, stand or sit outside whilst my wife goes inside.
“My wife does the shopping often in the city centre and these days will not even let me go with her to carry the bags because I get so grumpy.
“I went to the Trafford Centre once the first year it opened at their first Christmas and hell will freeze over before I would dream of visiting again.
“Internet shopping has been a real bonus to me as I no longer have to waste my time doing shopping.
“The market is different however every time I go in I usually pick up some fruit and veg and something for dinner. That’s the previous market and now the new one.
“I regularly buy coffee at the independent coffee stall or shops but would never dream of using the big chains who pay little tax. That shopping takes me no more than 10 minutes or so more than long enough for me.
“Whatever anybody says the internet and out of town shopping has changed the high street forever and there is probably more consolidation to happen and the likes of Preston has to re invent its centres.
“The changes in Preston city centre has seen this already and change has started to happen and has been very successful in attracting top class eating establishments like Bistrot Pierre, the Olive Tree Brasserie, Turtle Bay and what Simon Rigby has done in the Guildhall and many more.
“Leisure more than retail is what has changed the high street as a destination. A few years ago there was hardly anywhere to eat top class food in the city centre and apart from the pubs the city centre was empty after 6pm. It is not now.
“Retail has a place in that mix but will probably never return to where it was and may reduce even more not only in Preston but even in some of the big shopping centres across the UK.
“As a family we do spend plenty in the city centre stores it is just not me who does that shopping.
“I do buy the presents I personally have to buy on the internet because I really do not enjoy shopping in fact I probably detest it and it is as far as I am concerned it is a total waste of my time.
“Thankfully my wife works in a supermarket and can do that shopping before she comes home. The only reason I visited last Christmas Eve and probably this Christmas Eve is the she will be working late and there will be little on the shelves when she gets chance to shop and come home. I never go in at any other time.
“So yes it is probably something like 18 months since I went in a high street shop anywhere, not just in Preston.
“We visited family in Nottingham and visited Newark for the day last week they went in the shops whilst I people watched and enjoyed the city centre sites and the National Civil War museum taking many photos with my camera outside not ever going in a store.”
‘Web can’t go back in a box’
Coun Swindells was replying to a post about the Original Art Shop in the St George’s Centre closing down after 30 years.
He wrote: “People are going to accept that the high street closures will continue everywhere and not just Preston. The internet cannot be put back in the box, it has changed the high street forever.
“It has been a joy to me, I never got any enjoyment shopping, now I don’t have to.
“Not been in a high street store for approximately 18 months (and) this will be my second Christmas I have bought all my presents online. I have not been in a supermarket since last Christmas. Times have totally changed.”