Call to Restore Life to North West’s Famous Retail Mile

27th February 2020

A bid to get the Council working to create a coherent and vibrant shopping centre fit for the twenty first century on and around Lord Street, Southport, is being made at the Sefton Council meeting in Bootle tonight (Thursday). The mile long Lord Street has recently seen repeated blows with department store closures adding to the general vacancy level as small shopkeepers head for the internet.

Southport town centre councillor Tony Dawson is concerned that the present mish-mash of closed and open shops throughout the town centre will only grow worse unless the council takes a lead and assumes an active role in co-ordinating a sensible re-modelling of the town centre which retains attractiveness of shopping in Southport as a leisure experience as well as ac way of buying things. At the meeting, Councillor Dawson will be bidding for the Council’s support to start to get things moving.

“What we need is something like an Urban Development Corporation or a ‘Town Commission’ ” he says.

“Nobody serious believes, these days, that in the age of internet there will ever again be the extent of demand for retail space that there was in the twenty first century. Those who do are essentially ‘retail climate change deniers'”

“Retail rents in places like Southport town centre are presently massively too high. That, in turn, makes business rates far too high. Supply of town centre retail space massively outstrips demand. But the rents have not plunged accordingly. Sadly, the massive distant corporations which own some of these places are not really interested in the income but are more concerned about retaining the notional capital value of their portfolio which is based upon the official rental assessment whether or not the shops are occupied.”

“Shopkeepers and restaurateurs do not want to be part of a straggling mesh of half-empty properties. Both they and their customers want to have the retail ‘offer’ of Southport presented in an attractive, lively, varied and concentrated fashion. The only questions which remain are: (a) ‘by how much should we expect the retail provision in our town centre to sensibly reduce?’; (b) ‘what methods should we use to achieve this level of shopping space with the continuing shops mostly being grouped all together?’; and (c) ‘which areas should we encourage and facilitate retailers and bar owners to move from and to?’ ”

“These are not easy questions to answer. They are hard decisions which require courage, thought and vision and proper community involvement. Not some headlong rush. But, if these decisions are not taken within a reasonable time and acted on, then there will be a slow death of the town centre by a thousand cuts. Not just over a few years or even the odd decade – but over 60, 70, 80 years. For that is the sort of decay period which generally is tolerated in this country when things are just ‘left to the private sector’. And when that does happen, what tends to follow like night follows day, is eventually, after decades of neglect, there is a sudden panic by the government or councils or both – with a ‘solution’ which ends up dropping a massive fortune of public funds into the pockets of a handful of multi-millionaires. ”

“When we address these hard questions, there may not be a consensus. However, if these questions are not faced up to and decisions taken then we will just end up limping on with decades of increasingly-unattractive facades making the shopping experience less and less attractive. These are, therefore, decisions which need making with full involvement of the people of the town and their elected representatives and the businesses concerned themselves. NOT some far-off central bureaucrats assisted by a handful of co-opted token Southport people. ”

“Related to these three questions there is a fourth matter: “What measures may be needed from central government to make the absentee owners of the empty shops, that we want to help other shops to move into, free up these long-vacant premises at sensible rentals or purchase prices?”

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