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News - 5 July 2007

So why does Brighton & Hove need more big shops?

It is no secret that the steadily progressing plans to build a new conference centre could also offer the opportunity to expand Churchill Square right down to the seafront. The following article by the Chief Executive of the Brighton & Hove Economic Partnership was printed in The Argus on Monday 2nd July.

Such an expansion would add hundreds of thousands of square feet of retail space to the existing shopping centre and some of it will be the large units (more than 15,000 square feet) that the city currently lacks.

Such an expansion may also be the only realistic chance the city ever has of getting a new department store. In survey after survey shoppers tell us that they love the city's unique independent retailers, but the Achilles heel is our lack of department stores. People still lament the loss of Hanningtons and Vokins years after they closed.

Some would argue that the wonderful North Laine and The Lanes, and increasingly Kemp Town, amply compensate for the shortage of big shops. Indeed many cities would dearly love to have our vast range of independents, probably the largest in the South East, adding the vibrancy and zest to our city centre that stops us from falling into the "clone town" category so reviled by the popular media.

But we need large shops just as much as the small ones to ensure a rounded offer to a public that is prepared to travel considerable distances to get the experience they want.

Witness the success of Bluewater in Kent, which draws people from a drive-time distance of up to two hours. Witness also the fact that Brighton and Hove is expected to lose two to three per cent of its retail turnover to Crawley if the new John Lewis store opens there.

In cash terms, that could be as much as the entire annual turnover of 150 of our small shops. Other towns closer to Crawley may lose up to 20 per cent. The point is that large retailers, especially of the quality of John Lewis, have large pulling power and Brighton has a shortage of them.

Nearly 200 retail chains would like to get a foothold in Brighton but they can't find suitable space.

Churchill Square has been a stunning success since its refurbishment.

Confidently predicted to attract six million visitors in its first year, it doubled that number and continues to get around 12 million people through its doors every year.

A larger Churchill Square accommodating many of the high street fascias that we currently lack would not only ensure that we maintain our "market share" of shopping trips but also elevate us to the rank of a regional retail centre.

And, contrary to popular belief, many of the visitors to Churchill Square also visit the small shops in the Old Town, ensuring that they too survive and thrive. Brighton has over 1,400 shops in its city centre (not including London Road, Kemp Town and Hove). Towns of similar profile have on average just under 600.

To keep all our shops alive and kicking we need greater numbers of shoppers to visit the city and spend their money than our competitor destinations do.

It's tough running a small shop in Brighton and the fragility of the independent retail sector is exemplified by the high rate of "churn" as units change hands regularly. Cash rich and time poor, the public are getting more demanding and they will often restrict their serious shopping sprees to perhaps three or four big expeditions a year.

We live in an age where it is not uncommon for people to cross the Atlantic to shop in New York.

Consequently, the prospect of a spending 90 minutes in a car travelling from Brighton to Bluewater to spend several hundred pounds in one outing is no barrier. The prospect of 30 minutes up the A23 to Crawley is even less of a barrier.

With a choice of destinations and the ever-growing convenience of the internet, the buying public want an experience that goes beyond simple shopping and they are prepared to pay good money to get it.

This is why it is important that we combine leisure with retail, and I don't just mean ensuring that shoppers have somewhere to get a cup of tea and rest their aching feet.

When visitors get tired of shopping they have two choices - go home or find something else to do.

Consequently, the value of developments like the Brighton Eye and the Black Rock Ice Arena can't be over emphasised as a source of entertainment when shoppers turn their attention to other distractions.

And it isn't just the sexy new visitor attractions that have their part to play. The lower esplanade, the theatres, the cinemas, the Brighton Festival, etc are all vital to complement our fantastic appeal as a great destination to spend time and money.

The city has the potential to more than double its retail turnover to a staggering £2.6 billion if we can find the space to accommodate more of the large High Street names. And before the letters start flooding in to The Argus saying we don't want those High Street names, I can assure the nay sayers that hundreds of thousands of visitors and residents certainly do.

That's why they are prepared to travel to Bluewater and Lakeside.

Money spent in these giant out-oftown shopping complexes is money that could be spent in Brighton and Hove helping to support what is generally considered to be one of our unique selling points - the independent retailers.

They face multiple challenges and need all the help they can get, and increasing the number of people walking past their doors is an excellent start.

That's why we need more big shops.

Read related items on:
Retail, pubs, clubs and restaurants
Brighton & Hove City Council
Brighton & Hove Economic Partnership
Standard Life
Mernagh, Tony

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